1. Derrick Rose.  ACL 4/28/12

Potential Championships lost: Anywhere in the range of two to eight Larry O’Brien Trophies.

I still can’t help but think about the greediness I feel contributed to one of the most gut-wrenching moments in Chicago sports history.  The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement expired in the summer of 2011, leading to a lockout that lasted into December.  The owners hashed it out with players’ union rep Billy Hunter, while ballers like Derrick Rose were forced to the sidelines.  The shortened, condensed, 66-game season saw the Bulls and other teams sometimes play 3 nights in a row, or 4 games in 5 nights.  At that time, Derrick Rose was known as a gamer.  He missed over 20 games – after playing in 81,78 & 81, respectively, his first 3 seasons – but battled to play through various injuries for Tom Thibodeau and his teammates that season.  The reigning MVP carried the top-seeded Bulls into the playoffs as a favorite.  The human body accounts for injuries and compensates.  I’ll go to my grave believing that the toll taken on Derrick’s legs during that pre-load management season contributed to his ACL giving out during Game 1 of the opening series against Philadelphia.  Joakim Noah hobbled on his badly-sprained ankle in Pooh’s absence for as long as he could hold out.  The Bulls lost in 6.

A devastating day.  Bulls fans remember where they were when this happened.  Changed the course of franchise history in immeasurable ways.  The 2012 Bulls seemed destined for a championship.  Disagree?  Watch the Heat struggle to get past the ancient Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett Celtics (LeBron didn’t show up until Game 6) and prepubescent Oklahoma City Thunder.  Rose OWNED Russell Westbrook and Westbrook knew it.  Russ would’ve tried to make it him versus Rose while Rose led his team to a series win in 5.  Imagine the 2012-2013 Bulls with the confidence of defending champions.  Might’ve been a 3-4 year Heat/Bulls rivalry with a couple rings for both.  Even then, Derrick Rose hasn’t reached his prime.  Imagine a never-injured D Rose from age 26-30 with a retooled team around him as an aging Joakim Noah stepped back into a mentor/bench role.  Maybe a few free agents jump on board, clamoring to play alongside 1st ballot Hall of Famer and top-3 player in the league Derrick Rose.  Perhaps Durant comes to Chicago instead of Golden State.  Maybe Grant Park is booked every summer through 2023.  This could’ve been the next dynasty.  The Bulls ascend past the Lakers and Celtics to the claim the NBA’s all-time top franchise status.

2.  Mike Brown

Torn achilles 9/21/04

Torn achilles 10/16/06

Potential championships lost: 1 Super Bowl

My friend Jim Lambe owns only 1 Bears jersey: #30 Mike Brown.  He wears it every Bears Sunday in tribute to the most underappreciated athlete who ever stalked the flat at Soldier Field.

In his Hall of Fame speech, Brian Urlacher singled out Mike Brown:

“Mike Brown and I were drafted in the same class. He’s the smartest football player I’ve ever been on the field with. Even smarter than I am — and I hate saying that. When he was in the game, it took a lot of pressure off myself. He communicated with the defense with his little squeaky-ass voice. ‘Hey, Lach! Over here! Watch out!’ I miss that voice. When he wasn’t on the field, it hurt me and it hurt our defense.”

Brown was born to play defense for the Chicago Bears.  He studied. He anticipated. He tackled.  He made big plays. He was a leader.  From 2000-2003 he was the Pippen to Urlacher’s Jordan on defense; before Lance Briggs arrived on the scene. Brown was an All-Pro in 2001. If his body hadn’t failed him, Brown might’ve been fitted for a Hall of Fame jacket alongside #54.

The first Achilles injury happened at Lambeau Field early in the 2004 season.  Brown returned an Ahman Green fumble 95 yards for a touchdown.  Much like D Rose, Brown’s injury came during the waning moments of the game that was already decided.  With Bears leading Brett Favre and the Packers 21-10 late in the 4th quarter,  Brown sustained a non-contact injury; a torn right Achilles tendon.  He was carted off the field with a towel on his head.  Brown’s season was over after 2 games.  The defensive touchdown he scored off Green Bay was his 5th, most in Bears history at the time.  (Overall – Brown scored seven defensive TDs, 2nd in Bears history behind Peanut Tillman’s nine.)  Brown still holds the franchise records for most fumble returns TDs (3) and fumble return yardage (221).

Brown worked his way back into Pro Bowl form in 2005.  He wasn’t quite the same elite force, but remained one top safeties in the league.  His presence on the field aided Urlacher as the middle linebacker earned the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

In 2006, the Bears began the season 5-0.  Led by Urlacher, Briggs, Tillman, Brown and Tommie Harris; the vaunted Bears defense only allowed one opponent to reach double-digits points through Week 5.  Week 6 was the famous Dennis Green rant game.  The Arizona Cardinals jumped out to a 23-3 lead on the undefeated Bears before Mike Brown returned a fumble for a touchdown at the end of the 3rd quarter to cut into the lead.  Urlacher made superstar plays, Tillman returned a fumble for a TD and Devin Hester completed the ultimate comeback with an 83-yard punt return TD.  The Bears won 24-23.  Chicago celebrated and Denny Green combusted.  Lost in the joy of the comeback was the loss of Mike Brown.  One series after he ignited the turnaround, Brown tore the same Achilles tendon on right leg.  Once again, his season was over.  He wouldn’t play in another game that season, missing out on the Bears’ appearance in Super Bowl XLI.  Although the Bears went on to win 13 regular season games and win the NFC Championship, the defense was weakened considerably due to the loss of Brown and…

3. Tommie Harris

Torn hamstring 12/3/06

Potential championships lost: At least 1 Super Bowl, maybe 2.

My heart tells me if either Brown or Tommie Harris were healthy and played in Super Bowl XLI, the Bears easily defeat the Indianapolis Colts.  Peyton Manning (123 passing yds, 1TD, I INT), the least-deserving Super Bowl MVP in recent memory, struggled in that game.  Unfortunately, he was only the 2nd suckiest quarterback lacing ’em up that fateful day.  (Put Kyle Orton under center in place of Rex and the Bears win.)  Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai carried the Colts’ offense.  They ran it right up the gut, where Harris would’ve been stuffing holes.  Tank Johnson was a solid piece and slid over from shotgun(reference intended) to the driver’s seat of the defensive line best he could. Some guys, however, are irreplaceable.  Tommie Harris was a freak of nature.  On a defense with Urlacher and Briggs, opposing offensive lines schemed to account for Tommie Harris first and foremost.  He was a disruptive force both in the passing game (31.5 career sacks) and against the run.  You couldn’t block Harris with one man.  Two or three offensive lineman were required, opening up TFL opportunities for the Pro Bowl linebackers.  Watching Harris play pre-injury reminded me of Warren Sapp’s unique blend of size, strength and quickness.  Not saying Harris was Warren Sapp, but in the same ballpark.  He made 3 Pro Bowls.

How impactful was Tommie Harris?  Through the first 12 games of the 2006 season, the Bears defense allowed an opposing offense to score over 20 points only 3 times.  In the 3rd quarter of Week 13 versus Minnesota (a 23-13 Bears victory), Tommie Harris tore his left hamstring.  In the remaining four regular season games without Harris (vs. all non-playoff teams), the Bears defense allowed more than 20 points in all four (27, 31, 21, 26).

Explosive, powerful and relentless with a first step quick as Coby White.  One highlight doesn’t do him justice so here’s a YouTube video full of Tommie Harris moments featuring the oddest soundtrack choice, Fall Out Boy covering Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”:

Did you see Tommie get off the line at the 3:05 mark and swallow up Philip Rivers?  Bringing the lightning and thunder right at the Chargers.

Up above, I wrote 1 Super Bowl and maybe 2.  Consider a never-injured 27-year-old-in-his-prime Tommie Harris leading the 2010 Bears defense.  This Jay Cutler-helmed team had a far superior offense in comparison to the 2006 Grossman team.  Urlacher was 32 and still highly effective, if on the downside of his career.  A full strength, beasting Harris would’ve certainly been a difference maker in the NFC Championship Game Caleb Hanie almost won. That Green Bay team was beatable.  An impact player at a crucial defensive position might’ve made up the difference enough to give the Bears a home victory that day.

In reality, a limited Tommie Harris recorded zero tackles vs. Green Bay.  He was never the same post-hamstring tear.  The Packers went on to beat Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.  It stands as Aaron Rodgers only championship.

How different things could be.

4. Mark Prior

Collision with Marcus Giles 7/11/03

Championship cost:  2 to 3 World Series titles (and 2003 ain’t one of ’em)

A week before Mark Prior would make the only All-Star appearance of his star-crossed MLB career, the Cubs’ pitching prodigy drew a walk off the Braves’ Mike Hampton with two out in the bottom of the 2nd inning of a game at Wrigley Field.  Mark Grudzielanek hit a 1-2 pitch to his counterpart at 2nd base, Marcus Giles.  Prior, hustling to second, collided with Giles as he fielded the weak grounder.  Prior’s knee hit Giles in the head, knocking Giles out cold.  He’d be diagnosed with a concussion.  Prior flipped over the top of his opponent and landed on his right shoulder.  The 22-year-old held his pitching arm as he sat up, clearly in pain.  He stood and walked off the field with the home crowd standing to applaud.  Prior remained in the game, retiring the side in order in the top of the 3rd, two of the three on strikeouts.  His shoulder stiffened as the game continued.  He gave up an RBI single to Vinny Castilla in the 4th and Andruw Jones crushed a deep 2-run homer off Prior in the 5th.  He walked the next batter (the soon-to-be-villian Robert Fick) before Dusty Baker summoned Kyle Farnsworth from the bullpen to replace the young ace.

“I got it checked out. I don’t feel anything physically wrong. I don’t think there’s anything structurally wrong,” Prior told reporters. “I think at most it’s probably going to be sore for a couple days.”

A couple days later, Prior admitted to Paul Sullivan of the Tribune it was “dumb” to run haphazardly on the basepaths.  He didn’t see Giles coming.  Dr. Michael Schafer concluded Prior’s shoulder was “much improved” and defined it as a contusion.

“Knock on wood,” Dusty Baker declared.  “We dodged a bullet.”

Don’t say ‘Wood’, Dusty.  Especially when referring to an injured young Cubs pitcher.

Dusty would manage the NL All-Stars in 2003, a reward for his 2002 pennant win with San Francisco.  He pitched Kerry Wood (scoreless 4th inning, 2 Ks) but kept Prior on ice during the Midsummer Classic.

“I’m sure he wants to pitch in the All-Star Game and we want him to pitch,” Dusty said. “But what’s most important is that he’s available and not hurt for the second half. Right now it’s on a day-to-day basis.”

Prior did some throwing in Miami the Saturday after the All-Star break and his shoulder felt sore.  The Marlins team doctor sent him back to Chicago for something called “magnetic-resonance-imaging test.”

via GIPHY

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The Cubs placed him on the 15-day DL and Sergio Mitre got the call from Des Moines to take Prior’s place in the rotation.  Mitre gave up 8 earned runs in 3.2 innings against Atlanta.  Juan Cruz started in Prior’s place against 1st place Houston on July 26. “Little Pedro” Cruz gave up 3 earned runs over six innings but took the loss.  Cruz earned another start and pitched well again in a duel with Curt Schilling.  Both starters gave up 1 run in 6 innings.  The Cubs eventually won that game in the 14th when newly-acquired Aramis Ramirez drove in Sammy Sosa with bases-loaded RBI single to right.

SIDE TRIP: Moment of appreciation for one of the best trades in Cubs history.  Jim Hendry fleeced the Pirates, acquiring Aramis Ramirez and a Kenny Lofton rental.  Lofton, the former All-Star proved KEY in the leadoff spot in the 2nd half and into the playoffs.  Lofton replaced CF Corey Patterson, who was in the midst of what could’ve been a breakout season before he tore his left ACL legging out an infield hit against St. Louis 5 days before Prior and Giles collided.  Before the injury, Patterson was hitting .298 with 13 HR and 55 RBI through July 6 and was looking like the long-term answer in centerfield.  Cubs fans had been enticed by young CF talent before.  Jerome Walton won ROY in 1989 on the strength of his Cubs team record 30-game hitting streak then sophomore slumped and junior slumped and senior slumped before the Cubs cut him loose.   Sosa played CF for a time in the 1990s before taking over RF from Andre Dawson. Vets like Brian McRae, Willie Wilson, Lance Johnson and Damon Buford patrolled center during the Sammy years.  The organization hoped #3 overall MLB draft pick Patterson would wrestle the job away from Gary Matthews Jr.  In 2002, Corey earned the starting job and hit .253 with 15 home runs in 153 games. The next year, he looked like rising stud before the ligament injury.  Patterson came back to hit 24 homers in 2004 but no longer possessed that star quality.  He declined gradually until the Cubs traded him to the Orioles for 2 minor leaguers in 2006.  Cubs fans would be similarly teased by prospect Felix Pie years later…and the centerfield thing is still a year-to-year question – despite a dazzling 2-year fling with Dexter Fowler (one of Theo’s best trades!) The Pirates gave up Lofton and Aramis for Jose Hernandez and overhyped prospect Bobby Hill.  For Hernandez (who played 15 years in the bigs and was a 20-home run guy and All-Star for Milwaukee) it was the second time he’d been traded by the Cubs.  In 1999, they sent Jose and Terry Mulholland to Atlanta for Micah Bowie, Ruben Quevedo and Joey Nation(Sweet name, lousy curveball.) Jim Hendry traded Mark Bellhorn to the Rockies in June of 2003 to bring Jose back to Chicago.  A month later, Jose was on his way to Pittsburgh and the Cubs acquired an RBI machine who could pick it at 3rd for the next decade. The Ron Santo curse ended the day Hendry pulled the trigger on the Aramis deal.  Bonus future side effect: Kris Bryant didn’t have to hear about the 3rd base drought, thanks to Aramis.  Not that KB would’ve fallen prey to the voodoo that shattered Gary Scott, Kevin Orie, Mike Olt and Josh Vitters…but nice to avoid it anyhow.  Thank you, Mr. Ramirez.

Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Mark Prior.  He came back strong on August 6th in San Diego. 6 innings, 6 K, 0 ER and the W (9-5).  Joe Borowski nails down the save (his 20th) and the Cubs win 3-0.

That gem was just the beginning.

August 10th at Dodger Stadium against All-Star Kevin Brown: Prior throws a complete game and improves his record to 10-5 with a 3-1 victory as Sosa homers twice off Brown.  The Cubs are in 3rd place, half a game behind the Cardinals and 2.5 games back of the Astros.  Prior’s 116 pitches are probably a lot, considering it’s his 2nd start back off the injured list.  But he’s awesome, striking out 9 batters.

Friday August 15th, kicking off a weekend home series at home against the Dodgers: Prior throws another complete game.  Cubs win 2-1 (Sosa drives in both runs with a 1st inning RBI double and an RBI single in the 5th.)   Mark the young stud is 11-5 with a 2.65 ERA.   118 pitches this time out.  It’s the team’s 4th straight victory and the Cubs leapfrog Houston to take over 1st place in the NL Central by half a game.

Kerry Wood gets shelled early in his start the next day and Hideo Nomo outduels Carlos Zambrano on Sunday to give L.A. the rubber game of the series.  The Astros retake 1st place by a half game.   Guess where the Cubs are headed for a 3-game showdown after an off day on Monday the 18th?  That’s right: Houston.

Jeff Kent leads a barrage against Matt Clement on the 19th, who walks 4, gives up 8 hits and 8 ER in just 4 innings.  Ramirez, Moises Alou and Alex Gonzalez all homer as the offense battles back.  But the Cubs fall 12-8.  Kent ends up driving in 6 runs.  St. Louis takes over 2nd place (1 GB) and the Cubs drop to 3rd (1.5 GB).

22-year-old Mark Prior takes the mound on August 20th with his team in need of a victory.  All the kid did was go out and hold the top four hitters in a nasty Astros lineup (Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell and Kent) to a 1-for-16 day with 7 strikeouts.  Prior threw 7 shutout innings, gave up only 4 hits and struck out 9.  Farnsworth and Borowski locked down the final two innings and the Cubs won 6-0.  Ramirez (2-run HR) and Randall Simon – also acquired from the Pirates midseason – (3-run homer) supplied the power.

Prior (100 pitches) was 12-5 with a 2.54 ERA and the Cubs were once again within a half game of 1st.

Wood only lasted 4 innings on Thursday the 21st.  Biggio and Berkman got to Kerry and he surrendered 5 earned runs.  The Cubs lost the rubber game (always use fun-to-say phrase “rubber game” when appropriate) 9-3 and dropped behind St. Louis again.

Zambrano dominates in Arizona the next night with a 93-pitch complete game.  Sosa cranks 2 homers (#29 & 30) and Aramis adds his 19th of the year – all off Curt Schilling.  5th starter Shawn Estes gets shellacked on Saturday and the Cubs lose 12-3.  Clement throws 7 strong innings on Sunday and earns a 5-3 win.  The Cubs take two out of three from the Dbacks while the Astros drop 2 of 3 at Minute Maid Park against the Reds.  Houston and St. Louis are tied for 1st place with the Cubs 0.5 games back.  The Cubs travel to St. Louis to complete the road trip. Off day Monday.

Tuesday, Prior is on the mound. At Busch Memorial Stadium. In August. Half a game out of 1st.

He goes 8 innings and gives up 1 run.  116 pitches.   Aramis and Simon both homer again.  Mike Remlinger bails out Kyle Farnsworth in the 9th and the Cubs hold on to win 7-4.  Prior improves to 13-5 with a 2.47 ERA.  Houston beats the Dodgers.  So it’s the Astros in 1st, Cubs in 2nd (0.5 GB) and the Cards in 3rd (1 GB).

Next day, Kerry Wood strikes out 11 in 7 shutout innings.  Sosa has an RBI single in the 6th and and RBI double in the 8th.  The Cubs enter the bottom of the 8th with a 2-run lead.  Antonio Alfonseca gives up a single to Albert Pujols to lead off the 9th.  Alf is immediately replaced by Mark Guthrie, who gives up a single to Jim Edmonds.  Dusty pulls a double-switch, bringing in Kyle Farnsworth. Kyle walks Scott Rolen to load ’em up and gives up a game-tying single to Tino Martinez and a go-ahead single to Edgar Renteria.  The Cardinals tack on another run and the Cubs end up losing 4-2 and wasting Wood’s performance. The Astros win and the Cubs are back in 3rd. Zambrano pitches well again, but the Cubs lose the finale 3-2.  Back to Wrigley, where Clement and his weird beard outduel Ben Sheets; but the Brewers beat Estes and Cruz the next two days.  The Cubs are 1.5 back of both Houston and StL, who are tied for 1st.

1st day of September now.  Cubs are in a 3-way race for the division; still haunted by the Curse of the Billy Goat and the accompanying pressure. Only 1 Wild Card team makes the playoffs in 2003.  It’s a possibility for the NL Central runner-up. However, the Florida Marlins are surging behind the far-ahead NL East dominant Braves; under the guidance of a 73-year-old baseball lifer, interim manager Jack McKeon.

Prior takes the hill at home vs. the Cardinals to begin a HUGE 5(!) game series.  Prior hurls 8 shutout innings, striking out 9.  Cubs win 7-0 as Eric Karros hits his 11th homer.  Prior’s record improves to 14-5 with a 2.36 ERA.  Pitch count: 131.

Game 1 of a double-header the next day goes 15 innings, but the Cubs win 4-2 on a 2-run 15th-inning walk-off home run by Sosa.  St. Louis wins the nightcap with Matt Morris barely besting Kerry Wood, 2-0.  Alou drives in 4 on Wednesday as the offense gives the Cubs an 8-7 win.  Thursday was another team effort to earn a hard fought 8-7 victory and take 4 out of 5 from St. Louis – an incredible, heart-pounding, crucial and decisive series win over Tony La Russa and company.  The Cubs ran the Cards off the road by taking 4 out of 5.  St. Louis would finish the season in 3rd place.

Chicago was still chasing Houston, trailing the Central by half a game.  The Cubs traveled north to Miller Park for the weekend and swept the Brewers. Juan Cruz beat Ben Sheets 4-2 (Sosa HR #33) on Friday.  Prior improved to 15-5 on Saturday, September 6th.  The Cubs won 8-4.  Prior gave up 3 ER on 10 hits in 7 innings.  He threw – hold on to your toothpicks –  129 pitches.  Wood pitched the Cubs into 1st place with an 8-inning, 2 ER performance on Sunday (Sosa HR #34).  Houston lost to Jake Peavy in San Diego and the Cubs jumped ahead by half a game.  The Cubs lost 2 of 3 in Montreal, with Prior taking his first L since the day he ran into Giles two months…well, prior.  He surrendered 10 hits and 3 runs in 5.2 innings.  109 pitches.  Cubs lose 3-2 and return home 1 game back.

They win 2 of 3 at Wrigley vs. the Reds, but the Astros sweep St. Louis at Minute Maid Park. Cubs are 2 back.  Clement, Prior and Wood (complete game shutout) throw back-to-back-to-back gems as the Cubs sweep the Mets on the North Side.  Prior throws 124 pitches in 8 2/3 innings; striking out 13.  They go to Pittsburgh, where they split a 4-gamer.  Prior wins the final game of the series, striking out 14 on 131 pitches.  Dusty is here to win the division, but the Cubs remain in 2nd by half a game with less than a week remaining in the season.

Wood dominates in Cincy and the Cubs go on to win 2 of 3 there.  Tied with Houston. 3 games left for both teams.

A rainout on Friday puts Prior on the mound for Game 1 of a doubleheader on Saturday. Houston lost Friday night. Prior throws 133 pitches in 6.2 innings.  The Cubs win 4-2. Houston loses Saturday as Clement wins the nightcap and the Cubs clinch the division! Celebration in Wrigleyville!

Prior got the ball in Game 3 of the best-of-5 Division Series against the Braves with the series knotted up 1-1.  He was going against a guy named Greg Maddux.  Maddux went 6, gave up 2 runs.  Prior hurled a complete game on 133 pitches.  Cubs win 3-1.

Wood threw 8 dominant innings in the deciding Game 5 win at Turner Field, sending the Cubs to the NLCS for the first time since 1989.

We all know what happened in against the Marlins.  I don’t want to talk about it.  I don’t think Prior’s injury contributed to the collapse.  He was spectacular the entire 2nd half and throughout the playoffs.  That includes Game 6, up until shit went downhill.  Not really Prior’s fault.  I mean, he could’ve bailed out Alex Gonzalez, Alou, Dusty and that one fan with some 8th inning punchouts, but the Marlins had some hitters.  Tough to get 3 outs against Miguel Cabrera, Pudge Rodriguez and Derrek Lee, much less 4 or 5.

The real issue is what happened to Prior’s career after 2003.  The Cubs signed 38-year-old Maddux to be the 5th starter and looked to have a monster rotation set for 2004 with Wood and Prior at the top.  Hendry opted for offense over defense at catcher.  I like Michael Barrett and always will, but Damian Miller was far superior behind the plate. The switch from Miller to Barrett really hurt the pitching staff.  Not as much as injuries did, however.  Wood already had his history with arm problems.  Prior, we were told, was different.  His mechanics were flawless and he’d be impervious to the issues that plagued Kid K.

Unfortunately, Mad Dog ended up making more starts than any other Cub pitcher in 2004.  He tied Big Z for the team lead in victories with 16.  Injuries returned for Wood and started to build up for Prior, too.  The 23-year-old’s season started off with leg problems.  He went on the disabled list in spring training with a sore Achilles and a bad ankle.  The ankle problems, Prior said, began in late 2003.  He wasn’t the same Mark Prior when he came back in June, although he regained some pitching dominance late in the season, striking out 16 on the last day of the season.  He finished 6-4 with a 4.02 ERA.

Prior missed the first couple weeks with elbow inflammation to begin the 2005 campaign, but returned and pitched well.  He was 4-1 with a 2.95 ERA going into May 29th against the Rockies.  In the 3rd inning, a 117 m.p.h. line drive off the bat of Colorado’s Brad Hawpe struck Prior in the elbow, causing a hairline fracture.  Back to the DL.  He returned in June and had a pretty good year, for most pitchers.  11-7 with a 3.67 ERA.

The elbow derailed Prior in 2006.  He made nine starts that year, finishing 1-6 with a 7.21 ERA.  At age 25, it was the last time he’d pitch in the majors.

Many have theories about what happened to Prior, ranging from organizational coverups to steroid use.  Dusty is often blamed for overusing the young star in 2003.  Prior absolved Dusty of any blame in a 2016 Sports Illustrated story.  Mark is pretty clear about one thing: He doesn’t know why things played out the way they did.  Was it the Giles collison?  The Hawpe liner?  Dusty?  Was it just another case of ailments piling up or the body accounting for one injury, thus leading to others?

Put all that away for a second and imagine Mark Prior never got hurt.  Instead, pretend the 22-year-old rising superstar continued his ascent.  Think about what kind of experienced ace he would’ve been at age 26 and 27 for the Lou Piniella back-to-back Central Division Champs.  Probably the type of #1 that can win you 2 games in a playoff series.  He’d already proven he could win big postseason games.  A 2008 rotation with Prior at the top, followed by no-hitter era Zambrano, Ryan Dempster (17-6, 2.96 ERA), Ted Lilly and Rich Harden?  Wood piled up 34 saves that year and Carlos Marmol boasted a 2.68 ERA.  Maybe the offense doesn’t sputter against the Dodgers in the NLDS with the confidence of knowing Prior’s on the mound.  Maybe the Cubs go on to win the World Series that year as the Soriano/Lee/Ramirez/Geovany Soto offense settles in and revs up in the later rounds of the playoffs.  Prime-of-his-career ace Mark Prior certainly improves their chances.  Maybe they keep the team together and compete again the following year and the year after that.  Maybe Jim Hendry doesn’t trade for Matt Garza in 2011.  Chris Archer eventually joins the rotation.  Of course, the butterfly effect would alter the 2016 Cubs.  No opportunity to draft Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber.  Maybe it’s an aging Cubs team on the decline by 2016.  Perhaps it’s best not to alter time and space and just appreciate things for the way they turned out.  Some players never get hurt.  Some do.  That’s life, for better or worse.

5.  Omer Asik

Fractured fibula – 2011 Eastern Conference Finals

Championship cost: One Larry O’Brien trophy

 

I know what you’re thinking: One of these doesn’t belong: Rose, Brown, Harris, Prior, rookie backup center.  But Asik’s injury dramatically changed the outcome of the #1 Chicago vs. #2 Miami series.

Here’s what Luol Deng recently said about it:

“People don’t remember with Omer Asik, when we had Omer, that season I think we won 62 games. Every time we had Omer play the whole fourth quarter, we beat Miami that year (three) times during the season and we won the first game (of the conference finals). But in the last few minutes of that game Omer broke his leg. I don’t know many people know that story, but we really couldn’t beat the Heat without him after that. We all knew it in the locker room and we had a hard time doing it, and I felt like we could’ve won that year.”

Miami had difficulty with tall, shot-blocking centers, as former Bull Tyson Chandler showed in the Finals that season.  Unfortunately, Omer broke his leg.  Before that, the Superbull from Istanbul (as Stacey King called him) played in all 82 games.  Bad luck. Could’ve gotten that ring the year before Derrick’s knee.

Picture Rose hugging the Larry O’Brien trophy like MJ.  Now, dry your tears.

The next Chicago championship is has gotta be around the corner.  Right?