Game Six. 2003. Five outs away. The right-shoulder of the Chicago Cubs’ future was on the mound and he was about to deliver in the here-and-now. We all know what happened next, unfortunately.
Ah, what could have been. 22-year-old Mark Prior was sensational in 2003, going 18-6 and nearly winning the NL Cy Young award. He won in the postseason twice, as well. But we all remember Game Six – and then how forgettable the rest of Prior’s career turned out to be.
There was no way to know it in 2003, but that was as good as it was going to get for Prior. He pitched near-full seasons the next couple years, but his Major League career effectively ended in 2006 after a string of arm injuries. He won all of 42 games in his entire career – and the formidable duo of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior never truly materialized past that season.
What’s crazy is the fact that the Prior situation wasn’t the first time we’d seen a promising pitcher’s career go south. Does anyone remember Mike Harkey? If you don’t, just know this: Before there was Mark Prior, there was Mike Harkey.
In the late 1980s, Harkey was considered not only the top prospect in the Cubs’ farm system, but the best in baseball period. He wore No. 22 for the Cubs and his first full season as a part of the big league club was 1990. It wasn’t bad at all for Harkey. 12-6, 3.26 and 173 innings logged. For a guy who was supposed to the next great pitcher in baseball those are pretty good first full-year numbers.
They turned out to be career-highs. He never even approached 173 innings ever again. Harkey did win 10 games in 1993, but his ERA was over five. Overall for his career Harkey ended up a .500 pitcher, going 36-36, and was out of the game by 1997 after injuries dealt his career fatal blow after fatal blow.
Harkey was a California boy, like Prior. Harkey’s career took him out west for the final few years, first it was Colorado, then Oakland, Anaheim and finally Los Angeles with the Dodgers when it all ended in 1997.
Prior has also tried to extend his career with stints on the West Coast. He gave it a shot with the Padres in the last few years and it was a no-go. Neither he nor Harkey were ever able to find success after their first full seasons.
Both Prior and Harkey wore No. 22 for the Cubs. If things would have gone according to plan this article would have been about the two great pitchers have had that have worn No. 22. Instead, it’s about a couple of guys that gave the Cubs and their fans hope and something to hang their hat on. And never delivered.
As far as Cubs history, they fit right in.