Wood credits Cubs GM Hendry's honesty, but says leaving team is 'bittersweet'

Updated: November 14, 2008, 6:58 PM ET
Associated Press

CHICAGO -- Kerry Wood prepared himself mentally and emotionally last season, knowing it might be his last one with the Chicago Cubs. Turned out, it was.

Wood wanted to stay with the only team he's ever pitched for, but the economic realities of the game and the team's needs in other areas prevented that from happening.

After recovering from serious shoulder problems and numerous injuries that have sidetracked his career as a starter, Wood became a top closer last season. And now as a free agent, he can hit the market and command a multiyear contract that the Cubs were not willing to offer.

"It's bittersweet. Obviously this is my first choice. I wanted to stay here and the best choice for me and my family. ... But that's part of baseball right now," Wood said in a conference call Friday.

Wood's comments came one day after the Cubs traded for Marlins reliever Kevin Gregg. General manager Jim Hendry told reporters that the fair thing was for the team to let Wood get a deal he deserved.

The GM had already told Wood face-to-face what the Cubs were planning and that getting him a multiyear deal was not one of the top priorities. On Friday, Wood lauded Hendry for his honesty.

Chicago hopes to bring back free agent starter Ryan Dempster -- the guy Wood replaced as closer last season -- and add some left-handed offensive punch.

But Wood is one of the most popular players in team history. He pointed out that Cubs fans watched him grow up from a "pimply-faced 17-year-old, and when my tenure is done I'm leaving married with two kids."

He's also leaving with a bag full of memories -- a 20-strikeout game against the Astros in 1998 in his fifth major league start when he went on to become the NL Rookie of the Year; a 2003 season when he helped the Cubs reach Game 7 of the NLCS, where he started and lost despite hitting a home run.

"I choked," he said the night of that defeat.

Wood said this season was one of the most gratifying he's ever experienced.

After winning the closer's role in spring training, he saved 34 of 40 games, his fastball blazing in the mid 90-mph range again. He pretty much reinvented his career with the impressive return.

That career appeared to be nearly over in 2007 as he battled shoulder problems for a third straight season. But he made a stirring comeback in August that year after the pain in his shoulder mysteriously went away and pitched well in relief.

He's made 12 trips to the disabled list and missed the entire 1999 season after elbow ligament replacement surgery.

"I would love to change that, but can't change that," he said. "I couldn't change it at the time. Those things happen. I don't think this year would have been as rewarding as it was, if I hadn't gone through those things."

He said he'd given a great deal of thought to what it might be like to return to Wrigley Field and play against the Cubs in a different uniform

"It will be tough sitting on the other side," he said.

Wood signed a three-year, $32.5 million deal in March of 2004 and when that expired after his rash of injuries, he got one-year deals in each of the last two seasons.

He said he would have been agreeable to another one-year deal.

"Yeah. I think that avenue was kind of approached, but again like I said, they've got some issues they've got to take care of," Wood said. "It is what it is. It didn't work out."

Now Wood hopes to find a new job as quickly as possible, saying he wants to go to a team with a chance to win -- preferably in the National League -- and a place with a good atmosphere for his family. He plans to keep a home in Chicago where he and his wife are involved in charity work.

In 10 seasons over 11 years with the Cubs, Wood compiled a 77-61 record with a 3.65 ERA and 1,407 strikeouts in 276 games.

Wood said the incessant talk of the 100-year anniversary of the Cubs' last World Series winner got old, but didn't really bother him this past season. Chicago won the NL Central for the second straight year, only to be swept out for the second straight year in the first round.

And if the Cubs do finally make a run deep into the playoffs as they were expected to this season, it will be without their familiar No. 34.

"I'm disappointed I won't be on the team that does it," Wood said.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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