Kerry Wood has been around so long it seems he must be as old as Willie Mays. Given Wood’s comings and goings, ups and downs, career highs and lows and twists, it is surprising that he is just 34. Heck, for some players, that’s being in their prime. For Wood, it’s just one more piece of evidence that his playing career is living on the edge.
So after a world tour, Wood is back with the Chicago Cubs again. What is this, the third time, or the fifth? Some fans probably think he never left. Most fans believed he would never be back.
My feeling is that as long as the guy can still get the ball over the plate he should be welcome in the Cubs clubhouse. He is a good guy who has done good things for the franchise over the years and although he never was able to record the career he should have experienced, he has proved very adaptable in being able to survive in the majors this long. Certainly, a sigh of what-if will always accompany Wood’s name when it is mentioned on the Chicago airwaves, but as Teddy Roosevelt said, bully for him that he has found a way to keep on truckin’.
For those who came late to the party, once upon a time Kerry Wood was the young, fireballing phenom who was going to rescue the woebegone Cubs. He was either going to be the second coming of Roger Clemens or the third coming of Nolan Ryan. You get the picture about his stuff.
Wood had barely turned 20 in 1998 when he made his Major League debut. In his fifth start that spring Wood punched out 20 batters on strikes in a game. Talk about electrifying. Talk about potential. That was a rookie record and it tied Clemens’ Major League mark for strikeouts in a nine-inning game. In one of those oddball records that you only hear about in baseball, that made Wood just the second pitcher to ever strike out the same number of men in a game as his age. Bob Feller struck out 17 in a game when he was a 17-year-old rookie.
Wood finished 13-6 that year and boy oh boy there hadn’t been such excitement on the North Side of Chicago since Ernie Banks broke in. Their careers, however, diverged after that. Poor Kerry followed with the arm injuries, the arm surgeries, the frustration of looking good for a month or so at a time and missing practically a whole season here and there.
Once envisioned as the horse of the rotation, Wood showed flashes of returning to full strength, but eventually ended up converted to a closer out of the bullpen and more recently, a middle relief guy. Nearly 14 years after Wood blinded fans with the bright light of his fastball he has a career record of 86-73 with 63 saves and a 3.64 earned run average. The 1998 National League rookie of the year, Wood was a two-time All-Star. He has endured his setbacks and disappointments with grace and dignity and with enough of a fastball left to be signed to a fresh one-year contract with the Cubs for the 2012 season.
He belongs in a Cubs uniform if he is going to be wearing any uniform and that’s pretty much Wood decided, too. He still lives in Chicago and he was looking at another shot with the Cubs or retirement. The first time around (or the first three times around if you include the iffiness of injury) Wood was a Cub between 1998 and 2008. He signed with the Cleveland Indians in 2009, but didn’t make it through two whole seasons there, finishing up the 2010 campaign with the Yankees. He returned to the Cubs for the 2011 season and signed a new contract for 2012 slightly more than a week ago for $3 million. Oh yes, there is a team option for 2013.
Wood will not be striking out 20 men in a game ever again, but he well could be a big-time set-up man. It is not what either the pitcher or the fans expected so many years ago, but after all of his arm problems not many baseball people would have predicted Wood would still be hanging in at this point preparing for another spring training either.