Kerry Wood tore the meniscus in his left knee, ending his 2011 season and possibly his major league career. If so, I find it odd to write about the end of a career for someone I grew up enjoying and yet, is just a year and a few weeks younger than me.
I remember Kerry Wood on WGN shortly after he was drafted. Quiet kid, and at my ripe old age of 19, anyone just out of high school was a kid. I also remember him being very respectful. I enjoyed his twenty strikeout game, a game I was fortunate enough to see live on television. The way his slider dove across the plate reminded me of 20-rated movement pitches on the SNES Baseball Stars game. It was unreal, and beyond that, fun as hell to watch. So much fun, I started doubting my other favorite rookie at the time, Kevin orie, who botched a grounder hit in that game that could’ve been called an error, giving Kerry a no-hitter before he was old enough to drink. Kevin orie, back to him in a bit…
I don’t remember ever disliking Kerry (though that incident with the wall was a little offputting). If I did, I probably would’ve disliked myself. Even though I weighed about 20 lbs more than him (and no, not in the arm), people said I looked a lot like him. Got his goatee and his blond hair and general facial structure (though he has a thinner nose) and used to get a second look if I was wearing my Kerry Wood jersey. Not that I minded since he was my favorite Cub of that era (sorry, Grace). Like him, I loved baseball, tried to be respectful of others and liked helping people. Sure, I would get a bit frustrated with his injuries, with his wildness, but that was balanced by how apparent it was that he always seemed to be trying. The kid had struck out twenty in one game, a feat rarer than no-hitters. He could’ve just “dialed it in”, let an ego creep into his head. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know him personally, but I like to think that the Kerry Wood I saw on television was the same kind of guy without the cameras on him. He was the kind of guy who would take the ball in the playoffs because his team needed him, even if his elbow had been sore, even if his future was in jeopardy. If there is such a thing as playing the game “the right way”, I’d lump him in that category of “favorite Cubs” right next to Andre Dawson and his sore knees.
Wood would do other things to help the Cubs. He would pinch-hit when called upon. He would try different grips, different pitching motions, keep try to get better, even after his elbow blew up once. Made it through a torn rotator cuff and a bad knee and when his body said he couldn’t start anymore, he went to the bullpen to help the Cubs. Perhaps there was a huff and puff, maybe he was upset about sometimes being the closer and sometimes not. Maybe he was upset about being “babied” and not alloweed to throw on back-to-back days, but if so, it didn’t hit the headlines much if at all.
He turned down multiyear, more lucrative contracts from other teams because he liked being on the Cubs, once in 2007 he took a one year contract and again, a one year contract to return to the Cubs for 2011. In between those contracts, he was pushed out for financial reasons in 2008, took out a full page ad in the paper thanking Cubs fans, had some more successes and failures and injuries but was still welcomed back to Wrigley with a standing ovation. I know when the Cubs came out to Denver this year, he got one from us Cub fans too. And yeah, I had to convince one drunken Cub fan during that Cubs-Rockies series that I, at the time 40 lbs heavier, was not Kerry Wood. And yeah, he is still my favorite Cub.
There’ve been a lot of Cubs over the years. Some, more surly than others, throwing a fit in the papers or in the dugout or the locker room. Some others get their public images shattered worse than a broken bat, forever changing your opinion of them and of baseball in general. So many millions of dollars, too egotistical to be satisfied by those millions or to be paid to play a game or wonder why people don’t love them. Others, like Kevin Orie, disappear. Traded to the Marlins after 1998, some say because of the “error”, Orie spent a few years bouncing around the major league and up and down to the minor leagues. He made a brief appearance as a Cub in 2002 then disappeared. I didn’t realize until tonight that he kept grinding away until 2006, kept trying to slug his way back to the majors. For some, no matter how hard they try, how much they want to play, they get forgotten, even by a former fan like me.
And then there is Kerry Wood. Whether he’s entered in the final line of his baseball card or not, I’ll remember the numbers that he racked up that counted to me…
Career statistics as of 2011: Chicago resident, raised over $2 million for Chicago children’s charities, made it through fourteen stints on the disabled list to help four Chicago Cubs teams reach the playoffs, many standing ovations long after the best game of his career and perhaps a quiet, respectful bow as he leaves the game satisfied he tried his best. Thus, will he be remembered.