After this afternoon’s Chicago Cubs game against the Chicago White Sox, Kerry Wood officially retired from Major League baseball. He struck out the only batter he faced and went out with a bang.I have been a Cubs fan for all of my life and Wood will always be one of my favorite baseball players. In ’07, I had the privilege to see him pitch, but he wasn’t the dominant pitcher that once struck out 20 batters in a single game. Injuries derailed his playing career in the mid-2000s and was forced to pitch relief. He had success in that role, but he struggled this season with an ERA of 8.31 and twice as many walks as strikeouts.
How will will he be remembered, as a pitcher who once struck out 20 batters in a game or for the mystery of ‘what might have been?’
It is a shame that we will never know how dominant Wood could have been without his injuries. Wood and Mark Prior were going to be the Cubs version or Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, but both suffered career-threatening injuries. Wood was the last relic from the 2003 Chicago Cubs team who were only seven outs from making an improbable World Series appearance. The Bartman play occurred during that series, but most forget that it took place during Game 6 of the NLCS. Wood pitched in Game 7 and even hit a home run. He took the lost the game 9-6 and the Florida Marlins went on to win the World Series.
After the ’03 NLCS disaster, he was never the same. He had a sub-par ’04 season and then suffered injuries that kept him out for the majority of the following three seasons. He returned in late ’07, but came out of the bullpen as a precautionary measure. He turned into a capable relief pitcher. He even moved into the closer role in the ’08 and ’09 seasons, racked up 54 saves. He spent the next two seasons with the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees, but then returned to Chicago for a hometown discount.
Saying goodbye to Wood is a hard thing for me to do. I had to write a similar farewell to Peyton Manning post just two months ago. I am a huge fan of both teams. As a fan, it will be odd to not see either Wood or Manning on my team’s sideline.
Cubs fans always kept faith that Wood would return and contribute to the team. Prior was not so lucky. The fans lost patience with him much quicker. We all know that Wood will not be inducted into the Hall of Fame or even get his number retired. He will always been mentioned in Cubs folklore as a member of the ’03 team and for his amazing rookie season in ’98. He holds a special place in the hearts of Cubs fans.
You will see him around Chicago. He will be a special assistant in the Cubs organization and he has his foundation in the city. He is a devout Christian and does a lot of great things for the people of Chicago.
Wood finishes his career with a 86-75 record and 3.67 ERA. The two-time All-Star also struck out 1581 batters in 1379 innings.
He could have been the next Nolan Ryan or Steve Carlton, but he turned out to be the first Kerry Wood.