Just one month shy of his 35th birthday, “Woody” (born June 16, 1977) leaves a controversial legacy in his 13-plus seasons as a major league pitcher.
In his fifth career start, on May 6, 1998, he threw a one-hit, no walk, 20-strikeout shutout against the Houston Astros, tying Roger Clemens’ record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game and breaking Bill Gullickson’s single-game rookie record of 18 strikeouts in 1980. (source: Wikipedia)
For that, Wood was named the 1998 National League Rookie of the Year. In 1999, Wood missed the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgeryto repair damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Wood recorded over 200 strikeouts in four out of his first five seasons, with a high of 266 in 2003. He also set MLB records as the fastest to reach 1000 strikeouts in MLB history (in appearances): 134 games, and the fastest to reach 1000 strikeouts in MLB history (in innings pitched): 853 innings
He was twice named a National League All-Star and pitched in the post-season five times.
However, as great a heater as he threw, Wood’s legacy for many is a controversial and bittersweet one. Like Roger Maris, whose 61 home runs had an asterisk til 1991, Wood left many with a sense that he never quite lived up to his potential: No one ever saw Wood pitch a perfect game or a no-hitter, nor did he ever win more than 14 games in a season. And he has no World Series ring.
I believe that people overlook how much he had to overcome serious injury to make his mark. All but one of his professional years in Major League Baseball was spent throwing on a surgically repaired arm. Many pitchers would barely have tried coming back from Tommy John surgery…or, tried and failed. Same thing as he spent part of several seasons battling injuries to his back, knees, triceps, and rotator cuff.
Therefore, let’s give him this: Wood leaves his greatest mark in his endurance and ability to reinvent himself year after year. Over the course of his career, he’s been a starter, a closer, and a middle-reliever. I think we underestimate the difficulty of the starter’s overcoming his ego to become a middle-reliever. Nor his ability to come back from so many devastating injuries. I don’t remember the last time Wood was healthy an entire season. And yet, he toughed out the most agonizingt of injuries.
Let’s celebrate that. And wish him, his wife–Waukegan, Illinois native Sarah Pates Wood, and their three children well.