From the Windup: Kid K Era in Wrigleyville Ends, Cubs Fans Saddened

From the Windup is FanHouse's extended look at a particular portion of America's pastime.

This past week, the Cubs essentially showed Kerry Wood the door. They traded forKevin Gregg, and told Wood in so many words that they did not want him back on the team. Of course, it was sugar-coated. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry wanted to paint the picture that he's doing this for the good of the man we once called "Kid K."

''We all feel Kerry is deserving of a three- or four-year, long-term contract,'' said Hendry, who has an especially close relationship with the longest-tenured Cub. ''We're just in a position now, as Kerry understands, that the length of that deal for the salary he would command right now is not our first priority.''

My problem with this is that he didn't really give Wood a choice. Sure, it makes more sense to pass the closer torch to the young, studly Carlos Marmol. Furthermore, it makes sense to only offer Woody a one-year deal. Why not just go to him and say, "we'll sign you to a one-year deal and you are going to setup for the kid," then see what he says? According to a report from the Chicago Tribune, Wood would have done "anything" to stay.

As with everything he's done in Chicago, Wood was classy in his comments regarding the move.

"Did I want to leave? Of course not," he said. "I wanted to end my career here, and start taking my kids to the games. But in the end, having a little bit of knowledge about the organization, and what's going on with the team and who was up for free agency and the contracts, I had a pretty good idea. It didn't catch me off-guard. I was disappointed and obviously would've loved to have stayed here, but that's baseball."

Well, just because Wood's so graceful about his exit from Chicago doesn't mean his fans can't mourn the move.

First, let's remember the good we were brought from the presence of Kerry Wood in a Cubs uniform.

- May 6, 1998: Wood throws arguably the most dominant pitching gem in baseball history. Twenty strikeouts. No walks. The only blemish? A soft chopper to the left of 3rd basemen Kevin Orie which was ruled a hit, despite hitting off Orie's glove. I'll never forget that day -- I watched from my dorm room -- and I know I'm not alone. I have never seen such amazing stuff by any pitcher since then, and I'm not sure I ever will. The '27 Yankees couldn't have scored on him that day.

He rounded out the season with a 13-6 record, 233 Ks, and a Rookie of the Year award to boot. Not bad for a 21-year-old.

- Wood went 11-2 with a 2.71 ERA in his final 20 starts of 2001. Many people overlook the '01 and '02 campaigns, but he was incredibly productive. He followed up his nice finish to the '01 season with a 12-11 record in 2002. The record is what gives people the wrong impression though. Let us consider that the bullpen blew seven potential wins for Wood. Since they were all no-decisions, he could easily have gone 19-11 that year. As bad as that Cubs team was in '02 (67-95), you'd have to consider Kerry Wood the lone bright spot. I'd actually say that you could argue him being one of the top 10 pitchers in baseball during the span of the last 20 games of '01 and the entire '02 season. No one talks about this because they just see the 12-6 record in '01 and the 12-11 record in '02 (nevermind the fact that he had a winning record on a team that lost 95 freaking games in '02).

- 2003: All-Star appearance. Led the league with 266 Ks, and sported a nice 3.20 ERA, which was good for 8th in the NL. Had 11 double digit strikeout games. Threw a gem in the turning point of the season (July 19, a 1-0 shutout win against Florida to halt a potentially devastating losing streak when the offense couldn't score any runs).

- We all know of his great work in the 2003 NLDS over the Braves, and he put together a quality start in Game 3 of the NLCS in a win at Florida to put the Cubs up 2-1 in the series.

- Somehow, Woody battles back through an incredible amount of adversity to become the Cubs' closer in 2008. He was able to make his second All-Star game, save 34 games, and compile a 3.26 ERA.

- Off the field, Wood has never been anything but a class act. He and his wife, Sarah (pictured left, with Aramis Ramirez), run a charity for public schools in Chicago. He has come back to the Cubs without shopping himself in free agency or demanding more money. He always said through the media that he'd accept any payment the Cubs offered, because he felt like he owed the organization after all they had done for him -- making him the anti-Prior. Not surprisingly, the comments he made above show what kind of man he is: a true class act, who genuinely feels blessed to play a game for money. There are many, many players in the bigs who could learn something from Kerry Wood.

I could go on and on, but those are the main points.

Next, let's talk about what he means/meant to Cubs fans.

It's not about if he would have made the team better for '09 and beyond. It's a rarity in this day and age of sports, but Kerry Wood was our guy. We knew he was mocked and ridiculed by fans of other teams because of his injury history. We didn't care, because he was our guy. I asked three of my closest Cubs fan comrades for thoughts on Wood, and I got different reactions with the same tone.

"I'll miss the fact that he loved being a Cubs player and was willing to keep coming back so many times, despite all of his misfortune. He gave everything he had and I'll always respect that. That being said, I won't miss the failed promise and the thoughts of 'what could have been.'" That's from my best friend since second grade who is an avid Cubs fan. He's right. We were treated to the good and bad with Wood, but he was always worthy of our utmost respect. The best part about this is that I guarantee Wood would agree with the statement. No one was more frustrated with his misfortune than himself (again, anti-Prior).

Of course, I got more than I bargained for when I asked my brother:
"Woody came along my senior year in high school. He was pretty hyped coming up, but then the 20-K game happened. Ever since then its been a rollercoaster ride with all of his injuries and inconsistency. I know all the stats about his win totals and blown saves and everything else, but that never took away from him being far and away my favorite Cub. Even when he struggled you knew he was giving it his all and was as pissed off as we were that he wasn't getting his job done. He wore his heart on his sleeve and was one of us. That's why I always knew that no matter what Mark Prior ever did, the fans would never love him like we love Woody. Prior was robotic, Wood was real. Prior was greedy and had a sense of entitlement; Woody took less money more than once to remain a Cub because they had shown faith in him when he struggled. Prior gave excuses; Woody, after Game 7 in '03 admitted he 'choked.' Woody grew up in front of our eyes, gave us many great moments (including my favorite sports moment of all time, his home run in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS to put us ahead), and will always be remembered as my favorite Cub. Maybe someday he'll come back to finish his career in Chicago, where he belongs. It'll be a shame that whenever (if ever) the Cubs finally win the big one, he won't be there to enjoy it. This is the worst part about sports."

I believe this sums up the feelings of many Cubs fans. As I said above, he's our guy. Another "our guy" from this past generation was Mark Grace. He had a similar situation. As the story goes, he walked in to re-up and the Cubs said they weren't interested. You see, Hee Seop Choi was waiting in the wings, and God forbid the team impede his progress. Grace went on to win a ring with the Diamondbacks that season -- jump-starting the ninth-inning rally in Game 7 of the World Series against Mariano Rivera with a leadoff single -- while the Cubs were trading prospects for Fred McGriff at the deadline because there was a void at first base.

When I asked for thoughts on the Wood departure from my Dad, he touched upon several guys who Cubs fans hold dear to their hearts: "Thank goodness Ernie Banks did not play in this era. He might be known as Mr. Kansas City Royal. First Mark Grace, now Woody. What next? Santo calling White Sox games?"

Fortunately, we won't have to deal with that.

As for Kerry Wood, it's time to move on. While he'll always be a Chicagoan, he's not a Cub anymore. That's what we sign up for nowadays as a sports fans. Jerry Seinfeld once mocked us sports fans because we are all just "cheering for laundry."

I guess he had a point.

From the Windup: Kid K Era in Wrigleyville Ends, Cubs Fans Saddened originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Mon, 17 Nov 2008 11:40:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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