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Mark Prior reflects on Cubs stint and defends Dusty

Chicago Cubs pitcher Mark Prior delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros during the sixth inning Monday, June 14, 2004 in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Mark Prior won 18 games for the Cubs as a 22-year-old during an All-Star season in 2003. He helped get the Cubs five outs from the World Series. And he represented a promising future for the Cubs before injuries derailed his career.

Now Prior is a minor-league pitching coordinator for the San Diego Padres. He hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since 2006, when he went 1-6 for the Cubs.

Prior knows exactly what his legacy is in Chicago, and he detailed his feelings in a personal essay he wrote for Sports Illustrated’s The Cauldron.

“Even now, when people hear my name, they still think about the hype and the potential. And, inevitably, the injuries,” Prior wrote.

Ah, yes, the injuries.

“Some people pointed to problems with my delivery and arm action,” Prior continued. “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.

“Dusty was hired to manage each game like it was his last. And over the course of a season (or even multiple seasons), that meant an endless series of decisions — especially when it comes to balancing pitcher workloads against the need to win games. Ironically, this is part of my job with the Padres now — the job pitching coaches at all our affiliates have — and it’s not an easy one. Like anything else, you do the best you can.

“I believe Dusty did the best he could, and anyone who thinks he is responsible for what happened to me or Kerry Wood, I would strongly disagree.”

7-11-03 Cubs vs Braves, Wrigley Field, Chicago IL. Cubs pitcher Mark Prior collides with Braves’ Marcus Giles. Prior was injured on the play, but remained in the game. [2 of 2 sequence] (Keith Hale/Sun-Times)
7-11-03 Cubs vs Braves, Wrigley Field, Chicago IL. Cubs pitcher Mark Prior collides with Braves’ Marcus Giles. Prior was injured on the play, but remained in the game. [2 of 2 sequence] (Keith Hale/Sun-Times)

Prior believes much of the blame goes to two freak injuries he suffered during his short career: His collision with the Atlanta Braves’ Marcus Giles in 2003 and the Brad Hawpe line drive that broke his elbow in 2005.“That collision could’ve stretched my shoulder capsule out without my ever really knowing it,” he wrote. “I’ll never know, but I’ll always wonder.”

Prior also admits to being aloof with the media in Chicago, but stresses he enjoyed his too-brief time on the North Side.

“I loved my time in Chicago, too, despite how things turned out,” he wrote. “If I would have signed with New York out of high school, maybe I would’ve crashed and burned years earlier. Or maybe I would’ve pitched for a decade and never made it to The Show. It’s impossible to say.

“I do know that I’ll never have any regrets.”