Friday, November 14, 2008

Kerry Wood Out the Door

Yesterday it was announced that the Chicago Cubs had decided to part ways with Kerry Wood after 11 seasons. Wood was the longest tenure current Cub and at least since the 1930s, the only Northsider to make 4 trips to the postseason.

I primarily liked Kerry, but due the perpetual injuries that dissipated--and all but devasted--what could have been a truly historic career, it was difficult to sustain much of a positive fervor for him.

Although I didn't see it live (even on TV, though I did see a replay), I remember his 20 strikeout game in just his 5th major league start as perhaps the greatest pitching performance I've ever seen. Perhaps that anyone has ever seen. His curveball just made hitters look stupid.

I remember getting his autograph on a baseball at an appearance at Marshall Field's in Skokie soon thereafter (sadly, and somewhat ironically, his signature--with a Sharpie--has almost faded away).

I remember how he came back from injury, perhaps unwisely, to pitch in Game 3 of the 1998 NLDS, and how he wound up missing the entire 1999 season.

I attended his comeback game in 2000 and remember him winning, though I forgot he also homered in his first at bat until I read about it this morning.

I remember his solid 2003 season, in which he led the league in strikeouts, won 2 games in the NLDS--including Game 5 which I attended in Atlanta--and homered in Game 7 of the NLCS after the Game 6 implosion, but eventually failed to hold the lead and put the Cubs in the World Series.

I remember him being generally a good and stand-up guy, but also part of the silly baby 2004 Cubs who berated their announcers for speaking the truth. And I remember when in 2005 he mocked Steve Stone's now proven correct suggestion that he and Mark Prior needed to adjust their deliveries or be forever doomed to injuries.

I remember year-after-year of "wait until Wood and Prior" come back.

I remember being glad this year when he accepted the closer's role and stayed healthy, and got the last outs of the division clincher.

I remember a guy who should've won more than 77 games, but never for lack of wanting to.

I also remember, though everyone else seems to have forgotten, that he was once reported to have a hole in his heart that could eventually be life-threatening. I certainly hope that that issue never resurfaces.

It's a shame injuries did what they did to Kerry Wood, and to whatever extent the Cubs, their managers, the desperation of the fans and even Kerry himself were culpable.

But somewhat amazingly, he's still only 31 and part of the reason for his leaving is because he can get far more money, for longer, than the Cubs are willing to give.

So with a bit of wistfulness, but without real sadness, anger or questioning of the decision, I wish Kerry Wood well and appreciate all--if not enough--of the great moments he provided.

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