Former Cub Kerry Wood, now with the New York Yankees, pitches against the Minnesota Twins during Game Three of the ALDS, during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 9, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
There are very few former Chicago players on this year's postseason teams. Coincidence? Perhaps not.
There's no Ron Berler Cubs Curse working at this stage of October baseball.
In fact, Berler -- whose claim to fame two decades ago was a theory that any team possessing three or more ex-Cubs was doomed to failure in the post-season -- would be out of business in the postseason. Not only are there just two ex-Cubs of note floating around the roster of the four finalists, there's just two former White Sox with familiar names who are vying for a World Series shot.
Somehow the Yankees, Rangers, Phillies and Giants have made do with a minimum of old Chicago connections. The best-known are concentrated on two clubs: Juan Uribe and Mike Fontenot on the Giants, and Kerry Wood and Nick Swisher on the Yanks. A handful more role-player ex-Chicagoans play on this year, including Andres Blanco of the Rangers, Sergio Mitre of the Yankees, and Phillies pinch-hitter Ross Gload, who has playing credentials from both North Side (2000) and South (2004-06). The rooting interest for playoff-barren Chicagoans is scattered at best as fall colors engulf us.
But it's that better-known quartet of Uribe, Fontenot, Wood and Swisher who provide some subsets to the larger stories of their teams' quest for November glory, with Game 7 of the World Series scheduled for Nov. 4, latest such ending in history.
Wood is the most interesting of the bunch. The erstwhile "Kid K" has re-invented himself for the fourth time in his career as setup man for the venerable Mariano Rivera.
First he had to junk that other-worldly slider-curve that made the Astros look like fools in his 20-strikeout game with the Cubs in 1998 -- and might have been a factor in his Tommy John surgery nearly a year later. Then Wood had to learn proper mechanics and get in the best shape of his life when his shoulder went bad in 2005-06, and he came within a few hours of retiring. In his second Cubs comeback, he taught himself how to be an acceptable closer in 2008. And now, after being roughed up in Cleveland for most of 1 1/2 seasons, Wood has made himself into an invaluable eighth-inning man, having sported an 0.69 ERA in 24 regular-season games since a trade-deadline deal.
They love him in the Yankees clubhouse just as his Cubs teammates did for years. Wood's family -- residing in Chicago for part of the off-season -- loved playing in Central Park. And the 33-year-old right-hander loves the Yanks' winning atmosphere, stating that nobody leaves that storied franchise voluntarily.
The amazing fact about Wood is he's the only Cub to have performed in four different postseasons since 1945. In 2003, he envisioned pitching in Game 7 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, the fate of ending the Cubs' championship drought squarely in his hands. And if he hadn't run out of gas in Game 7 of the NLCS that year against the Marlins, he might just have drawn a Game 7 assignment against the Yankees in the Fall Classic, the way the rotation might have set up.
But in the typical twist of fate so common in baseball -- and one that makes the game appealing like no other -- Wood might finally get his ring, as a Yankee. As Mel Allen would have said, how about that?
Looking a few lockers away in the Yankees clubhouse, Wood probably shakes his head at the gabby personality of Swisher. Son of former Cubs catcher Steve Swisher, Nick bombed out as a White Sox in 2008, his clubhouse humor of the spring giving way to a sourpuss attitude when Ozzie Guillen benched him down the stretch. But Swisher has been on an upward trend in New York with 58 homers the past two seasons. Forget the crabbiness of '08 -- that wasn't the real Swisher. You can't root against the guy, either.
And if you'd believe Guillen's oft-stated affection for Uribe, he's backing the quest of his starting shortstop in 2005 for a second ring. The chunky, affable shortstop, who locked down the Sox World Series triumph in Houston with his ninth-inning defense in Game 4, came through Wrigley Field late in the season and slugged two homers in a nine-run Giants second inning. "Say hello to Ozzie and Boy-le (Mark Buehrle)," Uribe said before one game. He may be a Giant now, but he'll always be an '05 Sox.
Finally, if you see a familiar face dovetailing with Uribe around the Giants infield, it's second baseman Fontenot. He became a handy part-time starter with the Giants, just as he had done much of his 3 1/2 Cubs seasons. You need a guy to bat around .270 or .280 against some right-handers, the one-half of the broken-up Cubs Cajun Combo is your guy.
The Rangers and the Phillies? They're virtually Chicago-free on their rosters, other than the bench players noted above. So does that make them the favorites?
Nah, don't listen to the curse-mongers. But there is a strange angle at work here. Who around here wants the Yankees to engorge themselves on another championship? Not me, yet that may be a necessary evil to get a deserving man like Wood his ring.