What comes to mind when I mention Ben MacDonald? How about Todd Van Poppel, Wilson Alvarez, Rick Ankiel, Steve Avery, Ben Sheets, J.R. Richard or Kerry Wood? Well, if you are anything like me, you probably think of blown talent, unsuccessful careers or too much hype. All of these players came to the Bigs with a load of ability, a lot of promise, but in the end, not much to show. Now Wood and Sheets still have a chance, but unfortunately for everyone else, their collective Major League careers will live in infamy. As someone who never played professional baseball, I cannot begin to imagine what the pressure is like and when you add the aura of ‘future All-Star’ to someone, it just quadruples the expectations. All of these things bring me to one person, Mark Prior. Prior ascended to the big leagues quickly. He made his MLB debut less than two months after his professional career started. He arrived at Wrigley in late May of 2002 with the hope and expectation of his team and their adoring fans in his hands, and boy did it start well. Prior completed his first full Major League season with a record of 18-6 and a 2.43 ERA. He was a Cy Young candidate, whose talent promised it would win multiple awards. However, this is where the movie takes a turn for the worse. That part of the movie where you get a bad feeling and then ultimately want to cover your eyes because you cannot watch. Alas, this is not a movie, it is the real life of a young pitcher collapsing and the Cubs Faithful losing faith and losing it quickly.
I remember Prior’s first game in the Bigs, at Wrigley against the Pirates in late May. He looked good, real good. I remember calling a buddy to get a pitch count in the fifth inning because I did not want it to end. The next morning he was the lead story on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike program. Bruce Levine from ESPN 1000 in Chicago was interviewed at length about Prior, his performance and the electricity at Wrigley.
About a year and half later he stood on the mound for 7 strong innings in what unfortunately may be the biggest start of his life. He completely shut down the Marlins and the Cubs were five outs away, and well, you know the rest. I do not blame Prior for the collapse, nor Bartman, but an over-excited outfielder, a botched double play and the reluctance of a manager to step out and calm everyone down.
At the end of 2003 Mark Prior looked poised to become one of the game’s best pitchers and almost three years later, he has a new nickname, Missus. That is right….MRS. I heard this on ESPN 1000 Monday afternoon, supposedly, this is his new nickname. I do not know who is using it, who made it up, or where this was discovered, but it most definitely was discussed. Who would have thought this would happen?
The truth is that the human shoulder was not built to throw a baseball as hard as you can. Some people have trouble, and some do not. Maybe some Major League pitchers just have a better anatomy than others. Just as some people are taller or slimmer or better looking than others, it just happens. Some people also have a higher pain threshold than others. Over twenty years I am sure Greg Maddux has been in pain many times, yet he has never been on the DL. Maybe one of these factors applies to Prior. Maybe he has a bad shoulder, or a bad elbow or whatever.
Lately Mark Prior’s toughness or dedication has come into question. People argue that he needs to get over the pain. They say he shuts it down too quickly or maybe he does not care as much as he should. I will say that he came back rather quickly after taking a line drive off of his elbow. When that happened, I thought he was done for the year. He took a line drive that fractured his elbow. However, he was back in just a little over a month. I am not ready to question Mr. Prior’s dedication and drive. I do not know him personally, and I do not believe it is my place to question a man I do not know. As for you, you are free to make up your own mind.
2007 is an important year, but there is no way that it is more important to anyone else than Prior. He can answer all of his doubters with a great season or he can take his place among the names at the beginning of this article. Will Mark Prior be a bust or will he find his way again and fulfill his destiny, how does it end? Let me know what you think.
Thanks for reading, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and until next time….
Stay Classy Cubs Fans!!!