Wilbur Wood

December 5, 2006

What drew me into the world of the Cardboard Gods as much as anything else was its clean, well-defined system of statistical landmarks. You knew where you stood with the numbers on the back of a baseball player’s card. If a guy hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 runs, he was a star slugger. If another guy turned in a sub-3.00 ERA, he was a top pitcher. It was as simple as that, no gray areas, no confusion. This is part of why people become religious, I think. They’re looking for clear guidelines on what’s good and what isn’t.

For starting pitchers, it’s all about wins. If you win 20 games, you’re an ace. Conversely, if you lose 20 games, you’re kind of a rag arm, a luckless mushballer (though probably not utterly incompetent; after all, your team must have seen reason to keep running you out to the hill to take all those beatings).

These seemingly mutually exclusive starting pitcher landmarks were well-known to me by the time I started inspecting the baffling statistics on the back of Wilbur Wood’s card. In a five-year span, the aging knuckleballer with the 19th century name won 20 games four times, but he also lost 20 games twice, 19 games once, and 17 games once. The most confusing year of all was 1973, when Wilbur Wood achieved both plateaus in the same year, racking up 24 wins while also suffering 20 losses.

I couldn’t figure out right away if Wilbur Wood was bad or good, but eventually I came to see him as being in both name and deed some kind of a throwback to the rugged spike-gashing dawn of major league baseball, when hurlers started both ends of a doubleheader and then came on in relief despite massive corn liquor hangovers the next day at dusk to strand the go-ahead and winning runs in scoring position. Wilbur Wood was beyond Old School. He was Old Testament. He was the last vestige of a time when men named Rube and Mordecai and Smokey Joe and Grover strode as giants upon the land, their won-loss records both gleaming and gory, good and bad entangled.

When Wilbur Wood hung it up, it left no one to stop the meek 5-inning starters and 4-pitch bullpen specialists from inheriting the earth.


  1. 1.  1 comment from old CG site:

    Pete said…
    This was the first full season in modern “major-league” history that baseball did not have a 20-game winner. You would have to go back to the days of McCabe and Mrs. Miller, back in the 19th century, to find a precedent.

    There are no more complete games.
    There are no more Coney Islands.
    There is no more Fulton Fish Market.

    Forget about it Jake,

    it’s “chinatown.”

    3:46 PM

  2. 2.  Josh…for me, this is The best blog/diary/entry on the site. Like so many other folks, I was drawn to cardboardgods by a link. So I looked over the then-current card, blog entry, and comments. Then I glanced through the sidebar, scrolled, saw Wilbur Wood, clicked and…”spike-gashing dawn” and “massive corn liquor hangovers”…

    May your shoebox of cards be forever full.

  3. I have vivid memories of Wilbur Wood pitching the first game of a twi-night doubleheader against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium in late July of 1973. In the bottom of the first, 6 straight Yankees reached base and he was pulled without having retired a batter, eventually being charged with 6 runs. The Yankees won that game 12-2. Then after a rain delay between games, he took the mound AGAIN to start the second game (opposing Sam McDowell, of all people, pitching for the Yankees then). Although Wood managed to stay in the game little longer than the first, he gave up a grand slam to Roy White in thr 5th inning and the Yankees wound up winning the rain-shortened game 7-0 and sweeping the doubleheader. He pitched 359 innings that year and wound up with a record of 24-20. I think it safe to say they do not make them like that anymore.

  4. I had 2 cards from the years before of Wilbur Wood. At the time, he just seemed like an older uncle pitching. What struck me about this years card is the red/maroon windbreaker he appears to be wearing. Surely that was not standard white sox garb, was it???? Did other cards show white sox with wind breakers under there uniform?
    Wouldn’t that be a spring training photo? Looks like there is one wilbur wood fan in the empty stands, climbing out of the bottom bench. Perhaps the topps photographer was screaming at him to get out of the shot and he was trying to get out of the way. If it was spring training in FLA, it would be way to warm to wear that underneath a uniform. It does however accent the the same color cursive white sox title at the bottom of the card. Perhaps the creative topps photographer coreographed the whole thing trying to be more creative.

  5. “Old Testament”…that’s good. I never knew what to make of Wilbur Wood as a kid. Such a strange name and bizarre stats. And those Chisox uniforms continue to stupify me.

  6. To Fred: Those windbreakers underneath uniforms were standard garb in spring training back in the day. There are a lot of old cards that back that up. And I think Wood’s wearing one that probably matches their previous uni’s and hadn’t color-coordinated to the “new” old-style Sox uniforms he’s wearing in the card.

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