It's official now; the pitcher who was going to be a dominant starter for the Chicago Cubs from 2002 to... well, even now... has retired as an active player:
Just ran into Mark Prior in the lobby. He is officially retired after shoulder blew out again w/reds triple a. Could join #Padres FO.— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) December 9, 2013
It's ironic, in a way, that Prior's final injury as described above -- a shoulder problem -- happened after he signed with the Reds, who were managed last year by Dusty Baker, who is widely believed to have started Prior's arm troubles when he was Cubs manager.
That may or may not be true; I'm more convinced that Prior's shoulder issues began after he was hit in the elbow by a line drive by the Rockies' Brad Hawpe in this game on May 27, 2005. When the injury happened -- and you could almost hear it all around Wrigley Field -- it appeared that it would be season-ending, if not career-threatening.
Instead, in a misguided attempt to return the Cubs to contention in 2005, Prior was back on the mound within four weeks. He threw six one-hit innings against the White Sox in this game on June 26, 2005 and everyone breathed a sigh of relief -- Prior's back!
But he really wasn't. Despite having a few double-digit strikeout starts the rest of 2005, Prior's numbers declined; he posted a 4.25 ERA and allowed 15 home runs in 16 starts covering 97⅓ innings the rest of 2005. Then he began 2006 on the disabled list, and when he returned, he was a shadow of his former self. In his 2006 debut against the Tigers at Wrigley Field June 18, 2006, he got pounded for four home runs and clearly had nothing. He struggled through a few more starts before being shut down.
I remember seeing him the last time he pitched in a Cubs uniform, in spring training, March 22, 2007; ironically, his opponent that day was former Cub Greg Maddux. Prior threw four decent innings, but soon was "shut down" again, a phrase we'd hear over and over before he was finally let go.
Prior tried several more comebacks with the Padres, Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox and Reds. He was nearly called up in 2012 as a reliever with Boston -- just before the Red Sox came to Wrigley Field. Now that would have been a scene.
I suspect that 2005 injury wasn't fully healed when Prior came back. He might have subtly altered his pitching motion because of the elbow injury, and that could have helped cause all the shoulder issues -- which did not exist before that time. That's what happened to Dizzy Dean back in the 1930s, when he came back too soon from a broken toe, altering his motion and ruining his career.
I wish Prior well in his future endeavors; he does seem suited to a front-office job, though that tweet doesn't say exactly what it might be. And just as with Kerry Wood, we are left to imagine what might have been.