NEW YORK — There have been a lot of theories for why Mark Prior‘s arm became too fragile to live up to the incredible hype he carried into his Major League career.
They talked about how he delivered pitches with that dreaded inverted ‘W’ (where your elbows lift above and beyond the level of your shoulders). They mentioned scapular loading (when pitchers pinch their shoulder blades together). They chalked it up to bad luck.
And, perhaps most of all, they blamed Dusty Baker.
Baker, now skipper of the Reds, managed Prior with the Cubs from 2003-06. In ’03, the year the Cubs were one win away from reaching the World Series, Prior was 23 and as good as any pitcher in baseball. But perhaps too young to pitch in 211 1/3 innings in the regular season, then 23 1/3 more in the playoffs.
Prior, of course, succumbed to an inhuman amount of arm troubles thereafter, to the point where he hasn’t appeared in a Major League game since 2006 (and just one Minor League inning since then — this past September). Even he can’t pinpoint exactly what went wrong.
But he’s not putting the blame on Baker.
“Dusty is a manager who got hired to win ballgames, and Dusty went out and managed to win ballgames,” he told me in a phone interview recently. “I don’t fault Dusty. I was 21, 22 years old in the heat of that. I wouldn’t have changed anything about that, either. I wouldn’t have taken myself out. And a lot of those games, I argued to stay in a lot of those games, because I knew what it meant to that team and what we had a chance to do. I didn’t expect to turn around and start having issues.”
After frustrating setback after frustrating setback, Prior got back on the mound late in the 2010 season by pitching against a low-grade level of competition in the independent league. Then, he pitched one inning for the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate before signing a Minor League contract with the Yankees
Prior was picking between the Rangers and Yankees this offseason, but chose New York because he felt the makeup of their bullpen gave him a better shot to pitch in the big leagues again.
Right now, that’s all he’s thinking about.
“That’s my first goal, is to get back to the big leagues, earn my way back,” he said. “I don’t expect to get handed anything and know that I’m not going to get handed anything. So I expect to earn my way back to the big leagues, and then once I’m there, go out there and pitch the way I know how to pitch. And try to help the Yankees win ballgames.
“I know that sounds cliche, but definitely, where I’ve been and the point in my career, where I’m at now, for me the ultimate goal is just to get out there and win.”
I’ll have more from Prior on MLB.com in a couple of weeks.
And here’s a story on the state of African-Americans in the Majors.