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Don't got Wood

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Some moments are bigger than the game. Whether or not they should be depends on your perspective, and it is difficult for most Cubs fans to consider anything Kerry Wood does with a balanced perspective. 

In announcing his retirement yesterday, Wood upstaged the game--a Crosstown Classic at that--and the Cubs assured that he could go out the way he wanted, facing one last batter in a close game, and getting a tender in-game farewell from fans and players alike

Since his 20-strikeout game on May 6, 1998, it has been impossible for a lot of us to view Wood as you would any other pitcher who has been on the disabled list 16 times in 14 years and who hasn't even spent his entire career with the Cubs. 

Wood had one truly great game and a handful of very good ones, but the promise of miracle talent flashed at age 20 created a legend that wouldn't fade, and when he set himself apart from other players by being an all-around nice guy and generous tipper, it only enhanced the warm feelings people have had for him. The injuries gave him the star-crossed quality of someone who can never really fail in the eyes of fans because he never really gets the chance.

Of course, what many fans forget is that Wood did get that chance. If he had won the biggest game of his life--Game 7 of the 2003 NLDS--the 20-strikeout game, the 1998 Rookie of the Year award and some other good performances might have been only chapter headings in a bigger and broader legend. You certainly can't heap all the blame for that year's postseason implosion on him, but that loss is something a lot of fans are likely to ignore when they think about Wood.

I can't really think of an over-hyped player getting the farewell from the game that Wood got yesterday, but I guess it was in the cards when the Cubs re-signed Wood last winter. I thought when he returned for the 2011 season, it was a decent signing of a fan favorite who had a bit of talent left and probably would retire at the end of the year. When Theo & Co. seemed committed to re-building, I thought Wood would take the hint and announce his retirement, but instead he forced the team to make a PR decision and sign him to a cheap deal. It's the only time new management has blinked so far.

I don't really fault Wood for dictating his own public exit in the middle of a game--I think he wanted it for the fans more than for himself because he has probably been a fan of the legend, too. But it was emblematic of everything else about Wood's whole story--kind of out-sized and disconnected from reality, the kind of moment fans celebrate because, like Wood, they have no idea what it's like to win the biggest game of their lives.


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