Yesterday, four months after his abrupt yet necessary retirement from the game, Kerry Wood was honored by the Cubs with a pre-game ceremony, including a first pitch by his son Justin (who is as "effectively wild" as his old man) and, finally, an essentially solo performance of "Ballgame" by Justin during the 7th inning stretch. Kid wasn't bad. He was 100x better than even the best rendition by Mike Ditka, 1000x better than Jay Cutler, and a million billion googolplexes better than NASCAR star Jeff Gordon. That and Alfonso Soriano's 31st homer were the big highlights of the day, which capped off a disappointing weekend after a thrilling series opener. I really wanted to at least win this series, and I'm sure I'm not alone.
Now I love Kerry Wood, in the irrational manner which most of us love our old Cubs. In his case there are tremendous reasons why, that I and others have outlined ad infinitum before, especially when the announcement of his return after Ron Santo's funeral as well as immediately after
his arm fell off his retirement. And lord knows as this season winds down, any excuse for a warm and fuzzy moment should be cause for celebration, since there haven't been many other reasons to cheer. But I just assumed that along with this ceremony, there would be an announcement about Wood's future role with the team. I waited and good thing I wasn't holding my breath because as of right now there is nothing to announce.
Apparently the Trib's Dave Van Dyck was thinking the same way, and the result was an interesting discussion about not only his role, but the possibility of the more accomplished former Cubs of the recent past having a role with this Cubs organization. You know, the one who claims to be using state-of-the-art IT while allegedly de-emphasizing the cult of the cuddly cubbies. While predictably asserting that he doesn't want to just be a gladhander for the Cubs, which I will touch upon, I was more intrigued when the conversation turned to the other ex-Cubs of Kerry's time with the team.
Van Dyck mentioned the following: Andre Dawson, Sammy Sosa, Ryne Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe, Greg Maddux and Mark Grace. Without having heard the conversation take place or having a copy of the actual transcript, I am puzzled that Sosa was discussed the most in the article.
We know that the Hawk is a Florida native, and enjoys being the mean old uncle for the Marlins organization. (I can't even imagine how has been dealing with Ozzie Guillen). We also know that Sut and Grace are announcers for ESPN and the D-backs, respectively. There hasn't been a vacancy in our TV booth for some time, of course, but I found it interesting that neither guy ended up taking Santo's place in the radio booth. I mean, I realize Sut has had his problems remaining coherent in the booth, but was he really that much worse than Ronnie, some days? And Grace has had problems remembering not to stick his keys in the ignition switch of his car after he's been drinking, as well as remembering not sticking other things in still other things after he's been drinking, too. Both guys have names and personalities that seem to dwarf Keith Moreland's. But we're all reasonably sure Zonk's gonna show up for work every day unimpaired. Apparently that's vital at the Ivory Tower.
Myself, especially after this season, a little mystery might have been entertaining. Will the radio color guy show up wasted? How in the world will Pat Hughes cover THAT up? How many times will they have to mash the 'dump' button?
As it turns out, neither nightlife lover is really mentioned further in the article. Both Sandberg and Maddux were mentioned, briefly, and Wood notes that "I get those situations and understand how that kind of worked out..." pertaining to Ryno and Mad Dog now longer being part of the organization. I would think he has been part of an inner circle, socially if not organizationally, that would know the inside story on why the Epstein regime has no purpose for either Hall of Famer.
Longtime readers know I have no love lost for Sammy Sosa. That's the understatement of the entire Era of Human Existence. Thing is, I figured Kerry Wood was on my side of this one? After all, according to legend, it was he who slew the Sosa Boom Box of Satan. Everyone knows Sosa quit on the 2004 team, his last, and even Wood hasn't forgotten, but apparently he thinks Sosa deserves a second chance. Now, this totally irked me, and I'm not alone. Since I started writing this, I noticed that the Wake-n-Bakemaster General himself has blown a gasket about Wood's newfound generosity.
But let's take this down a new path: what COULD Sammy Sosa do for the Cubs, now? And, for that matter, what exactly can Kerry Wood do for the Cubs?
First blush: noted swollen freak Mark McGwire is the hitting coach for the Cardinals, and there seems to be an opening for a fulltime hitting coach on our team. Some say Theo wants some relative of Lou Piniella's to be the hitting coach, guy named Dave Magadan. I mean, really, Theo? Haven't you sunk your claws into Larry Lucchino's back enough? Magadan, of course, is the current Red Sox hitting coach. But hey? Everyone thought having Big Mac as a hitting coach was a cynical eff you ploy by his longtime manager Tony (Abner Doubleday "invented" baseball; I perfected it) LaRussa. But the evil satanic fowl won the World Series last year, appear to be playoff bound this year in spite of crucial injuries, and their hitters seem to do a fine job of hitting situationally. Nobody in their right mind who ever watched Sosa swing for the fences on every count in every situation would think he'd have any hitting knowledge to impart, outside of corking bats and where to shoot yourself up without getting caught. But McGwire was a true three-outcome guy his entire career. Somehow, during his self-imposed ten year hiatus from civilization with his overgrown kid and his hot trophy wife, did he somehow discover the Tao of Hitting? Perhaps Sosa, in his post-retirement search for "enlightenment", has also found the True Path to the maximum OPS?
As far as Wood? It seems to me that for much of his career, he was Sosa's mound equivalent. Throw that heater, break that curve, stick that slider in there, until it hurts. And hurts. And hurts. Even towards the end of his run, after the surgeries and pain resulted in diminished roles as a closer, then setup man, and finally mopup man, did it really seem like he altered his approach any? Man is young enough that he could still be enjoying a career if he could have adjusted from a power game to a finesse game. Kid K only understood one way, balls out, and if his body could no longer sustain the effort, he made the gutsy call to end things before he embarrassed himself too much, unlike many men have before him. He did grow substantially since his heralded beginnings, in terms of leadership and communication. From a shy kid, Wood grew into a clubhouse leader and reliable conduit for the media. It seems to me that if Kerry Wood has a future with the Cubs organization, it probably should not be as pitching coach, or even instructor, unless he went with a "what NOT to do" approach to keeping hurlers healthy.
Perhaps, though, is he managerial material? Start out as a base coach or bench coach? That, to me, makes more sense for a guy who was a better conversationalist than a pitching tutor. And, Sosa? I dunno...let him set up a booth for ProActiv next to the bison dogs.