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Cowley: Like many Cubs seasons, Kerry Wood’s career was a disappointment

Kerry Wood catches fly balls outfield with his sJustduring batting practice Wrigley Field Friday May 18 2012 Chicago. | John

Kerry Wood catches fly balls in the outfield with his son Justin during batting practice at Wrigley Field Friday, May 18, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 1, 2012 12:20PM

The veteran pitcher with an
arm held together by Play-Doh and duct tape striking out the up-and-coming hitter on three pitches. The standing
ovation kicking in. ‘‘My Way’’ being played on the organ. Finally, the young boy running out of the dugout to embrace his dad.

One final hug between son and a father’s baseball career.

The Cubbies sure know how to make a retirement party play like a Pixar movie.

Was it touching? Yes. Was it memorable? Yes. Does it change
the fact that Kerry Wood announcing his retirement Friday ends a career of underachievement? Absolutely not.

‘‘Its just time,’’ Wood said of his decision. ‘‘You saw how things have been going this year. Just not being able to recover and bounce back and do my job, essentially. I felt like I was putting guys in the pen in situations they didn’t need to be in, putting [manager] Dale [Sveum] in a situation where his hands were tied.’’

The cat was let out of the bag early Friday, hours before the Cubs’ crosstown series against the White Sox was set to begin. The culprit? Wood’s wife, Sarah, who posted on Facebook, ‘‘every story has an end but in life every ending is just a new beginning.’’

So this chapter of Wood’s story does have an end, just not a happy one. Not when there was so much talent.

Not when he burst on the
scene by fanning 20 Astros in his fifth major-league start in 1998, then followed that up with 13 strikeouts in a victory five days later against the Diamondbacks.

Not when he had a lead against the Marlins in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series in 2003, only to have it pulled from his grasp.

It’s not a happy ending. But it’s one Cubs fans embraced, identified with. Wood symbolized decades and decades of Cubs fans hoping for better, only to be disappointed. He was their poster boy.

‘‘From a Cub perspective — and you have to look at the entire career — for every Game 5 in Atlanta [to get the Cubs to the NLCS], there was a Game 7 in Wrigley Field against the Florida Marlins where he didn’t get the job done,’’ broadcaster Steve Stone said. ‘‘But one of the reasons he will always be ingrained in the pantheon that is Cubs legend and why he will always be close to Cubs fans and their team is because, like so many of them in their lives, he was always supposed to be better.’’

That sums up Wood’s career perfectly. He was 1969, 1971, 1984 and 2003. He was the Goat. He was Bartman. If it could go wrong, it did. And it did with Wood, specifically because of an across-the-body delivery that wasn’t going to hold up over time.

A Mount Rushmore of impact rookie pitchers in the last 35 years would feature Wood, Dwight Gooden, Stephen Strasburg and Fernando Valenzuela. Stone said he thought Wood was better than any rookie pitcher he has seen, even though he never won more than 14 games in a season.

What he was this season was the pitcher formerly known as Kerry Wood. He was more ambassador than quality reliever. Who would have guessed his best throw of the season — before fanning Dayan Viciedo on Friday — came when he tossed his glove and hat into the stands last week?

So Wood has called it quits, with nature telling him it was over.

‘‘I had fun; I had a blast,’’ Wood said of his 14-year career. ‘‘I wouldn’t trade anything in.’’

I don’t know, but maybe mixing in a World Series title would have been nice.

And the final score in Wood’s last ride off on the white horse? Sox 3, Cubs 2.

It doesn’t get more Cubbie than that.

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