Dec 10, 2013, 2:20 PM EDT
1. I honestly thought he retired five years ago.
2. Mark Prior is still only 33 years old.
The second of those bits is even more shocking than the first. He is STILL only 33? If Mark Prior had stayed healthy, he would only now be signing a seven-year, $190 million deal with the Mariners or somebody. Baseball can be an extremely cruel game.
Prior probably should have won the Cy Young Award in 2003, when he was just 22 years old. The award went to Eric Gagne because it was one of those periodic years when the voters fall in love with relief pitching all over again. Gagne had a superb year for a closer … but not markedly different from John Smoltz that same year, Trevor Hoffman in 1998 or Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland this year. Prior pitched more than twice as many innings and was significantly more valuable.
Anyway, people had to figure Prior would win plenty of Cy Young Awards. Here are the greatest pitching performances since World War II for pitchers 22 or younger:
1. Dwight Gooden, 1985, 24-4, 1.53 ERA, league-leading 276 Ks.
2. Bert Blyleven, 1973, 20-17, 9 shutouts, 325 innings pitched.
3. Mark Fidrych, 1976, 19-9, league leading 2.34 ERA, 24 complete games.
4. Vida Blue, 1971, 24-8, league-leading 1.82 ERA, 301 strikeouts, Cy and MVP winner.
5. Larry Dierker, 1969, 20-13, 2.33 ERA, 305 innings, 20 complete games.
6. Sudden Sam McDowell, 1965, 17-11, league-leading 2.18 ERA, 325 strikeouts.
7. Mark Prior, 2003, 18-6, 2.43 ERA, 245 strikeouts.
8. Frank Tanana, 1975, 16-9, 2.62 ERA, league-leading 269 strikeouts.
9. Bret Saberhagen, 1985, 20-6, 2.87 ERA, Cy Young winner.
10. Frank Tanana, 1976, 19-10, 2.43 ERA, 261 strikeouts.
Of this list, only Blyleven went on to a Hall of Fame career. Tanana, who is on the list twice, blew out his arm and reinvented himself as a soft-tossing lefty. Dwight Gooden, Sam McDowell and Vida Blue all dealt with various demons and fell a few steps short of greatness. Larry Dierker had an up and down career, and Bret Saberhagen was alternately brilliant and injured.
Then, Mark Fidrych and Mark Prior belong to the same club, the heartbreak club. They each had one glorious year in the Major Leagues. Their bodies would not hold up for another. Fidrych felt his arm go dead in the middle of the next season. Prior had trouble with his achilles tendon the next year — people would always suspect it was his elbow and the Cubs just didn’t want to admit it. In 2005 he was pitching quite well and he got hit by a batted ball that smashed his elbow. In 2006 the Cubs announced that he had a “loose shoulder,” which does not seem like a medical term but Mark Prior was never even a decent Major League pitcher again.
Lots of people blame overwork for the fall of both Fidrych and Prior, and that does make some sense. Fidrych in particular was abused — from May 15 to August 29 that year he made 22 starts and pitched 198 innings. Quick math will tell you, he AVERAGED nine innings for those 22 starts. This is in part because he pitched 11 innings four times during the stretch and 10 innings once. It was pretty close to criminal.
Prior’s overuse was not nearly as pronounced, but people did notice even at the time that Dusty Baker was having Prior (and fellow phenom Kerry Wood) throw a lot of pitches. In September of 2003, during the pennant run, Prior threw 131, 129, 109, 124, 131 and 133 pitches in his six starts. It’s interesting: None of those were complete games. Even now, there is much disagreement about pitch counts and how best to protect young pitcher’s arms and so on. I guess the infuriating part with the Cubs was that there seemed no visible effort whatsoever to protect Prior’s arm. Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference, but you sort of wished they would have at least made a show of it.
When Prior was young and right, he was all but unhittable. He had a fastball he could pump up into the high 90s and his better pitch was a curveball that was like setting the phaser to stun. His curve would just leave Major League hitters frozen — sometimes it seemed like they were still standing at the plate long after Prior had reached the dugout. He walked just 50 batters in his amazing season.
His effort to come back has been both touching and sad. Anyone can understand: He was destined to become one of the best pitchers in baseball history, and he had it taken away from him, and he had trouble accepting it. From Tennessee to Iowa, from Orange County to Oklahoma City, from Tampa to Scranton to Pawtucket to Louisville he chased ghosts, hoping against hope for some part of himself to return. I imagine that at times he snapped off the old curveball or fired a fastball that hopped a bit, and he found himself believing that he would come all the way back. Then there would be more pain.
The Chicago Tribune on Tuesday had a three paragraph note acknowledging Prior’s official retirement. The first few words were “Former Cubs Phenom Mark Prior.” And sadly, those are the last words too.
Sep 4, 2015, 12:44 PM EDT
He’ll miss at least one week.
Sep 4, 2015, 12:29 PM EDT
A good move by ESPN.
Sep 4, 2015, 11:33 AM EDT
Teixeira suffered the injury on August 17.
Sep 4, 2015, 11:03 AM EDT
Just when you thought the Mets would enjoy a smooth, controversy-free final month of the regular season.
Sep 4, 2015, 10:46 AM EDT
Headed for a quick divorce.
Sep 4, 2015, 9:12 AM EDT
Holy moly, these guys are awful.
Sep 4, 2015, 7:29 AM EDT
Carlos Gonzalez hit two homers for the second straight night.
Sep 3, 2015, 11:04 PM EDT
Bryce Harper didn’t have an official at-bat tonight, but he still made a major impact in the Nationals’ 15-1 blowout victory over the Braves.
Sep 3, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Stroman threw 4 2/3 hitless innings in his first minor league rehab start.
Sep 3, 2015, 10:29 PM EDT
Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias was forced to exit Thursday’s game against the Royals in the third inning when he was hit in the hand while trying to drop down a bunt.
Sep 3, 2015, 9:50 PM EDT
The Dodgers called up top prospect Corey Seager today and manager Don Mattingly isn’t wasting any time getting him into the starting lineup…
Sep 3, 2015, 8:46 PM EDT
Murphy had a stint on the disabled list earlier this season due to a left quad strain.
Sep 3, 2015, 7:37 PM EDT
Strasburg left his most recent start on Sunday with discomfort in his upper back, but he’s on track to make his return for a crucial series against the Mets next week.
Sep 3, 2015, 6:50 PM EDT
McCutchen feels “a little sore” and has been “hobbling around a little bit,” so he’ll take a rest before a big series against the Cardinals this weekend.
Sep 3, 2015, 6:13 PM EDT
ESPN has pulled Schilling from their broadcasts for the remainder of the season.
Sep 3, 2015, 4:31 PM EDT
Sentiments like these — of which I’ve seen a few — makes me wonder about Ruben Amaro.
Sep 3, 2015, 4:07 PM EDT
His glute injury proved minor.
Sep 3, 2015, 1:51 PM EDT
He was suffering from dehydration yesterday.
Sep 3, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT
Finally, Tom Brady and Boston sports fans get a win!
Sep 3, 2015, 12:46 PM EDT
Shut down for the season with a hip injury.
- Dodgers are already fed up with 6.56 ERA-pitching, excuse-making Mat Latos 18
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 53
- Bryce Harper walks in all four of his plate appearances, scores four runs 22
- ESPN pulls Curt Schilling off broadcasts for rest of regular season and Wild Card game 133
- David Ortiz is more likely to be boned in Hall of Fame voting for being a DH than for PED stuff 132
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 74
- The Marlins are going to change everything except their biggest problem this offseason 53
- Drooling over Miguel Sano’s incredible numbers through 50 career games 36
- Sarah Palin sticks up for Curt Schilling, tells ESPN to “stick to sports” (266)
- ESPN pulls Curt Schilling off broadcasts for rest of regular season and Wild Card game (135)
- David Ortiz is more likely to be boned in Hall of Fame voting for being a DH than for PED stuff (133)
- Matt Williams puts up another strong performance in his quest to get himself fired (107)
- David Ortiz tweets his happiness about the Deflategate decision (100)