As retirements go, there have been more artfully executed ones. Sometime yesterday, Kerry Wood decided he was going to retire…tonight, AFTER the Cubs game with the White Sox. But he made the number one mistake you can make. He told his wife. So now everybody knows.
In one way, it could create a cool moment. If Kerry comes in to pitch one last time the Cubs fans (who love to give long standing ovations…especially to white guys) can show him some love. Then, after he gives up a homer they can boo him off the field. OK, hopefully we can skip that last part.
But the fact that the media and fans know he’s going to retire before he does it is a mess. He’ll either have to hide from the media before the game, or give our good friend Paul Sullivan one last, “Irrelevant…dude!”
Kerry’s had a pretty amazing career. He was amazing as a rookie, infamously striking out 20 Astros (who had a great lineup that year) when he was 20 years old and winning Rookie of the Year. But…he blew his arm out. After that he was rarely healthy for long stretches. His best run as a starter was winning 38 games from 2001-2003, and dominating the Braves in the 2003 NLDS.
In 2006 he got hurt for what everybody thought was the last time. And early on in the 2007 season he had decided to hang it up. By now, you’ve heard the story 1,000 times. The morning he was going to call the Cubs and tell them he was retiring, he decided to go out and play catch. He did, and the same arm that had hurt the day before, didn’t hurt that day. So he didn’t call. He threw again the next day. It didn’t hurt. He threw again the day after that, and launched a comeback that ended with a spot in the Cubs bullpen and 22 relief appearances, most of which were pretty damned good. He even made the playoff roster.
In 2008 he was the Cubs closer, and an All-Star. In 2009 he signed with Cleveland when Jim Hendry told him to “go get paid.” And he wasn’t very good. At the deadline in 2010 he was traded to the Yankees, and his first day in the bullpen, Mariano Rivera showed him how he throws his cutter.
Wood, who had been lousy for the Indians (6.30 ERA in 23 games) was awesome for the Yankees. He put up a 0.69 ERA in 24 games, and allowed only two runs in seven postseason appearances.
Then he came back to the Cubs. He was a low paid set up guy, and had a pretty solid year. This year? It’s been awful. His ERA is over eight. He hasn’t been healthy at all. He barely was able to get on a mound in spring training, while the Cubs told everyone they were “saving his bullets.”
But it will all end today. He’s walking away because he can’t pitch effectively any more. He pitched 14 years in the big leagues. That didn’t seem possible when his arm was routinely falling off in the early ’00s. He was never as great as we all hoped he’d be, but he was pretty damned good. But the reason we love the guy is that he always gave a shit.
When he re-signed with the Cubs last year for “only” $1.5 million, he talked about how the Cubs had paid him a lot of money in his first go around and he wasn’t able to pitch all that often.
When I think of Kerry, I’ll try to focus on game five of the NLDS in Atlanta in 2003. The Cubs had blown a chance to win the series in four the night before and flew to Georgia for one last shot against the 103 win Braves. We were all sure we knew how this was going to end.
But it didn’t. Because Kerry Wood won the game. It’s the only time since the 1908 World Series that the Cubs have actually won a postseason series.
It’ll try not to focus so much on game seven of the NLCS against Florida. The night before, Mark Prior had run out of gas in the eighth and Dusty stood there confused in the dugout in one of the most surreal and horrific losses of all time. Kerry took the ball the next night with a shot at redemption. But the Marlins lit him up.
(He lit them up right back, for a moment at least)
And after the game, he sat at his locker and said, “It’s my fault.”
It wasn’t his fault. Or at the very least not all his fault. But that’s why we all like Kerry so much. He never made excuses. He never blamed anything on anybody else.
And that’s why we’re going to miss him.
Well, that and when he was on, and everything was working, he was a helluva lot of fun to watch.