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Thursday, May 05, 2022

Cubs prospect Mark Prior delivered one of the most memorable minor-league debuts 20 years ago

The buzz for Prior’s Triple-A debut was electric.

Fans, reporters and players understood how big of a name Prior was. An announced crowd of 8,243 fans packed into the park on a Tuesday night. It wasn’t a sellout, but was far from a typical Tuesday crowd.

Lantz estimates around 20 media members, some from Chicago, were credentialed. Mahoney says Prior’s teammates knew how big of a deal his debut was. They had heard stories about how dominant he was in college and how good he could be in the pros.

“He was a superstar coming out of college,” Mahoney said….

Iowa was playing the Tucson Sidewinders that night. The actual game didn’t matter. Most fans didn’t care about Tucson or the majority of the Cubs lineup, frankly. All they cared about was Prior and how he looked.

And he looked great.

“Don’t think we’ll get two starts out of him,” Cubs fan Dave Souders told Register sports columnist Sean Keeler that night.

It became apparent why right away. Prior, whose fastball sat in the mid-90s throughout the evening, controlled the game from start to finish. He struck out the side in the first inning and again in the third inning. He got standing ovations both times.

“He had really good carry on his fastball,” said Micah Franklin, who hit fifth for Tucson that night.

The most memorable parts of Prior’s debut actually happened at the plate. He smashed a home run in the fifth inning. Two innings later, he crushed another to dead centerfield. As Prior rounded the bases following the second shot, fans in the stands joked that after touching home, he’d head straight for Chicago.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 05, 2022 at 10:49 AM | 19 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: cubs, mark prior

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   1. John Northey Posted: May 05, 2022 at 02:54 PM (#6075367)
Wow, forgot how short his career was - just 5 seasons in the majors. First 4 had a 133 ERA+ (110-179), then 9 starts in 2006 and done (65 ERA+). Made a comeback attempt in 2010-2013 and showed he still had skill but never got called up (46 2/3 IP 31 BB 62 K's so a lot wild). A shame.
   2. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: May 05, 2022 at 03:19 PM (#6075373)
What I remember about Prior:

(1) Watching him pitch was a little bit like watching a machine pitch. He hit his spots with good movement every time, with the exact same mechanics.

(2) He was built like a racehorse.

(3) Of course, he was praised for his "perfect mechanics," which mechanics (the M or inverted W or whatever you want to call it) led to his falling apart, despite what a magnificent physical specimen he was.

(4) Then, in an alleged correction, our very own Carlos Gomez contrasted Prior's mechanics with those of Tim Lincecum, who was allegedly in much better shape . . . but burnt out in similarly spectacular fashion. Perhaps more spectacular, given how great he was for a very brief period, and the way in which he very much wasn't built like a racehorse.
   3. The Gary DiSarcina Fan Club (JAHV) Posted: May 05, 2022 at 03:32 PM (#6075380)
Wow, forgot how short his career was - just 5 seasons in the majors.


Was that all? That is nuts! Of course the memory of him is so strong that it seems like he must have played for a lot longer, but I also feel like he tried to make a comeback for another five to seven years after his career was over. I had a hard time believing the headline - I figured his career must have started a lot longer ago than that, but he had a brief minor league career, made the majors that same year, had the amazing 2003, and then rode it out until his arm blew.

My memory about his comeback attempts seems pretty accurate - done in the majors in 2006, last played in the minors in 2013.
   4. Ziggy: social distancing since 1980 Posted: May 05, 2022 at 07:18 PM (#6075428)
Lots of pitchers burn out early, but few are so good and then crash so spectacularly. Herb Score is the other name that comes to mind. But man, when prior made him mlb debut, I was excited.
   5. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 05, 2022 at 07:37 PM (#6075433)
(3) Of course, he was praised for his "perfect mechanics," which mechanics (the M or inverted W or whatever you want to call it) led to his falling apart, despite what a magnificent physical specimen he was.
I know the "Dusty broke him" view has fallen thoroughly out of fashion now, but let's take a look...

2002 - Age 21 season. Average of 106.5 pitches per start, high of 135
2003 - Age 22 season. Average of 113.4 pitches per regular season start. Finished the season with a run of 131, 129, 109, 124, 131, 133. Then 133, 116 and 119 in the playoffs.
2004 - Age 23 season. Injured until July, then average of 98 pitches per start, high of 129. Some of the decrease was just because he wasn't as effective.
2005 - Age 24 season. Average of 104 pitches per start, high of 131.
2006 - Age 25 season. Nine totally ineffective starts, end of career.

   6. Zach Posted: May 05, 2022 at 08:11 PM (#6075436)
In that playoff game in 2003, he just looked like the next great pitcher. Physically imposing, and throwing great stuff right where he wanted, every time. Really a shame the arm broke down.
   7. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: May 06, 2022 at 09:02 AM (#6075495)

Well, I'm old.
   8. SoSH U at work Posted: May 06, 2022 at 10:20 AM (#6075504)
2002 - Age 21 season. Average of 106.5 pitches per start, high of 135


Dusty's abusive power is so strong he can even overuse a Cubs pitcher from the dugout in San Francisco.

Actually, I think Baker did work Prior too hard in the pursuit of that pennant in 2003, and that use could very well have been a contributing factor for his breakdown. I think the Dusty Destroys Pitchers idea has kind of faded because he hasn't left a stockpile of wrecked arms in his wake.
   9. The Duke Posted: May 06, 2022 at 11:48 AM (#6075517)
They are making HOF plaques with more words. They could probably sneak in Dusty Destroys Pitchers somewhere near the bottom. It wouikd make it a more well rounded approach.

Imagine what you could do with a Cobb or LaRussa plaque

If the induct Bonds his plaque will read "Joe Morgan doesn't think he belongs here. His dad was good too"
   10. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 06, 2022 at 12:21 PM (#6075522)
If the induct Bonds his plaque will read "Joe Morgan doesn't think he belongs here. His dad was good too"
There wouldn’t be room for anything on Barry’s plaque other than his head.
   11. mathesond Posted: May 06, 2022 at 06:45 PM (#6075588)
I lived in Chicago from 2001-2004, and went to a couple of games started by Prior. The first was June 1, 2002 vs. Houston (I remember the date as I decided to give up drinking for the month of May, and so my first (and still only) time ever sitting in the Wrigley bleachers happened to be the day I jumped down from the wagon. It was Prior vs. Oswalt, and while I remember Prior getting rocked (7 runs in less than 4 IP), I also thought Oswalt hadn't been sharp, but a look at the box score tells me he had a decent game (3 runs on 8H and 2BB vs. 7K in 7 2/3). Guess those first Old Styles took a few more little grey cells than I realized.

The second time I went to a Prior game (for that's what they were to me), I decided, spur of the moment, to go see a Cubs game. I've just spent a few minutes in the bbref logs, and for the life of me I can't find the game I thought I remembered. I could have sworn it was a weeknight in 2003 or 2004, vs. Milwaukee, and he gave up 5 runs in 8 innings. Also, there was a power failure in possibly the 9th inning, so I left the park and discovered the game restarted while at a games-themed bar on Addison, a few blocks north of Wrigley. I moved to Toronto in 2004, and cannot recollect the name of the bar, but I do remember getting a chuckle out of their menu, as it was basically White Castle burgers, microwaveable dinners, but also a decent pizza (for the price, anyway).
   12. Gch Posted: May 06, 2022 at 07:23 PM (#6075594)
The second time I went to a Prior game (for that's what they were to me), I decided, spur of the moment, to go see a Cubs game. I've just spent a few minutes in the bbref logs, and for the life of me I can't find the game I thought I remembered. I could have sworn it was a weeknight in 2003 or 2004, vs. Milwaukee, and he gave up 5 runs in 8 innings. Also, there was a power failure in possibly the 9th inning, so I left the park and discovered the game restarted while at a games-themed bar on Addison, a few blocks north of Wrigley.


Prior's line doesn't match (6 innings, 3 runs, 1 earned) but it had to have been this game from May 6, 2003.

What a wonderful selection of players from that game:

Richie Sexson before his terrible Mariners contract
Brooks "the destitute person's Ohtani" Kieschnick
Alex "the other one" Gonzalez
Hee-Seop Choi, somehow being deployed as a pinch-runner
Moises "ask me about my smooth hands" Alou
Mark "SABR fave/horrifying vision of the future" Bellhorn
With MVP Baseball legend Juan Cruz and Antonio "The Octopus" Alfonseca appearing in relief.
   13. Walt Davis Posted: May 06, 2022 at 11:18 PM (#6075620)
I remember commenting to a friend about how effortless Prior's motion was. He looked like he was just playing catch. On the one hand, I said that might go on forever; on the other hand, I said it might be "too effortless" as in it didn't seem to have that classic Seaver/Clemens leg drive so maybe it was all arm and it would fall off. But I didn't konw nothin' 'bout no inverted W.
   14. SandyRiver Posted: May 07, 2022 at 12:39 PM (#6075656)
Lots of pitchers burn out early, but few are so good and then crash so spectacularly. Herb Score is the other name that comes to mind. But man, when prior made him mlb debut, I was excited.

Though arm trouble finished Score, it wasn't the trigger. He pitched like a lefty Bob Feller (big Ks, big BBs) in 55-56, and was doing the same in '57 - still leading in Ks a couple weeks after Gil McDougald's line drive.

Another odd flameout, though with a far shorter career, was Karl Spooner. He pitched 2 CG shutouts (27k, 6 BB, 7 hits) for the Dodgers late in 1954, then had only one 2.1 inning appearance before June 1955 and was mediocre afterwards except for his first 2 Sept appearances, another shutout then 5.2 innings of scoreless relief. Nice 3-inning shutout in relief in G2 against the Yankees, then disaster start in G6, 1/3 IP, 2 BB, 2 singles then Moose Skowron went opposite field yard. Spooner never pitched again in MLB.
   15. Walt Davis Posted: May 07, 2022 at 04:56 PM (#6075678)
Gary Nolan was kinda the first Gooden -- at age 19 in 1967, he threw 227 innings (maybe not such a good idea), struck out 8.2/9 (led the league), put up a 2.58 ERA, 147 ERA+. The K-rate dropped a bit then kinda collapsed at ages 23-24 then his arm fell off at 25. He did manage to make it back and even had a couple of good seasons while just K'ing 3-4 per 9. Jim Merritt was kinda similar, K'ing 7/9 in his early 20s. Then the K/9 dropped to 5 for a couple of years the he missed half a season (K/9 down to 3 when he did pitch), a full season, had one average season left K'ing 3/9. Tanana was mid-70s and he never missed major time but he went from HoF-level at 21-23 to Jack Morris as his K-rate dropped from about 8 to about 4.5

The Prior tale was a fairly common one in the 60s when they decided SPs should be throwing at least 250 innings and who cared if it was some 19-year-old. Some survived it of course and a lot of those guys went to the HoF. Some sorta survived it (Blue, McDowell); and a lot just fell apart. Of course they still fall apart so maybe those guys were gonna fall apart anyway.
   16. Howie Menckel Posted: May 07, 2022 at 05:37 PM (#6075691)
22 AL pitchers tossed 250+ IP in 1973, the first year of the DH:

Wood 359
GPERRY HOF 344
RYAN HOF 326
BLYLEVEN HOF 325
Singer 316
Colborn 314
Lolich 309

Holtzman 297
PALMER HOF 296
Coleman 288
BLee 285
Bahnsen 282
Slaton 276
Tidrow 275
Stottlemyre 273
Tiant 272
Cuellar 267
McNally 266
Blue 264
Splittorff 262
CWright 257
HUNTER HOF 256

so 5 HOFers out of 22 (and as one might guess, Hunter missed four weeks in midsummer with an injury).

age range is from Blyleven (22) to Cuellar (36). 14 of them were under 30.

The Angels, Orioles, and A's had three each. All teams had at least one except for the Rangers, who in unrelated news lost 105 games.

Texas IP leaders were Jim Bibby (180 and the only Ranger among the 40 ERA title qualifiers), Jim Merritt (160), reliever Bill Gogolewski (124), Sonny Siebert (120), and Pete Broberg (119). A then-unheard-of 17 pitchers started at least one game, and the team ERA+ was a brutal 80.

In fact, the only ones of the 20 Rangers P to reach 100 ERA+ were Bibby (115) and Rick Henninger (138 in 23 relief innings).

This was a year that No. 1 pick David "The Next Sandy Koufax" Clyde got 18 starts at age 18 - debuting 10 days after finishing his high school career in Houston. Clyde in 1973-74 had a 78 ERA+ in 210 IP, made just one appearance in 1975, then disappeared until resurfacing with the 1978-79 Indians - an 84 ERA+ in 1999, and then adios to MLB at age 26 after tearing his rotator cuff.

   17. Ziggy: social distancing since 1980 Posted: May 07, 2022 at 08:12 PM (#6075706)
And then there's Hiroshi Gondo, who pitched 429 innings at 22, 362 innings at 23, 220 innings at age 24, and never again pitched a full season. He did make a brief comeback as backup infielder, but without much success.
   18. Up2Drew Posted: May 08, 2022 at 08:58 AM (#6075750)
There was the collision with Marcus Giles in June 2003 - I was there, it was a violent and awkward collision; the ballpark fell silent.

I said to my wife, that's it, you gotta take Prior out, too valuable an asset to fool around with. It was the second inning, Prior cartwheeled and landed on his right shoulder. I'm not in the pitchers-are-made-of-glass school, but there was no point to him returning.

The Cubs/Baker sent him out to the mound in the third for three more (largely ineffective) innings and went on the DL afterwards.

That was dumb.
   19. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: May 08, 2022 at 06:26 PM (#6075805)
Gary Nolan was kinda the first Gooden -- at age 19 in 1967, he threw 227 innings (maybe not such a good idea), struck out 8.2/9 (led the league), put up a 2.58 ERA, 147 ERA+.


It's interesting, Nolan managed to reinvent himself as a completely different type of pitcher for a couple of years after what appears to have been his first injury; he simply stopped walking people, and managed one year to lead the league in k/BB without striking out many guys. But after a bit of that, he couldn't hold it together anymore.

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