The Mr. Cub of our generation has reportedly decided to hang it up.
After a season that could charitably be described as frustrating through the first seven weeks, Kerry Wood has decided to retire from the team he helped make relevant and exciting once again in this town.
Wood was a force in the locker room and in the community, the native Texan embracing the Windy City with his whole heart and making it his home. He was the player who was emblematic of the Cubs fan experience more than any other since maybe Banks himself, showing occasional flashes of otherworldliness before ultimately coming back to earth.
The announcement of his pending retirement came as a shock to an entire generation of Cubs fans who will forever remember exactly where they were and what they were doing on May 6, 1998 because of Kerry Wood.
On a cold, drizzling afternoon, the rookie phenom turned in the single most electrifying performance by a Chicago baseball player. Wood more than any other prospect in recent memory gave Cubs fans hope that a World Series was on the horizon and that the then 90-year World Series drought was soon to come to an end.
Of course, we all know how the story really goes.
All the hope in the world couldn’t save Wood’s cannon of a right arm from breaking down, requiring the 1998 Rookie of the Year to have Tommy John surgery. While he’d come back strong in the 2000s, first as a starter and later as the team’s closer during their playoff run in 2008, he’d never come close to showing the same promise he did on that drizzly May afternoon.
This season has been almost painful to watch, almost like watching the treasured old family dog on his last legs.
While an asset in the clubhouse, Wood has been anything but on the field, allowing eight earned runs in 8 1/3 innings en route to an 0-2 record in 9 appearances. You knew it was over the moment he threw his hat and glove into the stands two weeks ago.
With CM Punk on hand to sing the seventh inning stretch that night, Wood tossed his hat and glove into the stands as he walked off the field after allowing two runs en route to a 3-1 loss to the Braves. We were frustrated and he was frustrated because, quite frankly, his career wasn’t supposed to end like this.
Cubs fans won’t remember that one year from now though, let alone 20 years from now. Wood’s No. 34 will never hang on the foul poles with the likes of Maddux, Sandberg, Banks and Santo, but the team should take it out of circulation for awhile.
Kerry Wood was, for better or worse, this generation’s Mr. Cub. And once the dust settles, we’ll remember him not for the broken down pitcher he finished as, but for the hope he inspired in us as a prospect and all the good he did in his adopted hometown; ours.
--Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor