Kerry Wood, one of the most beloved and iconic modern Chicago Cubs players, retired back in May. In celebration of this, I reached out to a couple of Cubs fans that I know and asked if they would be interested in writing their thoughts about Kerry. My brothers took me up on the task and I will post their thoughts in the coming days. I have intentionally not looked at their posts yet, because I did not want to be affected by what they have to say. If you also want to share some thoughts, feel free to leave comments and/or email me with a post you’d liked me to publish. Matt’s post is here and Mike’s post is here.
The natural inclination as a Cubs fan is to look at the missed opportunities – identify where things (inevitably) went wrong. Even when things are going well, we Cub fans are often too worried about what will go wrong to enjoy the moment that we are in. Looking at the career of Kerry Wood, it’s easy to fall into this same pattern. There are a lot of ‘what could have beens’ that could easily distract from what actually was.
Yes, his career didn’t fulfill the promise that his talent offered, but that happens so often to so many people in many different fields. He wasn’t derailed due to ego, attitude, off the field issues, or anything else. What provided his immense skill (his arm) also led to his downfall. The arm motion and force he threw with provided the incredible power on his fastball and the unbelievable break on his curve – but it also helped fuel his injuries. We could ask what would have happened if he didn’t get injured, but that might mean he wouldn’t be nearly the pitcher he was when he was healthy. We should be thrilled we got to be dazzled by his skills, even if it was shorter than we would have liked.
I would rather look on with fondness to some of the incredible things he was capable of. I will never forget about his 20-strikeout game, and can recall exactly where I was – in my car, driving home from school, not listening to the game because I figured I would catch the last few innings at home. I was wrong; I turned on the TV and was confused that a) the game was over already and b) the box score on WGN didn’t seem to make any sense. But when I think of Kerry Wood, I will conjure other memories first instead.
First, I enjoyed how well he swung the bat. He was a pretty good hitter (for a pitcher) and he was often a threat to go deep. In game 7 of the 2003 NLCS he launched one that had me confident the Cubs were going to pull it out. My friend Kyle had made an off the cuff remark that if Kerry goes deep, the Cubs were going to win. As the ball cleared the fence, I was brimming with confidence. Of course, we all know how that turned out.
Second, his breaking pitches could be downright filthy. This meant he struck a lot of people out. It also meant that he hit a lot of batters. On very special occasions, he would strike batters out while hitting them with the pitch. Occasionally a left-handed batter would swing at a pitch that looked tempting at first but would end up so far off the plate they would get hit, adding injury to the insult of striking out.
Finally, his pitching delivery often meant that he would be in a vulnerable position for fielding. He would fall off the mound towards first base, with his pitching arm towards the plate – this left him very exposed. Somehow, Kerry Wood became very adept at throwing his glove hand behind his back towards the mound for balls hit back up the middle. More frequently than I would imagine, he would stick out his glove and snare a ball that was ticketed for center field, saving a sure base hit. And he did it with ease, and grace, like he knew all along that he was going to snag it as it went past.
So as we again look to next year (and yes, I will be foolishly optimistic again next year), I will think about the positive side of what Kerry Wood brought to us as fans. He was something to behold and was able to accomplish some amazing things. In 2010, he even accomplished something no baseball player had ever done before. He got me to cheer for someone in a Yankees uniform. I’ll always appreciate the brilliance that he was capable of, the anticipation I felt that something remarkable might happen, and the joy I got as a fan from watching him play.