It was bound to happen. One day you wake up, and out of nowhere, your Wood is gone. And even though you knew this day would finally arrive, it’s still hard to come to grips when you think of all the good times — and even the not-so-good ones.
The Cubs acquired reliever Kevin Gregg from the Marlins on Thursday, and at the same time officially said au revoir to Kerry Wood, who for better or worse became the face of the franchise over the course of his 10-year career.
Even though he could be an frustrating mix of inconsistency in terms of performance and availability throughout his career, there was no one who better represented the Cub organization since 1998. Kerry Wood was the poster child of the entire Cubs ethos. Despite the frustrations and letdowns, at the end of the day you had to love him. Since the departure of Mark Grace, no Cub that did a better job of making it appear that he put on the uniform for the benefit of you, the fan, rather than a paycheck.
I’m not idealistic enough to think that money never mattered to Woody, but like I said, at least it had that appearance. You knew he was going to gut it out every time he crossed the lines. And when everyone else thought his career was done, the Cubs stuck with Wood and gave him another shot. In the same token, he stuck by them and signed for less money than he could have gotten elsewhere.
That wasn’t going to happen again. The Cubs thought Wood deserved a multi-year deal, but they aren’t going to be the ones to give it to him. With the team for sale, it appears they aren’t sure how much money they can continue sinking in to the product. With Carlos Marmol ready to take over the closer’s role and Gregg now added as insurance, Wood became expendable.
As tough as it is to swallow, that’s the business of it. Ron Santo didn’t retire a Cub. Neither did Billy Williams. And as we all know in the modern era, neither did Mark Grace. So even though Wood will have a different cap on next year, he’ll always be a Cub the same as those guys are.
Boy, that last paragraph really made me realize how much I’ll miss him (in a non-gay way. I swear.) Now I realize how the Padres lovers on this site felt when their lousy team parted ways with Trevor Hoffman. It’s just impossible to picture him anywhere else. Honestly, as baseball becomes more and more about dollars and cents, how many more guys will spend 10 years with one organization? I know people have been asking that question for years, and there have been a few holdouts like Wood and Hoffman, but the list keeps getting shorter and shorter. At some point it’s going to be like counting surviving World War I veterans.
I’m so lame that I could create a montage of Wood’s career in my head. I remember watching the game the day after he was drafted, and the big deal Harry Caray and Steve Stone made about him. I remember his first start in Montreal in ’98. And the game where it seemed like he would become the next greatest thing, striking out 20 Astros on a crappy, cold day at Wrigley. The next day my buddy and I wrote 20 K’s on the board in our sophomore chemistry class to celebrate his greatness.
Now, I’m a long way from sophomore chemistry class, though I’m still sophomoric. I have a full-time job a half a world away from home. (Or at least half a country.) Kerry was the last link left to that ’98 Cubs team, my favorite team of all-time. That’s probably the thing that makes his departure hardest to swallow.
There were plenty of other memories, particularly in the ’03 playoffs when he beat the Braves twice and made me leap out of my bed (where I had been hiding under the covers) with his home run that temporarily put the Cubs ahead in Game 7 of the NLCS. But it is that 20-year-old “Kid K” that will always be etched in my mind. The one who made you think anything was possible, but then left town like everyone else has in the past 100 years — without a ring. Now, maybe he’ll finally have a chance to get one.