Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hello Wilbur

What do you think when you hear the name Wilbur Wood? Could it be White Sox? Or knuckleball pitcher? or innings eater? How about Red Sox or Pirates? No? Well Wilbur did start out with the Boston Red Sox in 1961. He was purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates in September of 1964. He didn't make it onto the White Sox until the 1967 season. Juan Pizarro was traded to Pittsburgh for him.

On the White Sox is where Wilbur really shined. Wilbur took the advice of Hoyt Wilhelm and used the knuckleball exclusively. Armed with that knowledge, he went to the 1971, 1972 and 1974 All-Star games. He only played in the 1972 game though. He led the league in games started in 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1975. He started an astounding 49 games in 1972! That's slightly shy of 1/3 of all the games that season.

He may still be pitching today if it wasn't for his start on May 9, 1976. Future White Sox outfielder Ron LeFlore hit a line drive that shattered Wilbur's left knee. After a considerable amount of rehab, he actually pitched two more seasons for the White Sox, ending his career in 1978. He was never quite the same after the injury, but the fact that he could pitch after that was nothing short of remarkable. Medical technology in 1976 was a far cry from what it is today. That sort of injury back then was literally career ending.

An interesting note is that Wilbur only had one win in his time before the White Sox. He started his career in 1961 and didn't get to the Sox until 1967. That's a little strange. With Chicago, he got 163 wins. Go figure. Gaylord Perry just squeaked by him in Cy Young voting in 1972. That was the year that Wilbur went 24-17. That's not a football score, that was his win-loss totals for one year. It's unfathomable to think of that happening today.

I chose the 1975 card to showcase Wilbur basically because it's so colorful. The red White Sox hat with the powder blue uniform with red lettering. Put that on top of the hybrid ketchup-mustard border and you've got a card that could only be produced in the mid-70's. Then you have the team name and the baseball popping out at you, while the player's name just sits there doing nothing. I wonder how much acid the artists took when they designed this card. Sure, it's a classic design today, but in 1975 someone must have been on something more than Coca-Cola. Even as a kid, I thought it was an eyesore. But then again, I turned out to be an Art major in high school. So, I suppose I was offset by the atrocities of color combinations.

I hear so much about the Southside Hitmen and Disco Demolition and Bill Veeck and Bill Melton and Carlos May. I hear almost nothing about Wilbur Wood. Why is that? I was so glad to see a card of him issued by Upper Deck a few years ago in a Decade Greats set. Wilbur definitely deserves the recognition. I don't think I've seen his name pop up too often (if at all) in Richard Roeper's column in the Chicago Sun Times. He's always peppering his columns with White Sox tidbits. Especially from the 70's. He's a rabid White Sox fan when he's not trying to be Ernie Souchak.

1 comment:

GoGoSox60 said...

I still have a well worn and loved 1975 Topps Wilbur Wood in my wallet. Screw Bob Costas and his well worn Mickey Mantle card in his wallet!!

WSI:Medford Bobby

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