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Today in Cubs history: Kerry Wood and Hee Seop Choi collide

Choi had to be taken off the field in an ambulance.

Dusty Baker talking with Hee Seop Choi as the latter is taken away by ambulance
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The interleague series in June 2003 at Wrigley Field between the Cubs and Yankees had been highly hyped. It was the Yankees’ first appearance at the North Side ballpark in 65 years, and the first-ever regular-season set between the two teams.

The Yankees entered the series in first place in the A.L. East, and the Cubs were tied for first in the N.L. Central, so the games had even more meaning for both teams.

New York won the Friday game and even more hype was placed on Saturday’s contest, featuring Texas-born pitchers Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens.

The game was scoreless with one out in the top of the fourth inning when Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi hit an infield popup.

Then this happened:

Hee Seop Choi was a top Cubs prospect, from Korea, who had been given the first-base job to start the 2003 season. At the time of this collision, Choi was batting .244/.389/.496 (33-for-135) with seven home runs in 49 games. There was every indication he might be the Cubs first baseman for a very long time.

He was out three weeks after the collision — he did actually catch the ball! — and after his return was never quite the same. He batted just .164/.263/.269 (11-for-67) the rest of the year, and Eric Karros wound up playing first base for most of the remainder of 2003. After the season, the Cubs traded Choi and minor league pitcher Mike Nannini to the Marlins for Derrek Lee — that one, at least, turned out to be a very good deal for the Cubs. Choi spent only half a year with the Marlins before he was traded to the Dodgers. He had a decent year there in 2005 and eventually returned to his native Korea, where he played eight more years with the Kia Tigers before retiring after the 2015 season.

As for the rest of that Cubs/Yankees game, Hideki Matsui homered off Wood to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the fifth. But then Karros — who, of course, had not started the game — hit a three-run homer off reliever Juan Acevedo in the bottom of the seventh and the Cubs added two more and held on for a 5-2 win. They won the series by winning the next day 8-7.

A bit more about the collision: Choi was unconscious for a while and here’s more from Paul Sullivan’s Tribune article the next day:

The game was delayed for 17 minutes while Choi received medical attention.

The capacity crowd, so festive just moments before, looked on in silence as a Chicago Fire Department ambulance rolled slowly through a gate in the right-field corner.

Choi had regained some movement as he was placed in the ambulance and taken to Illinois Masonic Hospital.

The game resumed, but Choi’s condition was on the players’ minds until they were told several innings later that he appeared to be out of danger.

“It’s a big relief,” [Damian] Miller said after the Cubs’ 5-2 victory. “One of the first things we did when we came into the clubhouse was have a team meeting about it.

“The doctor couldn’t give us any information other than Hee Seop was fine, and that one of the first things he asked was if Kerry was all right.”

To this day that’s the only time an ambulance has actually gone on the field at Wrigley to take a player to a hospital. This all happened 20 years ago today, Saturday, June 7, 2003.