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redeyechicago.com

Ricketts to blame for Wood

Owner simply miscast veteran pitcher

Dan McNeil

7:13 PM CDT, May 9, 2012

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It became obvious several years ago that when the final chapter of the Kerry Wood story was written, it wasn't going to have a happy ending. An ugly last act, however, could have been avoided.

I'm not going to blame Wood. Nor will I point the finger at Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer.

The blame lies only with Tom Ricketts, whose emotional attachment to the likable Wood landed the right-hander a spot on the 2012 roster.

Ricketts wasn't wrong for desiring a role for the modern-day Mr. Cub. He simply miscast Wood.

The artist formerly known as "Kid K" should have been given a lifetime personal-services contract, requiring him to trade the blue cap for a headset and a seat next to radio broadcaster Pat Hughes. Shaking hands and kissing babies would have been a perfect fit for Wood, who is as synonymous with Cubbie warm and fuzzy as the vines and the antiquated scoreboard.

Instead, Ricketts tried to milk one more season out of the clearly broken-beyond-repair Wood, whose name has appeared on the disabled list 13 times more than it has on the National League All-Star roster.

If Ricketts is as smart as his business pedigree would lead you to believe, he will learn from his first foray into on-field decisions. He dazzled the North Side nation when he scored Epstein, then meddled in the Wonder Boy's business just in time for Hughes to make the "dramatic" announcement at the team's annual convention.

I'm giving Wood a mulligan for his outburst Tuesday night, when he failed on the mound. If anybody has earned the right to a tantrum, it's Wood. There isn't a local athlete in the last quarter-century who has been vexed by more bad luck.

Abruptly ending his postgame visit with reporters, on the other hand, was a mistake by Wood. He knows better and has exhibited more mature behavior during most of his 14-year career. Wood, who turns 35 next month, usually has been a stand-up guy after tough outings.

At the minimum, the Cubs' onetime ace should have held court upon arrival at Wrigley Field on Wednesday and saved some face. Spend five minutes with the media — his conduit to a fan base that wants to keep loving him — say sorry for being a bad example to his young teammates.

How hard would it have been for Wood to demonstrate the same self-deprecating humor he employed after he injured himself getting out of a Jacuzzi? Or when he was hassled by police for whizzing on a public wall in spring training in 1999?

Wood's presence in the Cubs' bullpen has taxed first-year manager Dale Sveum. The skipper has enough on his plate figuring out a role for Carlos Marmol, who has the club on the hook for $17 million through 2013.

Hoyer also has bigger fish to fry. Like convincing the unfortunate Ryan Dempster to waive his no-trade rights so the Cubs can get prospects in a midseason trade.

This squirmy situation is on Ricketts, not on Wood, whose meteoric ascent to stardom in 1998, when he went 13-6, will conclude with a stunningly-low 80 or so career wins and 1,600-some career strikeouts. Ricketts hired Epstein and Hoyer to put a World Series-caliber product on the field.

That doesn't include mascots. Especially when they're in uniform and make $3 million a year, while precluding young arms from cutting their major league teeth.

Special contributor Dan McNeil hosts "The McNeil and Spiegel Show" weekdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on WSCR-AM 670.