An iron man with local roots
Catching up with Wilbur Wood
BEDFORD -- He was the last major league pitcher to win 20 games and to lose 20 games in the same season.
To Red Sox fans, he is best described as the Tim Wakefield of his era. The only difference between the two is that Wilbur Wood threw close to 400 innings and made close to 50 starts in one season.
Wood, a knuckleball pitcher, won 20 or more games for the Chicago White Sox for four consecutive seasons (1971-74), averaging more than 340 innings per year. In 1973, he took his place in baseball history with a 24-20 record on the season.
"If I had 44 decisions then I didn't get off the hook too many times," said Wood.
In 1972, Wood was the ultimate iron man on the mound. He made 49 starts, the second highest total in the 20th century. That year, Wood pitched 376.2 innings, the most since Grover Cleveland pitched 387 in 1917. He finished the season with a 24-17 record. The Sporting News selected Wood as the American League Pitcher of the Year.
"I am proud of every year I spent in the big leagues," said Wood. "You have to take a lot of pride in everything you do. Obviously some years are better than others. I enjoyed playing the game and it was a lot of fun."
These days, Wood, 62, has returned to the Boston area and currently resides in Bedford with his wife of thirteen years, Jane. He's spent the last 18 years working in the pharmaceutical industry as an account manager. Today, he works for Carolina Medical after 11 years working with Geneva Generics.
"It was a friend of a friend who gave me an opportunity and got me the job," Wood said. "It just worked out well."
Living and working in the area has given Wood the chance to watch the Red Sox, in particular fellow knuckleballer Wakefield, on a regular basis.
"I enjoy watching him pitch. So far he has had one heck of a year for the Red Sox," said Wood. "He hasn't had a lot of runs scored for him, but he has pitched some real good ball games. He knows how to pitch."
Wood is a pretty good judge of pitching. In addition to him brief time with the Red Sox (1961-64), he pitched 12 seasons for the White Sox (1967-78). It was with Chicago where Wood completely transformed his pitching style. He went from being a fastball/curveball pitcher to a knuckleballer.
"I was throwing the knuckleball when I was playing semi-pro ball in the '50s," said Wood. "I signed as a fastball/curveball pitcher and my curve and my fastball weren't quite quick enough. When I was traded to the White Sox, I made my mind up then that if I was going to make it I have to do something different so I started throwing the knuckleball."
"I started throwing the knuckleball 90-95 percent of the time and off we went. There really was no transition because I hadn't been very successful with the curveball and fastball. The transition was starting to have consistent success."
Wood actually experienced a lot of athletic success early in life. He grew up in Belmont and was a stellar high school athlete, excelling in football, hockey and baseball. In fact, it was hockey that was Wood's favorite sport, not baseball.
"If you want to know the truth, hockey was my favorite of all of them because of the practices we had," said Wood. "Obviously I loved baseball and liked football, but it was just the way we had practices for hockey that made it a lot of fun."
It was his baseball skills, however, that caught the attention of the pros. Out of high school, the Red Sox liked what they saw and signed Wood as an amateur free agent in 1960. Soon after, Wood made his debut with Boston in 1961.
"There were several teams that were interested," said Wood. "There were some teams that were better than others. When you are going away to play ball you want to make some money and when one team offers considerably more than the others that's the team you are going to choose. Things haven't changed much along those lines."
Wood played for the Red Sox through the 1964 season, when he was purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Two years later he was traded to the Chicago White Sox, which was where Wood made his mark on baseball history.