Remembering Kerry Wood

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 17: Kerry Wood #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field on September 17, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis /Getty Images)

On Monday, Kerry Wood announced he was out for the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee. Whether he comes back next year or not is still up in the air. Z.W. Martin remembers Wood's career and what he meant to the Cubs.

Kerry Wood means something different to every Cubs fan you meet. He's a failure to some. A Cubs icon to others. And an every man to most. But no one dislikes Kerry Wood. Even his greatest dissenters blame bad luck, a rash of injuries and, maybe, Dusty Baker for his shortcomings.

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Kerry Wood was selected by the Cubs fourth overall in the 1995 MLB draft -- three after Darin Erstad, four ahead of Todd Helton and 13 of Roy Halladay. Born in Irving, Texas on June 16, 1977, Wood made his Cubs debut 21-years later on April 12, 1998 in Montreal, allowing four runs in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out seven Expos. Wood threw 102 pitches. He won the Rookie of the Year Award seven months later.

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To my friend, Eddie, Wood is the guy he chained smoked with at an Umphrey's McGee concert. My ex-girlfriend's cousin dated him. Mark Grace even sold rented his Lincoln Park home to Wood. In 2008, the two-time-Cub chuckled when I called myself a nerd after I asked if he knew Mark Loretta broke-up his no-hit chance on May 25, 2001, as well as Ted Lilly's the day prior. He did not. The 6'5'' righty struck out 14 Brewers that day in '01. Wood threw 114 pitches.

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Before the injuries, before the move to the bullpen, Wood was a charmed wunderkind. Not a magician, necessarily, -- he lacked the control for what that seems to mean -- but a mad chemist. Mixing and matching flicks of the wrist. A hard slider or sharp curveball, each lethal, given the day. He threw harder than any rookie before, it seemed. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior would be the future of the Cubs.

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Then there was the 20-strikeout game -- still a nine inning major league record. Twenty Astros, boasting the likes of Biggio and Bagwell, came to the plate just to turn right back around. That day his slider -- holy fuck, that slider -- started down the heart of the plate, only to fall squarely in Sandy Martinez's mitt in the left hand batters box. HItters flinched, swung wildly and walked back to the visiting dugout. Their fate sealed. A questionable non-error call on Cubs third basemen, Kevin Orie, allowed the only hit of the day. For a moment, Kerry Wood was a phenom to all.

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In 2003, it seemed destined to be. Wood and Prior would lead the Cubs to the World Series. A 3-2 series lead. Prior set to pitch. It was all but over. Then Bartman and Alex Gonzalez happened. So, it was Wood's turn. It started poorly, the Marlins riding the momentum from the night before, with Wood surrendering three in the first. But the Cubs -- and Wood -- answered, scoring three of their own in the bottom of the second, capped off by a Wood two-run bomb. Then the Cubs took a 5-3 lead after the third. It was all coming together... or so it seemed. Wood would give up seven earned in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out six Marlins. Wood threw 112 pitches. The Cubs lost 9-6.

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The injuries started piling up. Wood would spend time on the DL 14 times in 13 big league seasons. He was Chicago's favorite injury-prone, once-promising, fading star. A reliever, now always linked to a similar crashing ace, Mark Prior. 

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Wood found a role as the closer for the Cubs in 2008. He watched, powerless, as the Cubs were swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS. Wood pitched one inning in the series, giving up two hits and allowing no runs. He struck out zero Dodgers. Wood threw 20 pitches. The next year he was an Indian. The next a Yankee. In 2011, Wood signed with the Cubs again for next to nothing. He missed his adopted home.

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On Monday, Kerry Wood called it a season after being diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his left knee that will require surgery. He told Paul Sullivan that it is the Cubs or retirement.

What Wood or the Cubs decides is still up in the air. But it doesn't really matter. Wood's legacy as a Cub is special, especially for a franchise that doesn't have much to lay its hat on. Despite his up-and-down injury-infused career, Wood means something to the Northside, the Cubs franchise and his teammates.

Marlon Byrd referred to him as the new "Mr. Cub" in Spring Training. I'm not entirely convinced he's wrong.

Twitter @ZWMartin

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