1998 wasn't that long ago, but I suppose if you are 20 now, you were seven then, so let me put it to you this way:
How do you feel about Starlin Castro, right at this moment?
After the jump: I make my point!
How do you feel about a guy who, at this time last year, was the fuel of the pre-season Hype Machine? How did you feel when cranky-ass Lou Piniella let him go to Iowa, instead of up north immediately, and the very day Castro started with us, he hit a homer and drove in six runs?
Do you feel satisfield, justified, and sanctified that one of our very own came up at the age of 20, seemingly out of nowhere, and is proving himself to: not only be a starter on the Cubs, but a very likely perennial All-Star? Do you feel that, from this point forward, no matter what, Starlin is "one of yours", that you saw him on the ground floor, and no matter what happens with him the rest of his career, you will have that bond with him? You hope and pray he stays with us his entire career, but if he doesn't, you'll always have an eye on him, and the worst thing of all would be for him to come back and beat us?
Sure, I feel that way, too. I am beyond glad that Castro is a Cub, and am keeping my fingers crossed that he 1) stays healthy, 2) does not jump for the Yankees the first possible minute, and 3) fulfills the hopes we all have.
"Oh. My. F-in. Gawd. He is a force of nature; the most dominant flamethrower since Clemens in his prime, and he's all ours! Dear God, this is too good to possibly be true! With THIS guy, here we have a certain Staff Ace, a certain Clements/Nolan Ryan type, he is even TEXAN, so it must be true! We are going to win 2, 3, five world championships with this stud hoss he man, winning 20+ games and striking out 300+ year in, year out." Sure, he threw 100 MPH, but it was the curve, that damn 12-to-6 hammer that melted guys like putty, made them look worthless and weak.
Kerry Wood was OURS, and he made himself even more indispensable when he took hometown discounts to stay a Cub; married a local girl; made his home here; involved himself deeply in worthwhile local charities; and towards the end of his stint here, becoming the clubhouse leader the Cubs lacked before, or since.
But, did I mention the injuries? The miserably dysfunctional delivery that permitted the torque necessary to drop that hammer? The missed seasons; 10+ trips to the DL; the simulated games; the towel drills; the ill-advised homoerotic SI cover with Mark Prior, that just begged Fate to cut them both down in the prime of their careers?
When all has been said and done, on a purely mechanical basis, the Cubs' reliance on Kerry Wood since 1998 has done the franchise more harm, than good. He never won 20 - I think 14 was his high. He hit 200 innings, what, once? OK, twice, under Dusty Baker's watch, no less. He is not going to the Hall of Fame. We never won a World Series with him. He did notch probaby the biggest win for the franchise of the past 65 years - the 2003 NLDS clincher. He also lost the biggest game too, Game 7 of the NLCS.
Of course, I believe in all my heart that nobody on Earth could have won that game. It was never meant to be.
So, now Kerry Wood has come back, after a 2-year financial exile, to finish his career as it started, as a Cub. He should probably be the 11th pitcher on a 12-man staff. However, any staff that will contain John Grabow, Silva the Hutt and either Wellenmeyer or Looper, and Wood is pushed up to the third arm in the pen after Marmol and Marshall.
This is not good news for us. His 2010 with the Yankees finished strong, and he certainly has the guts to pitch late innings for us. I'm just not sure he has the physical ability to do so, anymore. He is not your typical major leaguer, and he has offered us discounts before. But make no mistake: if he thought more about his own abilities, he would have insisted on more than the $1.5 million he is making, either from us, or elsewhere. He is being paid commensurate with what he physically has left in his tank. If I were being totally impartial here, I would not expect much more than a tough out every so often. You really can't even ask him to eat innings in blowouts. He is nothing more than a LOOGY who happens to throw right-handed.
If it were anyone else in the world, I would be pissed off that we were carrying this "bum" on the roster. But this is Kerry Wood. He's one of mine. He was supposed to go to the Hall of Fame. I love the Cubs, and I love Kerry Wood, and he is welcome here anytime, as far as I am concerned. This is his home. For better or worse, he is through and through a Cub.