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Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
For all the hype, all the promise and all the potential of Mark Prior, his career in baseball may be officially over.
Yes, for those of you wondering at that statement, his career was only mostly over after his last injury-filled flameout with his hometown San Diego Padres in 2009. But according to a report in the Trib, he was injured yet again in his latest quest, a desperate grasp at the glory days that ended far too soon.
"Mark has been through so many timelines, at this point I'm almost allergic to the word," Prior's agent John Boggs said in January. "But he's out there. He's getting himself ready. And when he's ready, I'm sure you'll hear a lot about him. Then we'll invite teams to come watch him throw. And hopefully, he'll be the next Ben Sheets."
Prior, it seems, was nailed with a comebacker in the pitching shoulder in what may be the final divine message that it's time for him to take his Cubs signing bonus - a then-record $10.5 million in 2001 - and hang 'em up in style. For that matter, the $15,00 a month the Padres were paying him to rehab without ever pitching an inning for them would make for a decent start at retirement.
The injury was not reported as serious, but he's apparently been shut down for three weeks as a precautionary measure.
As baseball fans watch Joe Mauer and Mark Teixeira, the two names most notable as Cubs draft considerations in 2001, win MVP awards with the Minnesota Twins and help slug the Yankees back to championships in New York, it's hard not to think about how Prior is synonymous with broken hopes in Cubdom.
It's a story of a career made even more sad when you consider Prior hasn't turned 30 yet and has already had multiple shoulder reconstructions.
"If I can get back to 80 percent or 90 percent of what I used to be, then that's still pretty good. I look back to those three, four years in the big leagues, and I pitched pretty well and did the things I had to do to help us win games," Prior said during Spring Training with the Padres in 2009. "I don't know if those memories haunt me, but they motivate me."
The fact that he still feels the competitive impulse to try to drag his battered arm through the violent process of major league pitching again does say something about his fire, but maybe it's better for him at this point to just put the tattered dream on ice for good.
The Chicago Cubs are a team built on more than 100 years of "nexts." Next game. Next year. Next beer. Next rookie phenom.
Enter the latest in a long line of can't-miss prospects - shortstop Starlin Castro. It was only a matter of time until the 20-year-old - .376 with one homer, 14 extra-base hits and 20 RBIs in 26 games at double-A Tennessee - hit the bigs, and there's no time like the present for a team desperate to find a spark.
Castro, according to ESPNDeportes reporter Enrique Rojas, will start at shortstop tonight in Cincinnati. Ryan Theriot will move to second base defensively and the seldom-used Chad Tracy will be packing for the minors according to reports.
As usual, the team is bringing up the rookie on the road to keep as much pressure off as possible. He'll also be hitting in the eight hole so he can adjust - though he should expect a steady diet of breaking pitches with the pitcher up next, not something you see a lot of in the minors.
Cubs PR folks haven't made an official announcement yet - and no moves have been announced. But ook for a fresh face in the infield at the Great American Ballpark.
The big question, of course: Is Castro the real deal? We'll start to find out tonight.
John Ely uncorks a first inning pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers at Dodger Staium on Thursday night. (AP)
John Ely is a genuine pride of the South Side - Harvey, to be exact. So what is he doing helping out the Cubs?
Ely, making just his second big league start - and first home start at that - was a human wrecking ball for the Los Angeles Dodgers against the North Siders' nemesis Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday night.
With no less than Vin Scully singing his praises, Ely spun a gem at Chavez Ravine and was in position to earn the win before a Jonathan Broxton meltdown in the ninth. At one point, Ely sat down 16 in a row.
Allowing just one run in six and two-thirds innings Ely, who now has 72 games under his belt in three professional seasons, only allowed two runners as far as second base and took particular interest in embarrassing Jim Edmonds, saddled with three of Ely's seven strikeouts off a variety of high-80s fastballs and and assortment of on-the-corners breaking stuff.
It's a vast improvement on his shaky debut against the Mets, where he lasted six innings, but was touched up for 5 runs.
Ely, called up to sub for a disabled Vicente Padilla, may not get another chance on the Dodger Stadium bump with Jeff Weaver expected back from injury Friday. But with the command he showed Thursday night, he'll also likely find his way back pitching with the big club in the near future.
One thing is for sure: Ely's domination was likely just a little more painful for Sox fans. He was drafted and signed as a Sox in 2007 out of Homewood-Flossmoor, but ended his South Side career as the player to be named that completed the Juan Pierre deal in December 2009.
The voices of the game of baseball are often the audible history of the game. A call, a moment, a memory. All tied up in the tones that became familiar to generations of fans accustomed to following their teams on the radio and TV.
And, without hyperbole or hype, there have been few of those voices more integral, more loved and respected than the great Ernie Harwell.
Through his four decades with the Detroit Tigers, players came and went, teams rose and fell, but there was always Ernie to share the game - and a quirky catchphrase or two - with the people of Michigan.
And now that voice, one of the few that truly transcends a sport in an age of homogeneous broadcasting names, is gone.
Ernie Harwell is dead at 92 after a battle with cancer.
Many words will be spilled and emotions near the surface for legions of baseball fans in the coming days as the great broadcaster is eulogized in Tiger Nation and beyond. But in the end, the sad truth is that baseball is yet another treasure lost from the glory days. With Harry Caray passing in 1998, the Philadelphia Phillies Harry Kallas last year and now Harwell, Vin Scully stands alone as the last of the great voices of the game.
While Harwell's career stretched into the '40s and included numerous assignments, including famously his near-brush as the NBC TV broadcaster at the Giants-Dodgers "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," playoff game, he will forever be a Tiger.
Baseball survives even its biggest losses. But the gentle, iconic Harwell, even after living in retirement for the past few years, will leave a gap in the game not soon filled.
Perhaps the most fitting way to pay tribute is to let Harwell say farewell in his own words from his final Tigers broadcast, but just as poetic now as then:
"It's time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I'd much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure. I'm not leaving, folks. I'll still be with you, living my life in Michigan -- my home state -- surrounded by family and friends. And rather than goodbye, please allow me to say thank you. Thank you for letting me be part of your family. Thank you for taking me with you to that cottage up north, to the beach, the picnic, your work place and your backyard. Thank you for sneaking your transistor under the pillow as you grew up loving the Tigers. Now, I might have been a small part of your life. But you've been a very large part of mine. And it's my privilege and honor to share with you the greatest game of all."
Milton Bradley works on his birding skills. (Photo courtesy SeattleDawg18)
Milton Bradley, maybe you vaguely remember him bringing his unique skill set to the North Side Nine last season, is playing his part to perfection once again.
Just a few weeks ago, the explosive former Cubs outfielder equated himself with the likes of Kanye West and Ron Artest as baseball's bad boy:
"If I was a musician, I'd be Kanye West. If I was in the NBA, I'd be Ron Artest. In baseball, they've got Milton Bradley. I'm that guy. You need people like me, so you can point your finger and go, 'There goes the bad guy."
OK, Milton. What finger were you talking about pointing again?
Bradley, now blessing the Seattle Mariners with his talents, didn't waste any time getting into the controversy column this season. During a game Friday night at the Texas Rangers, also a former home for the hot-headed one, Bradley was caught on camera answering fans' taunts with a bird flip. The Dallas Morning News' Rangers Blog reports on the incident, which apparently was scrubbed from the tape-delayed broadcast.
Milton was unavailable for comment after the game and Mariner's manager Don Wakamatsu could only muster what will be the first of many "no comments" this season.
So, if you're keeping track, Bradley now has one finger flipped on the season, matching his hits through Friday night. Serendipitous.
Cubs fans, you're gonna miss the big lug this season, aren't you?
Mark Buerhle may not have been perfect in his record eighth Opening Day start for the White Sox, but this defensive gem sure was.
In the fifth, the left-hander took a bullet from Lou Marson's bat off his leg, chased it down in foul territory along the first-base line and flipped it without looking through his legs with his glove hand to Konerko to get the out.
Even with 161 regular-season games left, it could very well end up being the Sox' defensive play of the year.
Buehrle was checked out by manager Ozzie Guillen and the training staff, which gave fans the opportunity to give him a well-deserved standing ovation.
Buehrle finished after 7 innings with a 5-0 lead over the Indians, giving up just three hits and striking out three.
Mr. Cub is doing his best Papa Bear impersonation - advising one of the kids to tell the truth.
Ernie Banks tells the Trib's Fred Mitchell that he wants to see Sammy Sosa pull a Mark McGwire: fess up, come clean and move on:
"I would say just what Mark McGwire did," Banks said. "Come clean with it. Explain it to them. ... Just say: 'This is what happened.' It is hard to do, to admit this. Just admit it and live with it and understand it. I am sure a lot of people will forgive him."
Sammy has always denied using anything heavier than Flintstones vitamins, but with the Cardinals' slugging first baseman admitting to juicing during the two stars' historic homer battle in 1998, the pressure continues to mount on Sosa to say he cheated, too.
But when you have Banks on your back, it takes the movement to a whole new level. The Hall-of-Famer is easily one of the iconic faces of the organization. If Sammy has something to tell the world, having Banks in his corner to help him through the media maelstrom is about as good a guardian angel as you can get.
"I will just explain it to him and how the people are," Banks said. "I don't think he really understood that. People are for you; they want to see you do well. They are forgiving people. We haven't won in over 100 years, so this audience here is pretty special."
Greg Maddux is a Cub again. No, he won't be pitching, but he will be helping general manager Jim Hendry figure out what to do with his pitchers.
Maddux is about to be announced as a special assistant to Hendry, helping the embattled GM with player development. Maddux will be a season-long presence for player evaluation.
Maddux's will help Spring Training instruction for, as well as scouting during the season.
Maddux will reportedly be available anytime to Hendry during the season to evaluate minor-leagues and give the GM input on trades, free agent signeings and other player moves.
Maddux has always been touted as one of the smartest players in the game and his impact on young pitchers is second-to-none. But does he have enough mojo to turn the Cubs system around?