Wood a Top 50 Cub?
WOOD, A TRUE CUB, EARNED PLACE IN TOP 50
I mean, the competition isn't exactly Yankee-like. And unlike a lot of great players traded or let go by the Cubs, Wood is a Cub for life. Well, not counting those few years in the wilderness with the Indians and Yankees.
Wood might have had only a handful of seasons where he actually pitched, and pitched well, but they were certainly memorable, and important enough to merit his inclusion on this list. Yes, there's some sentiment there. Wood's career never matched his early potential, hampered by injuries. But this is the Cubs, the only team famous for being perennial losers. If it wasn't for sentiment and the love of antiques, the Cubs wouldn't draw 3 million fans a year.
Wood made a lot of people miss in 1998 and 2003, his two best years, and he pitched in four playoff series. Check out the number of Cubs who have been on four playoff teams. Since the wildly successful days of the early 20th century, I could think of two: Wood and Gabby Hartnett.
Wood has the second-best strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio of all pitchers with at least 1,000 innings and he spent nearly half his life in a Cubs uniform, or on the club's disabled list.
His career is perfect for this organization. A guy that everyone loved who made a lot of money and had all the potential in the world, but couldn't finish in the end. That's relatable. Except the $70 million, of course.
Wood is a Cub, forever and always, and certainly in the top 50.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
NUMBERS DON'T ADD UP FOR WOOD
p>No one can intelligently argue that Kerry Wood does not rank among the most popular Chicago Cubs players of all time, and the circumstances of his impending retirement arguably only enhance that reputation.
But what has made Wood one of the most popular is a confluence of events in his Cubs career -- pitching, yes, but also hardship, diligence and exemplary community service -- that does not necessarily rank him among the 50 best Cubs players of all time.
Certainly it is debatable, which is why we're debating it. But if you don't include Carlos Zambrano on the list -- and we didn't -- you can't include Wood.
Wood endeared himself forever and is still best known for a singular event -- his 20-strikeout game as a rookie in 1998, tying a major league record. His other most identifying characteristic is the enormous potential he showed in those early days, potential that was never fully realized in part because of arm trouble that many still believe was caused by overuse.
This made Wood a martyr. It also made him something of a hero as he fought through various injuries and subsequent surgeries. He led the team into the playoffs on three occasions, winning two games against Atlanta in 2003 and hitting a home run in Game 7 against the Marlins in that National League Championship Series. He then agreed to go to the bullpen and found success as a closer in '07. He even appeared as a reliever in the '08 All-Star Game.
Wood left Chicago with a new contract but typical grace, clearly a Cub for life despite stops in Cleveland and New York, and returned for a hometown discount at $1.5 million for one year.
Wood has had several highlights in his career. That rookie of the year season. The playoff appearances. He struck out an incredible 266 batters in '03 and was a two-time All-Star. But he never won more than 14 games in one season, which he did once, in '03. And unfortunate as it is, he has been on the disabled list 14 times in his 13 seasons, missing the entire '99 season after Tommy John surgery.
Wood is a warrior and a good guy (except for his atypical blow-up a week and a half ago when he threw his cap and glove into the stands after walking two and giving up two runs in an eventual Braves win). He should only gain more affection from Cubs fans by unselfishly walking away from the game as he saw his skills erode.
But again, that is what makes him one of the most popular Cubs of all time, not necessarily the very best.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.