On Sunday, we learned that the San Diego Padres have officially given up on the Mark Prior Reclamation Project, putting a once incredibly promising career onto seemingly permanent ice.
On Monday, the Cincinnati Reds announced that promising young hurler Edinson Volquez underwent Tommy John surgery and will not be pitching for the next 12 months.
The connection? One Johnnie B. “Dusty” Baker, who has managed both players in their injury-plagued careers.
Perhaps it is all just a coincidence. As a group, pitchers are a particularly injury-prone lot. You’re always going to see someone go down, and maybe it just so happens that two extremely promising phenoms have gone down on Baker’s watch.
As far as Prior is concerned, it is hard to believe that this is the way that it appears his career will finish. I was there in 2002 covering the Cubs as an intern for Prior’s first press conference the day before his debut against the Pirates. The ’02 Cubs were a simply wretched group, and being a year before Wrigley Field became a perma-sell out every game for trendy Lincoln Parkers and the rest of their ilk, the team was desperate for some buzz. So they called up their top pick from ’01, Prior, who was deemed the surest bet to be a regular All-Star that you’d ever see.
The tiny Cubs media room — essentially an oversized broom closet — was filled to the brim for that press conference. One of the other reporters said that it was the most people he’d seen at a presser since Michael Jordan retired, although I’m not sure which retirement he was referring to.
At any rate, Prior fulfilled that promise in 2003 when he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and brought the Cubs to the brink of the World Series. But that was pretty much all she wrote for Prior, who went through three injury-ravaged seasons after that and hasn’t been heard from since. He’s faded away without so much as a peep after coming on the scene with such tremendous fanfare.
Baseball has been full of talent that has fallen short of its potential — names like Doc Gooden come to mind — but few seem as star-crossed as Prior was. One of his injuries came from a collision on the basepaths, the kind of thing that could only happen to a pitcher if he was in a Cubs uniform. Another came when he was hit in the arm on a line drive back to the mound. Freak stuff. Stuff that you can’t blame Dusty for, unless karma is just out even the score with him.
One can only hope that Volquez, who went 17-6 and finished second in the NL in strikeouts in 2008, does not follow a similar career path as Prior. But Reds fans would probably feel a lot more comfortable in that assertion if Dusty wasn’t around when Volquez gets back on the mound.
Whether fair or not, Volquez’s injury pretty much seals Dusty’s reputation as a guy who will ruin young pitchers. But in general, it simply looks like he’s lost his touch. After enduring only two losing seasons in his first 12 as a manager, Dusty is now working on his fourth straight losing season. Whatever mojo he once had (dudes using steroids?) is long forgotten at this point.
It’s impossible to quantify what effect he might have had on Prior or Volquez getting hurt, but the proof is in the pudding as far as Dusty’s inability to field a winning team anymore. Whether he gets to stick around another year or not, that makes it pretty safe to assume that Cincinnati will be the last stop of his managerial career.