There’s nothing wrong with being nostalgic. I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to reliving, reminiscing & summarizing the careers of my favorite athletes of all-time. To this day, I still YouTube highlights and games of guys like Walter, Michael, Jerry, Joe, Pip & Savard. I’d put Ryno on that list, but the MLB is stuck in the stone age and refuses to let fans like you and me go back in history to watch our favorite players signature moments. By the way, screw you again, Bud Selig.
As much fun as it is to rekindle thoughts of the times that helped make us the sports fans we are & the titles they won, I couldn’t garner up those same feelings as Kerry Wood entered and proceeded to strikeout Dayan Viciedo at Wrigley on Friday. I like Woody, and think he is a great person that more athletes should emulate. However, his retirement reinforces past Cubs failures.
When Wood struck out 20 Astros on May 5th, 1998, it was a sign that maybe the Cubs really did have Nolan Ryan 2.0 on their hands. The 20 year old Wood represented the kind of superstar talent that die hard fans had longed for ever since bumbling Cubs ownership let Greg Maddux walk out the door.
But between that magical day and his farewell vs the White Sox, his DL stints, blisters, blown out elbow, towel drills, shoulder issues & game 7 choke job vs the Marlins in ’03 overshadow the flashes of brilliance for me.
Granted, he reached 1,000 strikeouts faster than any pitcher in history, but we were always asking what might have been if he had reached his ungodly potential. 2003 is the perfect example of Wood’s career. He led the league with 266 K’s, allowed a measly 6.5 hits per 9 innings & formed a dynamic 1-2 punch with Mark Prior that had Cubs fans salivating at the thought of possessing a Johnson-Schilling type duo for that would, undoubtedly, end the Cubs’ world series drought.
But more than Wood’s two dominant starts vs the Braves in the ’03 playoffs (his 1 run in 8 innings in game 5 was another vintage outing), his game 7 performance is what I remember most. He gave up the infamous 3-run homer to Miguel Cabrera before I finished my first drink. Wood’s two-run homer in the 2nd inning was nothing but a cock tease to the most tortured fan base in sports. Three more Marlins runs in the 5th off Wood was the final steak in the heart and evisceration of every Cubs fan watching.
I don’t blame Wood solely for that loss (it shouldn’t have gotten to a game 7), but that was the defining moment of an otherwise insanely great season. That was also the night I emotionally detached myself from that version of the Cubs. If they couldn’t breakthrough and win it that year, how could they ever? I know I wasn’t alone in having those thoughts.
Seeing Wood’s son greet him after his final strikeout was a great moment, but Cubs fans probably had those “what if” feelings shot back into their systems. Wood’s injury plagued career fit right in line with the numerous other “phenoms” that did nothing but disappoint the masses. Wood never should have been brought back to the northside (nice work, Ricketts), but his return proved that he fits perfectly with the Cubs’ miserable history. He is simply just another guy that is celebrated for never winning a World Series title with this organization. I’m nervous to think about the coronations that will be held for players that actually help the Cubs end the most embarrassing streak in all of sports. At least that will be a time where one’s nostalgic feelings will mean something.