Sadly, the could-have-been storybook career of Kerry Wood has come to an end.
It concluded the exact opposite way it began.
We all remember his phenomenal 20-strikeout game against the Houston Astros and the Killer B’s. He displayed a right arm that rightfully earned him the moniker of the next Roger Clemens, a right arm that was supposed to have pitched the Cubs deep into the playoffs.
Regretfully, it never came to be. After missing the last month of the 1998 season, he pitched in only one playoff game against the Atlanta Braves, in which he lost the game and the Cubs lost the series.
Then in the spring of 1999, occurred what every Cubs and baseball fan had feared the most—he had Tommy John surgery.
Most pitchers have been able to overcome Tommy John surgery, but Kerry Wood was never able to return to the pitcher that fanned 20 batters in a single game. He would show sparks of being that pitcher, but would inopportunely be diverted off the track by injuries or bad play.
Whether it was a stint on the DL or like clockwork, blowing up once every four or five starts, Kerry was not able to maintain the consistency or momentum needed to lead a staff throughout a season.
He was a fan favorite during his time with the Chicago Cubs although he only reached the 14-win mark once during his career in 2003.
Yes, the magical 2003 season. The season that saw Woody win 14 games and Mark Prior win 18; transforming the lovable losers into expected winners.
While many Cubs fans have suffered from amnesia when accosted about the Cubbies' faltering in the 2003 NLCS, myself included, there are a few moments—good and bad—that break through the fog.
There is of course The Incident—we all know who and what I mean—and the sure-handed Alex Gonzalez bungling a sharp grounder shortly after The Incident in Game 6.
Then occurred what I thought was a positive omen for Game 7 and that 2003 NLCS series. Kerry Wood became the first pitcher to hit a home run in the NLCS since Rick Sutcliffe in 1984, who was also with the Cubs.
But crushingly, it was not to be.
After the 2003 season, Kerry continued to struggle with ability to stay off the disabled list, more so than before. From 2004 through the 2006 seasons, Woody made four trips to the DL, missing almost seven total months of baseball and amassing only 12 total wins as a starter during that span.
Before the 2007 season Wood agreed to transition to the bullpen full-time but still missed playing time due to elbow soreness. However, the 2008 season was Kerry’s healthiest season since 2003.
In 2008, Kerry had a brief stint on the on the 15-day disabled list but not due to elbow, shoulder or knee issues. Rather, it was because of a blister on his throwing hand. In the 2008 season as the Cubs All-Star closer, he had 34 saves with a 1.085 WHIP and a K\BB ratio of 4.67.
Then after brief stints in Cleveland and New York, Kerry returned home to Chicago in 2011. As the primary set-up man to Carlos Marmol, Wood struck out 57 batters in 51 innings and made one save in seven chances during the 2011 season.
With having talked of retirement in the offseason, the ride off into the sunset was put on hold when the Cubs re-signed Kerry for the 2012 season.
Now that his career is coming to a close this weekend—it was neither expected nor unexpected—it is a bittersweet occasion. Bitter, because one of the most beloved Cubs has called it quits, but also sweet because he can now focus more of his time on his charity work that benefits the children of Chicago.
For all that Kerry Wood has gone through, we love him. For all that Kerry Wood has put us through as fans, we still love him. For all that Kerry Wood has done for the Chicago-land community, we love him even more.
Thank you for the memories, Kerry.