Before there was Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks anchoring the Chicago Cubs rotation, there was Mark Prior.
Prior looked to be the savior of a franchise who was still looking for their first World Series title since 1908. And he almost got them one.
The right-hander was as dominant of a pitcher as there was in baseball for the Cubs, posting a 18-6 record with a 2.43 ERA in 2003. The Cubs were just 5 outs away from a World Series and then it all went down hill.
After that, Prior was never the same. In 2004 he missed the first two months with an achilles tendon injury and was plagued by injuries for the rest of his career. He made his final start for the Cubs in 2006 and the rest is history.
Many blame Cubs manager Dusty Baker for pitching Prior too much, even to this day. In an article he wrote today for Sports Illustrated, Prior says that Baker is not to blame:
Others — mostly Cubs fans — still blame my manager, Dusty Baker, for the series of injuries that derailed my career. They believe that he overused me in 2003 and blah, blah, blah. Only, here’s the thing: I don’t blame Dusty for what happened to me. I wouldn’t change a single thing that happened during that season — beyond us failing to bring a World Series Championship to Chicago, of course. No matter how many pitches I threw, I never asked to come out of a game — doing so would have been unthinkable.
Oh what could have been.