Don't overlook Wood's All-Star tale of redemption

ON BASEBALL

July 20, 2008|By DAN CONNOLLY

Observations, opinions and musings from last week in major league baseball. Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, a recovering substance-abuse addict, had the best story of redemption at the 79th All-Star Game.

Orioles closer George Sherrill, who went from an undrafted, independent league player to an All-Star closer in five years, wasn't far behind.

But there's another All-Star whose journey to Yankee Stadium last week is worth mentioning.

His name is Kerry Wood, a Chicago Cubs pitcher. You might have heard of him. He struck out 20 in a game as a 20-year-old rookie in 1998. He led the National League in strikeouts in 2003, when he made the All-Star team.

His Cooperstown bust was bronzing. And then arm trouble - elbow, triceps, shoulder, you name it - sidelined him. From 2004 to 2007 he won 13 total games, one fewer than he did in 2003.

Switched to the bullpen when he returned in August, Wood, 31, excelled in the role. He auditioned as the Cubs' closer this spring, won the job and has officially reinvented himself.

His motivation was pretty simple. His son, Justin, is 2.

"I wanted to stick around the game long enough for him to remember something about it," Wood said.

Wood didn't pitch in Tuesday's game. He removed himself from the roster with a finger blister that he didn't want to aggravate in an exhibition. But he still wanted to be there.

"There were millions that thought I'd never be here," he said. "But there were four or five [people] that really believed I could get back here. And that's more special to me than anything."

First-half awards

With the second half of the season having started Thursday, here's a look at first-half awards - that time-tested baseball writing device that means absolutely nothing.

AL MVP

This one has to go to a Ranger. The top candidates are Hamilton, who is leading the free world with 95 RBIs, and second baseman Ian Kinsler, who led in batting average, hits and runs scored. A third Ranger, Milton Bradley, is also in the discussion. My call now: Hamilton. My September guess: Hamilton.

AL Cy Young

Hard to go against the American League's All-Star starter, Cliff Lee of Cleveland. He was 12-2 for a team that was 41-53 at the break. His 2.31 ERA was second among qualifiers. My call now: Lee. My September guess: The Boston Red Sox's Daisuke Matsuzaka.

AL Manager

Several can make a case here, including the Orioles' Dave Trembley and baseball's best mouth, the Chicago White Sox's Ozzie Guillen. But Joe Maddon, the Tampa Bay Rays' manager and one of the game's great characters, wins. My call now: Maddon. My September guess: Maddon.

AL Rookie

The assumption is Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria has wrapped this up. Not so fast, or at least not yet. Texas' David Murphy has a slight edge in several categories, including RBIs and runs scored. My call now: Murphy. My September guess: Longoria.

NL MVP

At season's end, the Most Valuable Player Award goes to a player on a contender unless someone has outrageous numbers. There's no clear-cut winner right now. The Philadelphia Phillies' Chase Utley is in the discussion, and so are the Houston Astros' Lance Berkman, Atlanta Braves' Chipper Jones and, a tad late to the party, St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols. Right now, I'm leaning toward the best numbers. My call now: Berkman. My September guess: Pujols.

NL Cy Young

Another crapshoot. The Cincinnati Reds' Edinson Volquez - who was traded for Hamilton - has the best overall numbers. The San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum and Arizona Diamondbacks' Brandon Webb have also impressed. My call now: Volquez. My September guess: Webb.

NL Manager

There was something missing on the North Side of Chicago. Lou Piniella filled that void. Get his trophy case ready for a third award unless the Jerry Manuel-led New York Mets win their division. My call now: Piniella. My September guess: Piniella.

NL Rookie

Another Cubs award. Catcher Geovany Soto, if he can hold up through a grueling season, should outpace his teammate, Kosuke Fukudome. Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens also gets consideration. My call now: Soto. My September guess: Soto.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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