The card you see above is the last Kerry Wood card I acquired while he was still an active player, and quite an appropriate one at that.
You see, it’s tough to tell the story of Kerry Wood’s career without touching on the expectations and the subsequent inability to fulfill them. “Kerry Wood is going to be the next Nolan Ryan.” Perhaps he could have been. Now, his best chance is if he works his way up to President or CEO of the Cubs. Or punches Robin Ventura in the face repeatedly. There’s still time for both.
Like the Ryan Express, the potential was always there for Wood. Unfortunately for him, and Cubs fans alike, the durability was not. Kerry wouldn’t pitch for 27 seasons like Nolan. He wouldn’t come close to the 5,000 K or 300 Win benchmarks, but he did give Cubs fans something they hadn’t received from a pitcher for quite some time. Hope.
Expectations were always high for Kerry Wood. He was showing that on every rung of the minor league ladder that the hype was real. Bats couldn’t find his pitches and the Cubs were hard pressed to find a reason to keep him down.
Chosen with the 4th overall pick in the 1995 draft, the strikeout machine would make his pro debut on April 12, 1998. Of course, the national media wasn’t picking apart every single move he made like they do with the prospects now. At least not until his fourth start.
On May 6, 1998, 20 year-old Kerry Wood became the second rookie in history to strikeout his age. Bob Feller did it when he struck out 17 batters at age 17 in 1936.
The Houston Astros were 1-hit by the newly dubbed “Kid K” as he also set an all-time rookie record for strikeouts in a single game. Only veteran Roger Clemens (twice) has matched that number and no one has exceeded it to this point.
Houston’s 3-4-5 batters each struck out three times, and only three balls left the infield the entire day. The only blemishes on the day were a single by Ricky Gutierrez (who also K’d twice) and a Craig Biggio HBP (K’d once).
This was it. The hype was real. Here comes the next Roger Clemens. Here comes the next Nolan Ryan. And he was in a Cubs uniform. It’s only a matter of time. Hope has come to Chicago’s North Side.
A legend was born.
Then the DL stints would begin. After his Rookie of the Year winning season in 1998 (in which he missed the final month), Wood missed all of 1999 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Fans would get Kid K back for a time, then lose him to another injury. His arm would snap off (see above) and then get duct taped back on. His elbow would fall out of socket and then superglued. He would look at a power tool wrong and get a blister. He became a running joke, but behind it all was still respect and hope that this time would be the last time. He would be back for good. We’re so close we can taste it.
Cut to the 2003 National League Championship Series. This was it. Again. Sure, game 6 was an unmitigated disaster that will live in infamy, but Kerry Wood is starting game 7 against the Marlins. He led us to our first playoff series win in nearly 100 years. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood haven’t lost back-to-back games all season long. All season!
HOME RUN! GAME 7 HOME RUN BY KERRY WOOD! PACK YOUR BAGS, WE’RE GOING TO THE WOR–oh…. Oh no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no!
You know, it’s funny.
Sure, we lost the game and the series, but the hope was still there. That old motto of “Next Year is Here” actually felt like it meant something again.
I bet if you were to ask any fan about game 7, they’d tell you the defining moment was the Kerry Wood home run. I bet if you were to ask Kerry Wood himself, he would talk about a pitch he made or his overall pitching performance that allowed the Marlins to score a few too many runs.
The Cubs would come close to promised land a couple more times over the years, but were swept in the first round in each playoff appearance. Kerry Wood’s injuries would force him to take a role in the bullpen, serving as closer in 2008.
He would save 34 games in 39 chances, giving the team life in a new role, but the instability and durability issues remained. As went Kerry Wood, so do the Cubs. Our modern golden era was winding down with each passing year and each DL stint. Hope was giving way to criticism and everything was fading into the ivy.
The Cubs decided Kerry was no longer part of the organization’s plans and let him go in free agency. He would have some success with the Indians and the Yankees (no cards shown for purely selfish reasons), and then it happened.
The ever hopeful, optimistic, boisterous Cubs fan favorite, Hall of Fame 3B, and WGN Radio broadcaster Ron Santo passed away. Kerry Wood, who was reportedly close to Santo, attended the services and expressed his desire to return to the Cubs.
Probably despite his agent’s advice, he turned down multi-year deals for more money in order to come back home.
This weekend, Kerry Wood decided that it was time to leave the game on his own terms. Once again, he put the needs of the Chicago Cubs over his own.
Friday marked the last time Kerry Wood pitched in a professional game. He struck out the last batter he’ll ever face. A fitting end to a career that may not be as lengthy or full of awards as Nolan Ryan’s, but just as legendary to Cub fans.
Thank you for everything you’ve done for our team.
Thank you for everything you’ve done for our city.
Thank you for everything.
The great city of Chicago will always be your home and you’ll always remind us that hope is just a pitch away.