In 2003, Mark Prior was considered by many to be the best young pitcher in baseball. But a collision with Atlanta second baseman Marcus Giles may – or may not – have forever altered the course of his career.
“It was poor base running on my part,” Prior said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Mark Grudzielanek had hit a ground ball to second base with two outs, I was at first, and for whatever reason, (what) I had in my head was, ‘Don’t run into the ball. Don’t be an out.’ I guess I just assumed Marcus was either going to come running in front of me and flip it under hand or kind of stay back and square up and make a throw. At the last minute I looked up and I was like, ‘Oh, boy, we’re going to collide.’”
They did. Prior bruised his rotator cuff, felt fine for a couple of innings but wound up missing a few weeks. He eventually returned and got into a groove in the postseason, but he was never quite the same.
Prior had a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 2003; he had a 4.02 ERA and 139 strikeouts the very next season.
“It was an unfortunate incident,” Prior said, “but there’s so many variables that went on in my career. Maybe it was my mechanics, maybe it was my genetics. People always want to pinpoint what was the one incident, what was the one event, or is there something you hang your hat on (as to) why your career got cut short? There’s nothing that I would point to. There’s (no one thing). I think it was a combination of probably everything. But at the end of the day, I had a chance to play in the big leagues – shorter than I probably had dreamed of, but when you’re five or six years old, you just dream of playing in the big leagues. The opportunity that I had and the relationships that I’ve created and sustained over the years because of it – I’m very fortunate and very grateful for the time that I had. Now is a time that I’m still in the game and I’m around the game and I have a chance to impact and influence the younger generation of players. It’s pretty humbling and it’s awesome.”
Prior, 35, is now the minor league pitching coordinator for the San Diego Padres. He was asked if would trade his career, if he could, with the career of Alex Rodriguez, who will retire this week after 22 seasons in the bigs but who was also suspended twice for using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
Prior said that he would not. He also is not sure what to make of the guys who cheated.
“That’s tough,” he said. “It’s not for me to judge and have a historical reference to what he’s done. It’s a tough situation. I pitched in that era, I played against a lot of guys who probably took it. I pitched against Alex Rodriguez. The guy was a phenomenal player before he probably was busted for that stuff, and the guy had a long career. There’s a fine line between going out and doing everything you can to win ball games and then obviously circumventing the system to make yourself above and beyond or better than anybody else.”
Prior would like stiffer penalties instituted for PED users.
“I think deep down, I think we all want as players, as former players – and I’ll speak only for myself – that I would want it to be full-scale, as tough as we can. I think until we get to a point where there’s no (incentive to not use PEDs) – even if you get caught, as of right now, there’s still a benefit to taking something, even if you get caught. Whether it’s a contract that might be coming or an existing contract that you’re under – half a year or a year at this time – obviously doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for some of these guys. So I’m in favor of doing whatever we can and being as strict as possible within reason to where guys don’t even want to test the system, they don’t even want to test the market. I think that’s where we have to get to. I think we’ve come a long way in the decade-plus to deter a lot of guys, but there’s still a small percentage of guys that are still willing to take that chance. Until we get to the point where nobody and no percentage is willing to take that chance, then we have to keep trying to tweak the system until we get it right or get it better and get it to the point where we know as players, or as former players, that everybody is on a level playing field.”