Should it be a detriment to the reputation of a guy like Terrell Davis, who had four absolutely stellar NFL seasons before injuries derailed his career prematurely? What about Ken Griffey Jr., who could very well have been the one challenging Hank Aaron's home run record if it weren't for a series of DL-ridden years in the middle of his career? Or how about Mark Prior, a guy who was touted as a can't-miss prospect and the game's next great power pitcher, but who has only 101 starts in his five seasons because of a myriad of injuries? Is it fair to attach the bust label to someone who's lack of productivity isn't based on poor play, but uncontrollable injuries?
Prior, a former Golden Spikes winner and the 2nd overall choice by the Cubs in 2001, seemed worth the hype after a promising 6-6 rookie season the following year. When Prior finished third in NY Cy Young voting in 2003, just his second in the bigs, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that it wouldn't be his only opportunity for the award. After all, Prior had compiled an 18-6 record that year, despite missing significant time after a collision with Marcus Giles. Ironically, it was Prior's stint on the DL that season that has proved to be prophetic, not his impressive record.
In the previous three seasons, Prior has started the season on the DL and has tallied seven trips to the infirmary over the five years he's been in the majors, sprinkling less-than-dazzling numbers inbetween injuries. He'd finally returned this year on June 18th from his most recent injury, going winless in four starts. But the other shoe has dropped -- Prior missed his start today because of an injury that occurred in pre-game batting practice, and the team is currently unsure about whether or not he'll have to go to the DL. We know what we're putting our money on.
It was only three years ago people were penciling the Cubs in as a long-lasting powerhouse -- with Prior and Kerry Wood headlining their rotation they'd have two dominant pitchers to rely on for years. Unfortunately, both have proven to be incredibly brittle, and the Cubs are now wasting away as the joke of the MLB. Prior has suffered a serious career setback. Where most pitchers his age are finally piecing together ability and experience to dominate batters to the tune of 20+ win seasons, Prior has only averaged eight a year. Will he ever be able to stay healthy for an entire season? He's young enough, but he cannot afford any more DL time if he wants to regain some semblance of a career. Once thought of as an untradeable entity, Prior has recently been shopped -- most notably before this season in a deal for Miguel Tejada. The next step is an actual deal that will shed payroll for the rebuilding Cubs and gain them some prospects to rebuild around. Whoever takes him will assume the risk for his potential. And if that doesn't work he'll either be looking at relief work that'll prove less strain on his body or worse -- release from baseball. For a guy with such a skillset, that'd be a shame.
So back to the original question -- should players have to suffer the blame for injuries beyond their control? Should it effect their status in history? As with everything, this is a case-by-case basis. Terrell Davis had already made a more significant impact in four years -- three 1,000 yard seasons, one 2,000 yard season, two Superbowls -- than most running backs make in a career. But Prior hasn't proven anything yet, and though it's not entirely his fault he's faced all of these setbacks, his statistics speak for themselves. 41-23 is not befitting of a great pitcher, and until Prior can hit the mound with regularity, he'll be forced to deal with the words "great pitcher" being preceded by "potentially." As a 2nd overall pick and a guy who's been littered with hyperbole since before being drafted, Mark Prior is a major bust. It doesn't matter who's fault it is or why. It just is.