Kerry Wood almost did not come back to play in the 2012 season and Friday he announced his mid-season retirement after a career that was dotted with some highlights, but pockmarked by incredible frustration.
When it all began for Wood with the Cubs as a 20-year-old in 1998, he was supposed to be the next in the line of the great Texas fireballers, a linear descendent of Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. He seemed to have the goods and he electrified baseball when he struck out 20 batters in a game as a fifth start as a rookie. In those days he could hit 100 mph on the radar gun.
Oh, what a career was promised. By now we should have been talking about Wood as a potential all-time great, as a many-time All-Star. However, that is not what fate had in mind for the powerful righty. Instead, Wood will sadly be remembered best for what might have been if his arm hadn’t let him down.
Wood was 13-6 at age 21, yet never won more than 14 games in a season and only twice more won 12. He went on the disabled list more than a dozen times, including once this season and noted, “My body just wasn’t bouncing back.” He said farewell to fans with a doff his cap at Wrigley Field Friday and refused to issue a woe-is-me speech, instead saying he had fun playing and learned a lot about himself when the difficult times came along.
Injury after injury led to reduced expectations. Wood was going to be a front-of-the-rotation ace starter. He pulled it off for a bit. Then he was going to be the next great closer, with many fewer innings being coaxed out of the once-magic right arm. Then he was a middle reliever. Then he wasn’t even a Cub, floating around for a couple of seasons before landing back at Wrigley Field for another go-around.
Wood definitely showed flashes as a closer and at other times in other relief roles. But nothing ever lasted very long because his wing was always damaged. In some ways it is a testament to his fortitude that Wood hung in there and kept on throwing into 2012.
As someone who was a pretty nice guy to those around him in the game, Wood had lots of people rooting for him to make a successful comeback–each time. But it has been a ticking clock on his arm for years now. Each fresh chance offered hope, but each time around Wood was being counted on to face fewer and fewer batters.
It finally reached the point in Chicago this season that he was not being counted on much at all and he wasn’t getting many people out, either. One of the bigger inter-league series that has retained its freshness since the teams from the American League and National League began crossing over, is the Cubs-White Sox showdown. Friday, the White Sox bested the Cubs, 3-2, but Wood got into the game.
Appropriately, the last batter Wood faced in the majors, Dayan Viciedo, he struck out. As he headed to the dugout for the final time Wood made it clear he was walking not only to the showers, but into retirement at just 34 years old.
Wood’s lifetime record is 86-75. He saved 63 games and his earned run average is 3.67. Generations the numbers won’t stand out and young fans will barely know his name. It’s a shame because those of us who saw him pitch when he was a bundle of potential and his future was still bright will know how great he may have been.