Saturday, February 25, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #36 Wilbur Wood

I am going to pick up the pace with the Top 100 list to ensure I get done by the time the regular season begins in April. It is fitting the first "double header" post in this series features Dick Allen's White Sox teammate Wilbur Wood.

On July 20th, 1973 the Chicago White Sox played a twi-doubleheader at Yankee stadium. The game one starting pitcher for the Sox was their ace, Wilbur Wood. The game started strangely when Wood struck out Yankee leadoff hitter Horace Clark, but catcher Ed Hermann couldn't control the knuckler and let it past him. Clark went to first. He stole second, which really didn't matter because Wilbur walked Matty Alou. The next four Yankees Roy White, Bobby Murcer, Thurman Munson, and Graig Nettles each got hits and took a 3-0 lead . Wilbur was gone before he could record an out. By the time Eddie Fisher finally got the third out of the first inning, the Yanks led 8-0. They "held on" to win 12-2.

The second game started about 9PM and guess who the starting pitcher was for the Sox? Wilbur Wood. He convinced manager Chuck Tanner to start him again, because he "really didn't pitch much" in the first game. He fared a little better the second time around with the Yankees. He retired them in order for the first three innings. He gave up an unearned run in the 4th and got knocked out in the 5th on a Roy White grand slam in the fifth. The Sox lost the second rain shortened game 7-0.

Wilbur Wood had started both ends of a doubleheader and lost them both, giving up 10 earned runs on just nine hits.

Wood began his career as a normal fastball/curveball pitcher. When he was traded to the White Sox after the 1966 season he had a 1-8 record in five part-time major league seasons. All that changed in 1967, when Sox teammate and master knuckleballer, Hoyt Wilhelm convinced him to drop the fastball and curve.

The knuckler worked and Wood continued as a reliever, leading the AL in games for three consecutive years (1968-70) before earning a starter's role. He went on to win 164 games in his career, including 20 or more in each season from 1971 through '74. In each of those years he pitched more than 300 innings, and in '72 and '73 he led the league with 24 wins. He just missed out, finishing second in the Cy Young Award in 1972.

I remember listening to Harry Carey on the radio during that awful day in May of 1976. In the bottom of the 6th inning, Detroit Tiger (and future Sox) Ron LeFlore shattered his kneecap with a hard line-drive up the middle. He came back for the summer of '77, but after a mediocre 1978 season, Wood retired from baseball.


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