posted on May.29, 2012
I am a little late to the party, but I think a bit of a memoir is in order for the career of Kerry Wood, who announced his retirement following the game on Friday, May 18th, versus the crosstown rival White Sox. If you have not seen the picture at right,He gave his son a long embrace when he came off the field, received several curtain calls from the fans, had given his pitching coach and fellow relievers handshakes before he came into the game, and received another handshake from each of the infielders and his manager when he left the game after striking out the only hitter he faced. The Cubs lost, but the next day he announced his retirement in front of the Wrigley faithful, and received a blown up picture of the embrace with his son the day before. He said he had no regrets, went to his son’s little league game earlier in the day and was happy with his decision.
Kerry Wood burst onto the scene in 1998 with a 20-strikeout game in his fifth start, tying the Major League record, and also becoming the second pitcher to strike out the same number of hitters as his age in a game. That game remained one of the signature moments of his career. Wood had Tommy John in 1999, but continued to pitch as a starter for the next few years. He was a part of the phenomenal rotation in 2003 that took the Cubs to within 5 outs of a World Series berth. He and Mark Prior were the top 2 arms in that rotation, and both had arm troubles after. That NLCS Game 6 was the Bartman game, but we won’t delve into that here. You can look that up.
Wood became a reliever in an attempt to avoid more injury because of his checkered past. He had some growing pains in the role, and left the Cubs to close for the Indians. In 2010, he was dealt to the Yankees, where I (along with many other New York fans) received my biggest exposure to Wood. He pitched phenomenally for the Bombers down the stretch, setting up for Mariano Rivera, and into the postseason as well. The Yankees did not pick up his option, but tried to resign him, eventually offerring even more than his option was originally worth, but Wood opted to return to the team he started with, the Cubs, for a hometown discount.
Now is where I want to talk about Kerry Wood and what I saw from him as a Yankee fan. He was one of Brian Cashman’s best trades, essentially giving the Indians cash and a no-name prospect. He pitched down the stretch to a 0.69 ERA, which if I recall translated to 1 run from the time he was acquired at the deadline to the end of the season. He was absolutely phenomenal, he and Mariano were the only 2 pitchers on that team I actually felt confident the Yanks would hold on to their lead if they were in the game. I really wanted the Yankees to bring Wood back the following season because he had pitched so well down the stretch, and seemed to love New York and thrived. As far as I know, he even learned a better cutter from Mariano. At first, I was bothered the Yankees would not spend the money on him, then I heard that they had offered more than his option had been worth (which I was bothered they were haggling over that money) and he turned it down to pitch for significantly less with the team he started with, the Cubbies. And I honestly could not blame him for that. Especially because he took a big pay cut and was going to a team that was going nowhere. Good for him that he went out on a high note, as a respected and admired pitcher, both by Cubs fans and fans of the game.
I also wanted to write this because I think Kerry Wood is the closest comparison we can make to Stephen Strasburg. If Strasburg turns out to be anything like Wood, even with the injury issues, the Nats will be a lucky team. Though Wood’s numbers were more dominant in his first years than Strasburg’s have been, you can see the reasons for comparison, they both throw hard and have injury issues. Also, the Nats are starting to turn it around (we will see what happens down the road in this long season), as happened with the Cubs when Wood came up and Prior joined him. Another thing to keep in mind, now Wood and Prior have become the poster children of why teams should baby their pitchers. They both threw a ton of innings early on, and suffered arm problems later on. This article is about Wood, and he really had issues later on; in fact, when the Yankees acquired him in 2010, he was on DL and eligible to come off at the deadline.
If anyone is wondering, Kerry Wood is a Hall-of-Famer as far as I’m concerned. Injuries plagued him big time, but when healthy, he was one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball. His 20 strikeout game is still considered one of, if THE, most dominating pitching performances in baseball: complete game, 1 hit (an infield single), 20 K’s, 0 walks, one hit-by-pitch, no runs. He also pitched pretty well in the postseason when given the chance.