Friday, May 05, 2006

Wood's Shattered Knee Still Vivid -- 30 Years Later

As many times as I've been to Tiger Stadium, as many plays as I've seen, and as many wonderful moments that I've seen -- absolutely topped by witnessing Kirk Gibson's homer off Goose Gossage in the 1984 World Series -- one that keeps popping into my skull is the sight of Wilbur Wood flopping around like a fish on the grass in front of the pitcher's mound.

Wood was a lefthanded knuckleballer -- unusual, when you think about it; most knucklers are righties -- who pitched for the Chicago White Sox. He pitched so much, he would have records like 24-20 or 21-22 at the end of the season.

Wood finished his career with a 164-156 record

In 1976, Wood took the mound at the Stadium on a weekend afternoon. It was the first season the Chisox wore those goofy, old-time uniforms that looked like softball threads. They even donned shorts with those unis from time to time.

Ron LeFlore was the batter. I looked at, and the date was May 9, 1976. It was the sixth inning. Wood delivered a fluttering knuckler, and LeFlore took it right back up the middle, as most hitters are instructed to do with a knuckleball.

The line drive smacked right into Wood's knee and shattered the kneecap. You could hear the ball smash into Wood's knee. The crowd gasped. I was sitting in the lower deck, third base side. So I got a very good look at Wood, in terrific pain, gyrating and tumbling around on the grass. There was silence in the ballpark as Wood's howls could be heard.

Thirty years later, and the images and sounds resonate.

Wood was done for that season, but pitched into 1978.

And not since then have I seen such an injury, in person, at The Corner. Or in Comerica Park. Nor do I wish to.


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