When a hunter takes to the great outdoors, he likes to arm himself with a reliable firearm: one he has fired numerous times in the past. A smart hunter would not take a rifle to the blind without testing it, making certain that the firearm can operate efficiently and effectively. The smart hunter – the one who bags the most birds – uses his tested and reliable shooter to bring home the meat. Few pitchers in baseball history were as tested as Wilbur Wood: innings eater elite.
Originally signed by the Red Sox in 1960, Wood didn’t achieve his success until his socks took a more lighter hue. He pitched sparingly for the Red Sox in three and a half seasons before selling his contract to the Pirates. In Pittsburgh Wilbur posted a 3.16 ERA but was used infrequently. After spending the 1966 season with the Columbus Jets, a Pirates minor league affiliate, Wood was traded to the White Sox for a shopworn Juan Pizzaro. The deal was quite a steal.
Wilbur joined the White Sox bullpen in 1967 and fashioned a fine 2.46 ERA. The next season he set a record for most games pitched in a season (which was quickly broke) when he was used in 88 contests. Since Wood’s pet-pitch was the knuckleball, it would stand to reason that he owned suspect accuracy, but Wood had fine control, issuing an average of 0.208 walks per inning in ’68 on a nifty 1.87 ERA.
Wood was used in an AL best 76 games in 1969 and again paced the junior circuit with 77 games in 1970. Wilbur saved 21 games for the White Sox in 1970. Skipper Chuck Tanner saw how well Wood did in relief, and how often he could be used, and reasoned that he could stretch the knuckleballer out and make him a starting pitcher. The experiment worked. Wood won 22 games on a tidy 1.91 ERA. Tanner was able to stretch out Wood’s left arm, using him in 334 innings. For Wood’s ironman pitching, he was named to his first All-Star team and finished third in Cy Young Award voting.
Used in 377 innings in 1972, Wood tossed the most innings by a Major League pitcher since Hall of famer Grover Cleveland Alexander tossed 388 innings in 1917. Wood tied for the league lead with 24 wins and paced the junior circuit with 49 starts (he had five straight years with 40 or more starts).
Tanner’s excessive use of Wood allowed the southpaw to rack up high totals. He led the AL with 24 wins in 1973 for a losing White Sox club, while also leading the league in innings pitched (359) and games started (48). In 1974, Wood posted his forth straight season of 300 or more innings worked. That year, Wilbur was a 20-game winner for the forth year in a row and also led the AL with 42 starts. 1975 was his last year to exceed 40 starts, when the White Sox called on him to start 43 games.
The arm of a man can’t sustain such excessive use – even when it flutters the knuckleball – and Wood’s arm gave out in 1976. Limited to 56 innings, Wilbur walked just eleven batters during his truncated season. Injuries held him to 122 innings in 1977 and he spent his final year winning ten games for the 1978 White Sox.
W 164/L 156/PCT .513/G 561/CG 114/IP 2,684/H 2,582/BB 724/SO 1,411/SHO 24/ERA 3.24