I don’t usually write about modern baseball, because I’ve sort of lost contact with it over the past few years, having found more interesting things to occupy my time. But I’ve got this ridiculous urge to break with form and briefly chime in on the apparent end of Kid K’s pitching career here in Chicago.
Stumbled across a newspaper story this morning (remember those things?), and discovered the Kerry Wood era in Wrigley Field has finally come to an end. Apparently the brass at Clark and Addison has signed Kevin Gregg, a man with two first names, to handle the closing chores.
I’m writing this more for those of you who aren’t from Chicago, to give you a sense of Wood’s place in the hearts of Cub fandom. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say he is one of the most beloved Cubbies in history, especially with those for whom history began in 1998.
If you poled the bleacherites (and trust me, there’s a few of ‘em I’d like to pole out there), Woody would be counted among the Ernie Banks and Billy Williams and Ryne Sandberg’s of the world. Seriously: He’d be in the starting line-up of many Cubs’ fans all-time teams.
He was a very likable guy, loyal, good in the community. And he used to have a 99-mile-an-hour fastball. Listen, I’m among the top 15 cynics of all-time, and even I’ve got a soft spot for the man.
He wouldn’t be anywhere near my all-time teams, of course; unless it’s the all-time roster of “what could have beens.” And even that’s a stretch, because he really, honestly, never could have been anything other than what he was.
Quick rundown of the numbers: Wood was 77-61 in his career with a 3.65 ERA. The team made the play-offs four times during his 10 active years. He struck out 20 guys in one game once, and hit 99-mph on the gun during the early part of his career. When he was healthy, he was wicked tough. His fastball had become a surrogate penis for many.
The problem is he had a bum flipper. He had arm trouble in high school, arm trouble in the minor leagues- then spent eleven years struggling with a sore elbow and creaky shoulder and an ouchy back. He had, like, 56 surgeries along the way, pitching a little bit in between. He often struggled with his control. The fact he lasted so long; lasted long enough to earn enough money so that his kids and grandkids may never have to work, is as much a testament to his character as it is modern medicine.
This is really the essence of his appeal. Aside from the John Holmes fastball and Chip Hilton personality, he was flawed, like you and I. Whether or not it was true, he became the paragon of untapped greatness. The promise of what still could be. He was hope, dressed up in baseball pants.
When Cubs fans pulled for him, prayed for him to stay healthy, wished that he might one day return to his form of early ’98 and finally put it all together for one triumphant Cy Young season, they were really rooting for themselves.
Who among us doesn’t secretly believe there’s a greater version of ourselves locked up inside? If we could only stay healthy, quit smoking, lose weight, work harder, get a break in our careers, be given an opportunity to shine. Who among us isn’t secretly, irrationally hoping to “put it all together” one day and triumph over fate?