1998 was an exciting time to be a Cubs fan. They had Sammy Sosa hit more home runs in a single season than anyone had ever hit, with the exception of Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds*. They also made the playoffs for the first time since 1989. 1998 was also the Rookie season of a pitcher who was supposed to be the anchor of a staff that would carry them to the promised land. His name was Kerry Wood. After, over 13 seasons, Wood announced his retirement yesterday.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Wood, and he lived up to it. In one of his first games in the Majors, he tied the Major League record by striking out 20 Houston Astros. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1998 after going 13-6 with 233 strikeouts. The playoffs didn’t work out as the Cubs would have hoped (they were swept in the first round by the Braves), but Cubs fans, and the rest of the baseball world thought it was a sign of things to come.
Things didn’t quite work out like they were supposed to in the early going, though. Wood missed the entire 1999 season due to Tommy John surgery and many wondered if the Rookie phenom would be able to return to form. Fears were calmed by 2001 when he went 12-6 and lead the league with 266 strikeouts. The Cubs added Southern California phenom, Mark Prior to their rotation and they seemed more poised than ever to finally get the brass ring that had eleuded them for so long. For the benefit of Cubs fans that may be reading this, I will not go into the 2003 playoffs.
Wood had a few more good years, but started to struggle. Then the unthinkable happened. He was traded from the Cubs to the Cleveland Indians. After 10 years on the Cubs, it was over. He went from a starter, to a reliever, and Cubs fans were behind him every step of the way. He did OK on the Indians, but was then traded to the Yankees. After a year on the Yankees, he made one of the classiest moves in sports. He called the Cubs General Manager and said that he wanted to play for the Cubs. After telling Wood that they could not afford him, he agreed to play for much less than he was worth because he wanted to be a Cub one more time.
The Cubs have struggled mightily for a few years now. Their fanbase doesn’t care. They’re used to it. Such devotion is limited to one team in professional sports – The Cubs. The most intensely loyal fans of any team in any sport. There were many signs on the final game of a 100 loss season that said “There’s Always Next Year”. There are even more on opening day that say “This is the Year”. When Kerry Wood was in his prime, those weren’t just hopeful signs. They had reason to believe. Fittingly, Kerry Wood ended his career with a strikeout. During over 13 seasons, he gave Cubs fans a lot to be hopeful about.