It has been a ubiquitous sight around Wrigley Field for the past five years — the tightly fitting, almost leotard-like Mark Prior t-shirt on the body of some shapely blond or brunette. And perhaps the thought of that disappearing saddens me more than last week’s under-the-radar news that Prior’s tumultuous, what-could-have been career with the Cubs is over. (Although I guess I won’t mind if they are replaced by Ryan Theriot or Mark DeRosa shirts, as the middle infielders seem to have taken over as the heartthrobs du jour of Clark and Addison).
At any rate, it certainly is amazing to think that a career that started off with such a bang (no, not that kind of bang, perv) has faded into the night without so much as a farewell.
I was a radio intern in the cramped Wrigley Field press room the day Prior was called up in 2002, preparing for his first career start the next night against the Pirates. The Wrigley press room, which is about the size of my kitchen and located directly across the hallway from hundreds of bags of fertilizer, was filled shoulder-to-shoulder with every receding-hairline media type you could imagine. One of the more respected guys in the Chicago media (more than one, actually) mentioned that this was the biggest spectacle they had seen since Michael Jordan’s retirement. Well, at least his second one.
Both that day and Prior’s first start, a gem against the Buccos, I will never forget. A star was born. But it would not last very long. Five years later, what is left over other than some hot girls in t-shirts?
-Potential unfulfilled. Prior’s 2003 season was one of the best in modern Cubs history, an 18-6 mark with a 2.43 ERA. And those damn five outs. Nothing is more symbolic of Prior’s career than that night in October 2003 where the Cubs were on the brink of the World Series with him in complete command of the game. Then Bartman, Alex Gonzalez’s error, and complete chaos thereafter.
Prior’s career has been in that same chaos ever since that ill-fated 8th inning. Every season ever since has been derailed to some extent by injury with the majority of his appearances seeming to take place at Class-A Peoria. The low point coming this past year, when he was unable to even throw one pitch.
- The opportunity for rebirth. Now that Prior is no longer a Cub, it is fair to assume he will shortly regain his 2003 form. Certainly it is no stretch to assume that he can replicate the career path of one Dennis Eckersley, who the Cubs traded to the A’s after a 6-11 season in 1986. In the next five years, he would go to four All-Star Games and win a Cy Young and MVP award.
-Sideburns. I have Mark Prior to thank for my sideburns. When I was covering the team as an intern, it was hard to ignore all the female attention being heaped upon Prior. Trying to determine what it was that they found so irresistible, I figured that it must have been his sweet burns. So I decided to grow them myself. And I have to say, I was considerably more successful with the ladies from that time forward. Though one never knows what success I would have had if I covered the team in the Bill Buckner era.