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Cubs Tue Dec 02 2008

Kid K

It was nestled way back on page 55 of Tuesday's Sun-Times, six paragraph item at the bottom of the page no less. Almost an afterthought.

The headline: "Hendry slams the door shut on Wood era"

On Monday, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry made it official when he declined to offer salary arbitration to pitcher Kerry Wood. Hendry reportedly told Wood he wouldn't compete with other teams for his services nor would he sign him to a one-year deal. Which pretty much means "don't let the doorknob hit ya." Sounds cold and cruel, but that's baseball. It is, as is often said, a business, so seeing the team get sentimental about trying to find someway to hold on to the 31-year old pitcher was a stretch. True, he saved 34 games in 2008, his first season as a reliever, so this move was most likely a way of striking while the iron is hot. The Cubs stand to gain two draft picks from any team that picks up Wood, a "Type A" free agent.

For "nouveau" Cubs fans (those who cite the late '80s as "the old days"), this must mark the end of an era of sorts. Wood showed up on the Cubs' doorstep in 1998 and promptly went 13-6 with 233 strike outs, including that now-mythic 20-strikeout game against Houston that tied a record for most strikeouts in a nine-inning game and set a record for most strikeouts in a game by a rookie.

But the frustrating part of the Kerry Wood legacy also began that year, as he missed the last month of the season with elbow soreness (but still won NL Rookie of the Year). And it pretty much continued on that roller coaster pattern for the rest of his career at Clark and Addison. 1999: Missed the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery. 2000: an 8-7 record. 2001-2003: records of 12-6, 12-11 and 14-11 including 266 Ks in 2003. 2004: Missed two months with a strained triceps. 2005: Surgery in August and missed the rest of the season. 2006: Knee surgery in spring training, a torn rotator cuff in July that forced him to miss the rest of the season.

He made his amazing comeback in 2008, coming out of the bullpen and while he did manage those 34 saves, he also blew six save opportunities and caused more than a few heart attacks. But Cubs fans, being the forgiving lot that they are, kept their calls for his demotion from closer to a minimum. After all, this was Kerry Wood. One of theirs.

Usually when they call a player "the face of the organization," it carries a positive connotation, the image of longtime team member who, no matter what else is going on around him, produces with a steady rhythm can be counted on to carry the team when things get rough. An Albert Pujols bashing home runs, an Ichiro Suzuki cranking out hit after hit, even a Greg Maddox defying time.

But we're talking about the Cubs. And make no mistake: Kerry Wood was the "face of the organization" for the Cubs, for better or worse. More expectations and heartache has been associated with him than any other player currently on their roster and his ups and downs have mirrored everything that has gone on at Wrigley Field for the past decade. I mean, what are the Cubs but expectations and heartache? They were made for each other.

Dusty Baker, Wood's former manager with the Cubs and now at Cincinnati, has expressed an interest in talking to him and maybe working out a deal to bring him to the Reds. A courtesy call mostly. Maybe the Cubs will even honor him at some point next season, whether he comes back wearing another uniform or not. But no matter what happens, he's a Cub. With his career, could he be anything else?

 
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