The Kerry Wood era and his impending departure can best be described amongst Cubs fans as the loss of an icon crossed with a feeling of good riddance. This duel fan opinion of the Texas right-hander is due to the fact that when Wood burst on to the MLB scene with his 20K performance against Houston in the spring of '98, a complete disbelief ushered throughout Cubdom. Could a pitcher of this immense talent really be residing on the north side? Is the second coming of Roger Clemens sporting blue pinstripes? By announcing his presence with such grandiose fireworks, Wood became an immediate obsession. I remember coming home from school and watching in awe as this guy dominated like no Cub before. Unfortunately, this fireworks display would later be accompanied by a mid-season trip to the disabled list where he would return to no avail in an NLDS loss to the Braves.
Wood's flash of brilliance coupled with an immediate health breakdown would eventually become his calling card. The next ten years would display Wood as having one of the best opponent batting averages mixed with gratuitous stays on the disabled list. I feel that any other team would have quickly diagnosed the man as incapable of maintaining his health for a full season (long believed his mechanics were the culprit) and shipped off for prospects. Though, the trade or release never occurred, and year after year Cubdom hoped he would put it together and chase down the pennant.
Hope is the very reason Wood even materialized into iconic status amongst Cubs fans. The decades of futility on the north side made hope the only option for maintaining the ability to continue to follow this sad sack franchise. And Wood immediately became the flagship of this wave of hopeful emotion. It didn't hurt that his arrival also coincided with a Cub renaissance where the teams popularity and wealth would exponentially grow. His injuries would be hailed has as disastrous, but nowhere was there a vitriol lashing among the fans towards Wood, just support and hope that next year he would stay healthy and produce.
In 2003 it seemed that hope and patience would finally bare fruit with Wood's pitching being instrumental in securing the central division title. He added to his season success with two awesome outings in the NLDS to propel the team towards capturing the NL pennant. This success would all be for not as Wood was unable to stem the Marlin tide in Game 7 of the NLCS where he allowed over five runs in 4 innings. The next 2 1/2 years would be marred in injury with an abandoning of being a starting pitcher and adopting a reliever role.
So, with this up and down play from Kerry Wood for the last decade, he has been rewarded with no contract offer from the Cubs for 2009? The Cub fan in me boils with anger for the fact that Wood is likable, enjoyed Cubdom and all its offerings, and left everything on the field. Still, the business side of my baseball acumen says, "let this guy go, he's a torn rotator cuff waiting to happen." Wood's loyalty can't be ignored, nor his talent. The guy was an all-star reliever in 2008! I see how Carlos Marmol has been groomed as the closer of the future, but its not like the Cubs lack the funds to resign Wood as Marmol's setup man. I find Philadelphia's playoff success as more reason to stack your bullpen. Fine, he can gain more salary from rival teams, but Marmol is still under contract.
Also, one fact remains, does Marmol even have the makeup to conquer the intense challenge of closing baseball games? Is Kevin Gregg now our emergency closer if Marmol loses confidence? These questions could be quickly put to bed if Wood was resigned. A valuable insurance tool in my opinion, especially for a team whose window of winning it all is quickly shutting. Therefore, is Wood a victim of increased winning expectations on Clark & Addison? I say no, for its him (Wood) that created this new bar of success. Ten years ago, just having a competitive team would have been outstanding, now a NLDS loss is met with complete disgust from the fans and media.
In the end, I hope both sides are met with positive outcomes. I do not want to see Kerry Wood back under the knife, nor do I need to see my beloved Cubs losing 90 games because of a collapsing bullpen in 2009.