Chicago's Conflicted Relationship with Injured Athletes: The Wood/Prior Effect

Chicago's Conflicted Relationship with Injured Athletes: The Wood/Prior Effect

Attend the convention - read any "ask the beat writer" column - and the calls for Woody still come pouring in. "Will he come back?" "He's back!" "Can he still start?"

Kerry Wood's right arm could fall off and fans would begin planning his career as a lefty.

In 2003, Mark Prior went 18-6 with a 1.1 WHIP, and threw only about 20 less strikeouts than "Kid K" (245 vs. 266) while being charged with half the walks (50 vs. 100).

Kerry never had more than 14 wins as a starter - that same year - and he was tagged with 11 losses, too.

And yet the ticker-tape parade is welcoming him back into town, where he returns as a pretty effective middle-reliever.

When Prior became ineffective due to injury, we chased him out of town, screaming "jerkface!" (I admit, I was one). When Woody became unable to perform his duties as a starter, we turned him into a closer, pondered making him pitching coach, even begged the question of putting him up into the booth to replace Ronnie.

So what is it about guys like Mark Prior and Jay Cutler that have Chicago sports fans just waiting for the right moment to turn on them? Is it the perpetual scowl? Is it that they don't give all the right answers?

Let's face it - the right answers in sports are boring. "It was a team win today," or "We'll get 'em next time." Urlacher doles these out in the form of one-word sentences. So does Lovie Smith. And still: one is a hero - the other constantly under fire.

It must not be the "jerk" factor that the smallest touch of arrogance can give rise to, because we so readily turn on the opposite, as well - just ask Cristobal Huet or Rex Grossman.

Ah... . 

Perhaps these two hold the answer.

Because nobody really understood what it was that got into Huet's head right after a goal was scored that allowed another to go in so quickly (hell.. nobody understood hockey at that point, but that's beside the point, at least by now..).

And nobody really understood Good Rex/Bad Rex or what suddenly made it so hard to hold onto a simple snap when the pee-wee-est of pee-wee players can do it.

Was it the French-to-English language barrier? Or that Grossman didn't quite have a grasp on himself either that made us distrust him?

And do we really know what goes on in the mind of Mark Prior? Or Jay Cutler?  Or Lovie?

We know that Wood and Urlacher are humble guys, ready to take blame for the team (or can at least fool us into believing so).

But when Jay silently sits on the sideline, what we're really clamoring for is somebody to yell at. Somebody to absorb our fury. Somebody to OBVIOUSLY FAIL US.

Chicago doesn't want a hardworking, headstrong reflection of itself - all it needs is a sponge.

We want to understand. We want to talk about sports like we know - like we're in on it. When we're not privy to all the reports, injuries and team decisions as they happen, it gives rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories - such as the ones that posit both Jay Cutler and Mark Prior as way too wussy to perform or as some kind of overpaid slackers.

We poke fun at the towel drills, but we don't watch how many hours they go on. And practices, doctor visits, rehab sessions, video sessions, workouts and getting proper nutrition and sleep aren't things that are televised. We don't watch all of that. We go about our semi-normal lives while these guys practically torture themselves for our entertainment.

You know that Mark Prior is still out there signing minor league contracts, right? Working for far less than he'd have earned as a top-of-the-line starter.

Does it look to you like he's given up?

And when Jay Cutler takes hit after hit after hit after hit all year long, occasionally blowing up on the sidelines, but never in the media, do you think that a single, two-second shot of him sitting sullenly on the bench should be overwhelming evidence to this city that he's "given up" on them?

Ryan Dempster is perfect for this town because when he hops over the railing and breaks a toe, we can laugh. Because we know him - he's the jokester. He's laughing at himself, too, and doing Harry Caray impressions for the camera.

I'm not saying that one guy is better than the other, but as a person, myself, who is seemingly now perpetually injured, I can finally understand why Mark Prior might come off as kind of a jerk (being unhealthy kind of BLOWS). And all this time I've been plotting my revenge, attempting to publicly heckle the guy.

I'm sorry, Mark Prior.

I hope you make your amazing comeback this year.

And Jay - don't mind us. Just be yourself.

Leave a comment