By Brad Spencer
Please, everyone, anyone, whomever, for whatever reason, stop referring to pitcher Kerry Wood as a Cubs icon. He is not a Cubs icon.
I’m sure Wood is a fine person as his charity efforts in and around Chicago indicate, but striking out 20 batters in a single game on May 6, 1998 — over a decade ago — does not make him a Cubs icon. It was a fantastic feat, don’t get me wrong. Only two others have fanned as many batters in a single game — Roger Clemons and Randy Johnson. But it certainly does not earn Wood icon status, or anything more than the one-year $1.5 million contract the Cubs signed him too last season. After yielding 45 hits in 51 innings in relief, he’s for sure nowhere near worth that much this year.
Why Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and others have referred to Wood as a Cubs icon and praised the right-hander for his loyalty to the Cubs is baffling to me. He came back last season, despite fielding offers for more money by other teams, not solely for his devotion to the Cubs. I’m sure his wife being from Chicago had something to do with it. I assume he would have signed with the Sox if the Cubs ignored his request to return to the team.
Wood’s best season on record was ’98, his rookie year. He went 13-6. His second best season was 2003 when he won 14 games, but lost 11. The biggest loss was Game 7 of the National Championship Series with the Cubs on the cusp of a World Series appearance. In 5.2 innings on the mound at Wrigley, Wood gave up seven earned runs as the Cubs fell to the Marlins 9-6. But the way many people seem to remember the Cubs’ downfall that season is a what-should-have-been meaningless foul ball in Game 6 (you know the one I’m talking about).
I’d take a win from Wood in Game 7 — heck, just a decent five innings would do — over the 20-strikeout performance any day. Any Cubs fan would.
Icons don’t spend much of their career on and off the disabled list. Wood had a blister on his right index finger one too many times for someone who wasn’t on the mound regularly later in his career. He recently had knee surgery to repair a torn ligament. He’s been on the DL 14 times in his career.
Yes, the Cubs need a veteran this season amidst a very young group of players, and Wood would be perfect to fill that spot (depending on how much he costs), but a Cubs icon he is not.
So far the icon distinction belongs to guys like Ryne Sandberg, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, Greg Maddux, Rick Sutcliffe, Harry Caray …
Wood, as likable as he is, should not be mentioned in the same breath as these Cubs icons. And I bet even he would agree.
Down the road, who knows, maybe he’ll become a beloved Cubs broadcaster.