4:57 PM CDT, May 18, 2012
Kerry Wood was going to retire.
No, wait, he wasn’t.
Kerry Wood didn’t think he could pitch in the majors anymore.
No, wait, he wanted to pitch one more time.
It looked as if the popular Cubs pitcher who was viewed by some as Tom Ricketts’ fantasy league pick wanted to use a major-league game for a fantasy camp ending.
Wood got it against the White Sox on Friday, fittingly striking out the only man he faced. He shook hands with everybody on the mound, left to a standing ovation, embraced his son in front of the dugout and carried him down the steps before hugging teammates and taking a curtain call. A happy ending, for sure.
I’m not blaming Wood. I’d do the same thing if I could. But the sentimental specter appears to make official what we already believed: This Cubs season doesn’t matter, no matter what Theo Epstein said. The Cubs’ new Baseball Moses was brought in to fix the player development problems. At the same time, Epstein said every season is “sacred’’ because it represents a chance to win the World Series.
“Sacred’’ retired Friday. The Wood affair exposed the truth. Allowing Wood to dictate terms apparently approved by the team and forcing the manager into a warm-and-fuzzy moment instead of a baseball decision is less about “sacred’’ and more about getting Cubbed.
The elephant in the bullpen had nothing to do with winning baseball games. There had to be part of Dale Sveum that just wanted to get Wood in a game and get the episode over with so he could get back to managing a season, such as this season is now exposed to be. He had enough issues playing bullpen roulette this season.
It never made sense for Wood to be on Epstein’s roster. What was an old reliever doing on a team that’s all about getting younger and better? I’ll hang up and listen for the hummena-hummena-hummena.
But Wood was on the roster, and then he felt pain, and then he was held out of spring trining, and then he was bad in the regular season, and then he was officially injured, and then he was throwing his glove toward the McDonald’s on Clark. Would you like fries with that loss?
Understand, how the Wood episode came down Friday is different than the way Wood’s career came down altogether. Make that, the way Wood’s career spiked.
Whatever the ending, it’s worth recalling that Wood once was the most electric athlete in this city.
Michael Jordan had completed his second three-peat in 1998, and then he and the dynasty and the NBA went away. The Blackhawks were still in the dark ages. Wanny coached the Bears and Michael McCaskey ran them. Frank Thomas was carving out a Hall-of-Fame career, but he didn’t carry that supernova jolt.
Wood did. From the beginning, Wood did. In his fifth major-league start, Wood struck out 20 Astros, and that was that. Wood became an event. You didn’t watch him pitch as much as you experienced it. Wood idolized Roger Clemens, and it looked like the Cubs had a Clemens with a learner’s permit.
Five years later, Wood faced his idol when the Yankees came to Wrigley. On that dramatic Saturday afternoon, Clemens went looking for his 300th career win. Earlier in the week, Wood expressed regret that he wouldn’t be able to watch his idol achieve that historic victory. Smirk.
Then Kid K backed up his talk, and it’s amazing that Wrigleyville didn’t spontaneously combust that day.
Instead, the spontaneous combustion came about four months later in 2003.
Continuing injuries forced Wood in the bullpen. He became a closer. He became a set-up man. He became a hood ornament. Finally, he became comfortable with the inevitable.
And inevitably, it ended in a very Cub way that we thought we were done with.
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