Kerry Wood’s Place in Cubs history?

The team now known as the Chicago Cubs began play in 1876 when the National League initially formed.  They were actually called the Chicago White Stockings and were a charter member.  The Chicago White Stockings dominated the National League due to the great play of Cap Anson, baseball’s first member of the 3000 hit club.  In 1890, the team became known as the Chicago Colts and finally around the turn of the 20th century, the team became known as the  “orphans” or Cubs after the team got rid of Cap Anson.  So when discussing a player’s place in Cubs history, the first question to ponder is how far back to go?  Do you include Cap Anson who technically never played with the “Cubs”?  Another question to think about is how to compare players from different generations.  The overwhelming majority of players from 1876 would not be able to keep up with the athletes of today.

This week’s retirement of Kerry Wood has made me wonder about his place in Cubs history.  I will apologize right now for how rambling this post is but even days later, I am still swept up in mixed emotions about this question.  I think if you asked any fan to name one player from the Cubs in the last 15 years, the answers that you would almost always get are either Kerry Wood or Sammy Sosa.  But, as has been mentioned, the history of the Cubs goes back more than 100 years past Kerry Wood’s debut with the team.  So where does being synonymous with the team for two decades place you on the list?

Let’s start by looking at Kerry Wood’s career numbers with the Cubs.  12 seasons.  80 wins.  68 losses.  1279 innings pitched.  1470 strikeouts.  3.67 ERA.  10.3 K/9.  35 saves.  One of the greatest games ever pitched in MLB history in his 20 K, 1 hit game vs. the Astros in 1998.  A dozen stints on the DL.  Almost 3 complete seasons lost due to injury.  1 of 3 pitchers in the history of MLB with at least 1000 IP and a K/9 rate over 10 (with Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez).  He is also the only pitcher in MLB history to have 80 wins, 50 saves and a K/9 rate over 10.  Lastly, he was one of the main starting pitchers for 2 playoff Cubs teams (1998 & 2003) and the closer for a 3rd (2008)…while also having a smaller role on the 2007 playoff team.  How many Cubs players have helped the team get to the playoffs 4 different times?

No one would argue the fact that Kerry Wood didn’t have as great of a career for the Cubs as he was capable of having.  Injuries derailed that early on as he missed the entire 1999 season after setting the baseball world on fire with the 20 strikeouts game in his 5th career start.  It was an uphill battle trying to stay on the field and healthy from there on out during his career.  With Kerry Wood, it will always be a sad tale of what might have been.  It can be argued that Carlos Zambrano deserves to be ranked higher on the list of All-Time Great Cubs based on his 125 wins and 1542 strikeouts plus a no hitter during his time with the team that was shorter than Wood’s.  While Zambrano stayed healthy and thus got more wins, strikeouts, IP and threw the no hitter, he was a disruption in the clubhouse.  Teammates hated him.  Kerry Wood, on the other hand, was the consummate professional.  He loved this franchise and the fans loved him in return.  Kerry Wood was a leader that was widely respected by his teammates and his peers.  He took an extreme paycut to come back to the Cubs to show how much he loved the franchise and the city of Chicago.  After his retirement, players from around the league posted on twitter about Kerry and wishing him well.  That doesn’t happen for everybody.

I think the best Cubs in history have to be split into categories based on generations.  I think there is the pre 1900s era with Cap Anson.  There is the Tinker to Evers to Chance era with Mordecai “Three Finger Brown” and Hippo Vaughn.  There is the Gaby Hartnett, Hack Wilson, Charlie Root, Kuy Kuy Kuyler, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Charlie Grimm, Rogers Hornsby era.  Then there was the Stan Hack, Phil Cavarretta era that was the bridge to Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Fergie Jenkins.  Bill Madlock and Bruce Sutter then bridged the gap to Ryan Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Mark Grace, Rick Sutcliffe.  Then came Greg Maddux, Sammy Sosa, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Rameriz, Derrek Lee and Ryan Dempster.  Now we sit at Starlin Castro and ?.

Due to his loyalty, perseverance and the fact that he was on 4 playoff teams and a major component of 3 vastly different rostered playoff teams, Kerry Wood is in the Top 10 Cubs of the past 30 years along with Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace, Andre Dawson, Aramis Rameriz, Sammy Sosa, Rick Sutcliffe, Greg Maddux, Carlos Zambrano and Derrek Lee.

While he may not match up to Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Ron Santo and several of the other older players, he is an icon to all Cubs fans under the age of 40 years old and the owner of a “I will always remember where I was when I watched that game” moment for the ages.  I think 99% of us out there would love to have a legacy in our line of work that can match Kerry’s.

And as Joe Posnanski tweeted after the game ended…may we all strike out the last batter we face.






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