(CBS) Former Cubs pitcher Mark Prior, one of the most star-crossed players in recent baseball history, continues to cherish his MLB career despite a great deal of misfortune that came with it.
Prior had a strong rookie campaign in 2002, then really burst onto the scene in a 2003 season in which he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 245 strikeouts. It was a short-lived case of stardom for Prior, who would deal with injury issues and be out of baseball by the time he was 25 in 2006.
“There’s so many variables that went on in my career,” Prior said in an interview on the Doug Gottlieb Show on Monday. “Maybe it was my mechanics, maybe it was my genetics. Maybe it’s just life in general. People always want to pinpoint like 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? Basically what I’m trying to say, 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. And 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.”
Now a minor league pitching coordinator for the Padres, Prior was questioned about players who used performance-enhancing drugs, including slugger Alex Rodriguez, who’s set to retire after playing his last game Friday. Prior emphasized he wouldn’t trade his career for Rodriguez’s.
“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 said.
“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.”
A man who Prior does hold in high regard still is former Cubs manager Dusty Baker. The two are forever linked as central figures on the 2003 Cubs that heartbreakingly fell in the NLCS, as well as in the belief in some circles that Baker overused Prior, hindering his career. Prior has never blamed Baker for any of his injury troubles.
“His greatest strength is he believes in the individual player,” Prior said. “Even if deep down, he has doubts, he doesn’t make you feel like you have doubts. He makes you feel like you can go out and get the job done, no matter what the situation is.
“He makes you feel like you can go out and accomplish anything. And maybe in turn, that might be one of his liabilities, that he always has faith and he trusts guys to get the job done. As a player, that’s what you like. You want the faith and confidence of your coaching staff.”