It seems fitting that during the same week when ESPN announced it has commissioned a one-hour documentary about Chicago Cubs scapegoat Steve Bartman, MLB.com reported former Cubs pitcher Mark Prior will be released by the San Diego Padres.
Cubs fans will recall that Prior was on the mound when the Cubs fell apart in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. Bartman was wrongly blamed for the collapse because he (and others sitting near him) attempted to catch a foul ball that outfielder Moises Alou wouldn’t have caught but Alou threw a hissy fit as if he would have, unnerving the team into defeating themselves. Bartman didn’t flub an easy ground ball that should’ve started an inning-ending double play. (It was shortstop Alex Gonzalez who did that.) Bartman didn’t allow the Marlins to score five more runs in that game or cause the Cubs to lose Game 7 with Kerry Wood on the mound, either.
ESPN should leave Bartman alone, but that’s not really the point of this post. Rather, I wish to lament what likely is the end of a once-promising pitching career.
In 2003, when Prior and Wood pitched the Cubs to the brink of the World Series, Prior went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts. Nobody thought then that Prior would win just 18 more games in his major-league career. But a series of injuries made sure that was the case.
Prior was once considered one of the brightest stars in baseball. Now he just serves as a warning to kids like 16-year-old Bryce Harper, who thinks it’s a good idea to skip two years of high school to enroll in a community college so he can enter the Major League Baseball draft earlier. Just because Sports Illustrated was reckless enough to dub Harper baseball’s “Chosen One” and run a cover story about the kid doesn’t mean he’s a sure thing. Prior was once considered “can’t miss” and now, at age 28, he has to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.
Harper should heed the Prior cautionary tale and finish his education — at the very least, his high school education — before turning pro. And Harper’s father shouldn’t allow him to leave high school early, no matter how hard the kid pushed for that to happen. The stupidity of that decision almost makes me want to root against the kid — and I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that way. Perhaps that makes me a bad example — but Harper is being an even worse one.