You don't have to look very far today to find a Cubs blog talking about Kerry Wood. I'm sure they are all mentioning his impact on Cub fans - the 20K game, the 2003 playoff performance, the homerun upon return from Tommy John Surgery, the numerous hometown discounts, and so much more. For many of us, Kerry Wood has been the face of the franchise for almost 15 years - yes, even when he was in Cleveland, and later New York.
I can't help but think about a guy I used to know, who would describe himself as a Cubs fan, who seems to feast and revel on the misery we - including he - feels when following the team. You know the type, even if you don't know the specific fan I'm talking about -- he's the guy who spent the 90's pointing out that Mark Grace spent his career in the #3 spot and never drove in 100; he's the guy who systematically compares the Cubs to the Cardinals and, no matter what, finds St. Louis to be a better organization (including in '07 and '08). He's a douchebag, in other words.
Right now, this fan is telling somebody somewhere that Kerry Wood was a tremendous disappointment. He's pointing out that, for all his promise, Wood never even won 100 games. For all his hype, Wood never even won 15 in a season. He's reminding someone that the Expos would've traded Pedro Martinez to the Cubs for Kerry Wood. He's reflecting on how Wood "choked" in Game 7 of the 2003 playoffs. He's relishing the failures.
It's true that Kerry Wood wasn't what we thought he'd be. Then again, no Cub hopeful ever has been. Corey Patterson didn't become Willie Mays, or even Kirby Puckett. Mark Prior didn't become Tom Seaver, or even Brett Saberhagen. It's been a string of disappointments in Chicago, despite all the hype and promise -- and, from a purely analytic point of view, sure, Kerry Wood falls into that category. (Don't get pissed at me yet - I'm going somewhere with this.)
But let's look at it another way. Kerry Wood was drafted in 1995 - a full 50 years from the last visit Chicago has ever made to the World Series. In those 50 years, the Cubs finished .500 or better 10 times and reached the playoffs twice - '84 and '89. So, 10 seasons of winning more than losing, and 2 visits to the playoffs. That's it. People were born and became grandparents in that span. A lot of Cub fans died still waiting for any hope.
And we're still waiting. We're still hoping. But since 1995, over the span of the past 18 years, the Cubs have finished .500 or better 8 times. They've reached the playoffs 4 times. They have been sold, the managers who bungled them have been let go, and they've been put under the direction of a group of individuals with a pedigree for victory.
Maybe some of that -- maybe a lot of that -- started with Kerry Wood. With Wood, we expected things. Not just from him, but from the organization. We have demanded that they play at a higher level. We have protested when they've not. We've forced the hand of ownership, we've shed the reputation of being ignorant fans, and the Cubs have dismissed the title of 'lovable losers.'
If you sit back and think about it, Kerry Wood did a lot more than win 86 games in his career, or strike out 20 Astros in an outing, or deliver unto the heavens a Game 7 homerun that, for one shining moment, put the Cubs back in the game. He changed our expectations. And sooner rather than later, the Cubs will meet them. I don't know about you, but I will always think that we owe a little bit of that to Kerry Wood.