View Full Version : The Moron column count '02: Flubs 20, Sox 7

05-21-2002, 09:10 AM
I give this one a "3" for the Flubbies. I could give it a 4, but Jay does his usual season-is-over-already moaning enough to bring it down to a 3.

Funny, though, how Jay says to keep the hype about Prior in perspective, when he's written about 4 columns himself about the kid.


I meant the *other* columnists' hype, cheeses, not my own.

5=Extremely positive
3=equal parts positive and negative
1=extremely negative

That makes the totals (columns/points/average points):

Flubs 20/68/3.4
Sox 7/22/3.14


Prior's no miracle worker

May 21, 2002


In his mind, he's just another guy with long sideburns and a new job out of college. If Mark Prior could control his surroundings, he'd just as soon pitch in a cornfield for $5 a game. ''I don't think I'm different than anyone else,'' he said. ''People say a lot of things about me, and it's nice, but I'm just a person playing a game.

''I'm not a savior.''

Unfortunately, the denizens of Cubdom--a religious cult of longstanding sufferers numbering in the millions--firmly believe Prior is a savior with a resin bag. They see the thirtysomething poise, impeccable mechanics and 94-mph fastball in the eighth inning and think they've finally been given a mercy package. So immersed is Chicago in his arrival, the real Anna Kournikova could do a strip tease on Oak Street Beach and no one would notice. The city clearly has its Prior-ities, askew as they are.

All of this is over the top, if not unfair. Something is very annoying about the savior talk, starting with the presumption the Cubs ever could be saved. Even if he becomes one of the greatest baseball phenoms ever, hardly a laughable concept among those in the know, let me issue a reminder that starting pitchers perform once every five games and can't magically eradicate curses, hexes, black cats and billy goats. For this franchise to fare better in the Prior era (if that is what it becomes) than it has in nine previous decades of heartbreak, great pitchers will have to be surrounded with great hitters and great leaders--a formula the Cubs haven't gotten right in eons.

So do the kid a favor. Exercise Prior Restraint, OK? Don't anticipate too much at the outset, beginning Wednesday night against the Pirates in a trumped-up, nationally televised civic event that actually brings some sparkle and hope to one of the more miserable Cubs seasons. I have followed him from Waffle House, Tenn., to a riverbank in Iowa to his new home on the North Side, and not once has he flinched or blinked. But those close to Prior are concerned, rightfully so, that a 21-year-old will walk into Wrigley Field and suddenly feel the weight of intense nationwide hype and delusional Cubbie expectations. From the day Baseball America declared him the finest college pitcher ever, he has been elevated into a rock star, which means anything less than a complete-game debut shutout might cause a collective groan.

That's absurd. Andy MacPhail hasn't been right about much lately, but he's spot on about keeping Prior's major-league infancy in perspective. ''I'm worried about the expectations that are going to be placed on Mark,'' the Cubs boss said in announcing the call-up. ''It's a big step walking out there for the first time. And then to bring him in when the team is struggling and have the kind of media attention he has garnered through his career, it's going to be hard to meet those expectations.''

Look, it's not Prior's job to clean up MacPhail's 14-27 mess. It's not his job to shake up Don Baylor's dead dugout, snap Moises Alou out of his hypnotic state or tell Crime Dog Fred McWhiff that he should be investigated for salary theft. ''The one thing I've been trying to avoid--and it looks like I'm going to walk right into it--is trying to make this kid the savior,'' MacPhail said. ''When the major-league team is struggling and he's got to be the white knight that rides in, we're really asking a lot.'' What Prior must do is basic: produce consistently sound outings that allow an anemic offense to scratch out a run or two and win low-scoring games. Such is the lament of another mean season in a hard Cub life, something the kid doesn't understand but soon will.

''I've never bought into things said about the Cubs and their history. I'm just very excited to be part of this organization and the future,'' Prior said. ''Everyone has been great to me, and I want to go out and do my job and show what I can do.''

He has been compared to Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Does it keep him up at night? ''I'm honored when I hear comparisons like that, but I'm only getting started,'' he said. ''They've had Hall of Fame careers and have proved it over a long period of time. If I can have some of their success, that would be great.''

In a perfect world, Prior wouldn't have been rushed to the majors so quickly. His father, for one, preferred a slower track and a mid-summer callup, but the Cubs' pitching problems forced MacPhail's hand. Everyone involved with Prior credits his father as a model parent, the firm but flexible guide who hired pitching coaches for his son at a young age yet allowed him to grow up normally. In any how-to handbook for grooming a young athlete, Jerry Prior has authored the right way. The most reckless thing I've heard lately, on a talk show, is that Prior is the baseball version of football player Todd Marinovich. The difference: Prior is as well-adjusted as they come, while Marinovich, controlled from birth and prohibited from eating at McDonald's, ended up a heroin addict who bounced from league to league.

''Todd was orchestrated from diapers to graduation. Mark isn't like that,'' said Tom House, the pitching guru who turned Prior into a phenom. ''He has a real life, a real girlfriend. I think he's as good a person as he is a pitcher. He's a complete individual.''

Do not worry about Prior wandering down Rush Street for a good time, as Kerry Wood occasionally did in his earlier years. He is a conditioning fiend, though you wouldn't know it looking at him in street clothes. If Jose Canseco claims seven of 10 players are on steroids, be certain that Prior is not. He is a product of stretching and science more than barbells and protein shakes.

Also don't expect to see him doing much TV or radio. He will do interviews with a smile, but he'd prefer to fit in naturally with teammates and keep the media frenzy to a minimum. ''Baseball isn't life or death,'' he told me recently. ''I'm like anyone else making a living.''

Starting today, when he walks into the cob-webbed nook under the Wrigley stands for his first big-league news conference, Mark Prior will realize he's not like anyone else. There is no doubt he should be here, but there's also no doubt he will struggle at times. Just as Ryan struggled, Schilling struggled and Johnson struggled, he will have days when the wind is blowing out and hitters are jacking him. If he goes 7-3 with a 3.50 earned-run average this season, consider it a terrific start with this team.

Please keep that in mind. And if you see Kournikova doing a strip tease on Oak Street Beach, it's all right to look. Really.