The pivotal moment of Kerry Wood‘s career didn’t happen at Wrigley Field. And it won’t happen at Rangers Ballpark this weekend. It happened on a slab of concrete behind a gray, indistinct building in Phoenix, not far from the airport, one morning in June 2007.
Mr. Wood had been there rehabbing from multiple shoulder injuries for the better part of two years, with little success. And as he approached his 30th birthday, he decided it was time to retire.
He was about to call the Cubs to schedule a news conference in Chicago when he walked outside with his trainer, Brett Fischer, to try playing catch one last time. And as soon as he let go of the ball, everything changed.
Had that morning gone the way Mr. Wood expected, his career obituary would have been written three years ago: Kerry Wood, the once-promising pitcher who struck out 20 batters in one game as a rookie in 1998, finally gave in to the injuries that destroyed his career.
But by the spring of 2007, Mr. Wood was tired of waiting. It had been two years since he was fully healthy, and he was getting nowhere.
“He reached a point where he said, ‘That’s it. If I can’t pitch tomorrow, I’m done,’ ” Mr. Fischer said. “And from that point on, he really didn’t have any problems.”
It’s really incredible that Wood literally came one day away from retiring. It’s a good thing for the 2010 Yankees that he didn’t because he’s become a vital part of this team.
He’s also become a cautionary tale for how teams handle young pitchers. Wood went from high school in 1995 to throwing 120 pitches or more in about a third of his starts during his rookie season in 1998. Despite his injuries the Cubs didn’t learn their lesson and had him throwing 120 pitches or more in nearly half of his starts in 2003, the last year he threw at least 200 innings.
Today it is because of Wood, and fellow teammate Mark Prior, that teams limit their young pitchers. Injuries are unavoidable, but it could at least be part of the reason why Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have been able to avoid career threatening problems that so many young pitchers have suffered.