(And yes, I stole the title for this post from this diary.)
At the end of spring training in 1998, a reporter asked Terry Collins, then the manager of the Angels, who he thought would win the World Series that year.
"The Cubs," he answered.
The reporter, surprised, asked why -- since the Cubs had lost 94 games the year before.
Collins replied, "Because if the Cubs have five pitchers better than Kerry Wood, they ought to be World Champions." Wood had just been sent down, although he was recalled to make his major league debut only twelve games into the season.
That game is arguably the most dominant performance in the history of baseball -- it came within a Kevin Orie boot of being a perfect game. Wood not only had a smoking fastball that day, but a sweeping curveball that many great hitters on that Houston team -- Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Moises Alou -- couldn't touch.
And it gave all of us great hope that at last, the Cubs had developed a dominant, #1, ace, perhaps even Hall of Fame quality starter.
It didn't work out that way, as you all know. Wood had a great rookie year -- until August, when he had to be shut down. He came back to throw five innings in the NL Division series against the Braves, and then missed the entire 1999 season with Tommy John surgery.
After that it was flashes of brilliance and domination -- particularly the last month of the 2003 season.
Now, at age 29, all of that may be over, after yesterday's announcement that Wood has a partial rotator cuff tear and will miss "at least four weeks".
That's silly, of course, even though Wood said:
Strengthen it? This sort of program hasn't worked so far for him. Why not just have the surgery, miss whatever time he has to miss, and then come back as a closer?
Kerry Wood has worn uniform #34, made famous by his childhood hero Nolan Ryan. But instead of becoming Nolan Ryan, Wood may have become Gary Nolan, a similar pitcher with the Reds in the 1960's and 1970's, who burst on the scene at age 19, had an 18-win season at age 22 with the pennant-winning 1970 Reds, but blew his arm out and was out of baseball at 29. Steve Busby, who threw two no-hitters by age 25, had a similar career.
What Wood ought to do is shut it down and have the surgery. This would, of course, cause him to miss the rest of this year and likely all of 2007. If he does this, I would sign him to a contract extension calling for, say, $1 million for 2007, then an incentive-laden contract for 2008 -- provided that he agrees to come back as the Cubs' closer then. At that point, Ryan Dempster -- who did a good job, incidentally, in last night's 3-1 win over the Brewers -- could be traded.
It's really sad. Wood could have been a great pitcher, on a Hall of Fame track. With successful surgery and rehab, maybe he can still salvage half a career. And before all you Baker-bashers blame him for what's happened to Wood, remember that he has played for three different managers -- Baker, Don Baylor and Jim Riggleman -- and it has been generally conceded that Wood's arm troubles may have started as far back as high school. Further, Wood appears to have a bit of Corey Patterson-itis in him -- his mechanics may have caused some of his arm problems, and he's stubbornly refused to change them. That WILL have to change if he's going to pitch into his thirties.
Just a few more notes about last night's game -- it was well-pitched... by the bullpen. Carlos Marmol was lucky to not have given up more than one run, considering the fact that he was walking just about everyone in Milwaukee except Bernie Brewer. Fortunately, the Brewers must have caught the Cubs' failure-to-drive-in-runners disease, because they stranded ten, and the Cubs scored just enough runs to win. It's not a panacea for all ills, but they have looked a lot better the last four games, allowing only five total runs and winning three of the four. As I mentioned above, Dempster looked better last night, dispatching the Brewers 1-2-3 in the ninth, and ending the game with a nice backdoor slider for a called strikeout.
Finally, and I know this is just a coincidence -- the win breaks another long losing streak in WGN-televised games. The last win before last night on WGN was on June 11 in Cincinnati; since then there had been nine WGN losses in a row (not counting the Sox-announced WGN win last Sunday).