My teenager had a skating lesson today, and I went out in search of some Starbucks as it was going on. It was more of a day for iced coffee, instead, but old habits are hard to break.
I was on my way back to the skating rink when I saw a garage sale sign. I’m a sucker for these things, and I had some time on my hands, so I stopped to take a look. I was drawn, like a moth to a flame, to a big box of old Sports Illustrated magazines. At 50 cents each, it seemed like a good deal. They’re relics of the past, in a way.
Since Kerry Wood retired yesterday, and ended his career with a Hollywood-type flourish, I picked up three SI issues with him on the cover. I don’t know if there were any others, but three covers is very impressive, in its own right. But my belief in the SI cover jinx, which was never very strong until today, was confirmed by at least one of these covers.
Take a look at the three covers above. The one on the left with Mark Prior, where they’re both holding baseballs that appear to be on fire, is pretty cool. The one in the middle, which hit newsstands right after the Cubs beat the Braves in the first round of the 2003 playoffs, I remember from that time. And, in hindsight, that cover seemed to work against the Cubs in the next series against the Marlins. I read somewhere that the Red Sox appeared on a cover too, and their collapse that year was just as bad as the Cubs’ was.
But the cover on the right is the worst one of all. It was the 2004 Baseball preview issue, and it says it right there on the cover: “Hell Freezes Over The Cubs will win the World Series.” Well, the Cubs failed to even make the playoffs that year. And they went into a freefall for the next two seasons after that. So whoever it was at SI that decided to pronounce the Cubs as champions–much like the late Bernie Mac did in the seventh inning stretch of that terrible Game six against the Marlins–wasn’t quite on target. It probably was not relevant to anything, but it’s out there, just the same.
Kerry Wood had a long career in Chicago, there’s no question about it. He had more success than just about any Cubs player has in the last half-century or so. He even pitched the Cubs to the doorstep of the World Series. And so now he leaves, unable to say that he finally got the team over that hump.
He’ll find other things to do in baseball, perhaps even with the Cubs organization. And he’ll remain a fan favorite, like Ryne Sandberg and Rick Sutcliffe and Jody Davis and some others. There certainly are worse things to be than that. But he’ll also be Exhibit A in the list of What-Might-Have-Been-But-Never-Actually-Was. May there never be another one to replace him at the top of that list.