#CardCorner: 1975 Topps Wilbur Wood
From 1971-74, his “innings pitched” are listed as 334, 376, 359 and 320. That’s a total of 1,389 innings, which is not even accurate because Topps rounded down those totals to the nearest whole inning, costing Wood an additional 1.1 innings that he worked.
In the modern era of baseball, those figures represent outliers rarely seen in any category. And regardless of how little toll Wood’s knuckleball took on his left arm, they are totals that deserve a second look – on a card that screams “1970s” as only the ’75 Topps set can.
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Wood began his career as a highly touted conventional pitcher, relying on a fastball/curve combination to dominate the amateur ranks. Signed by his hometown Boston Red Sox to a “bonus baby” contract in 1960, Wood pitched well in the minors but was unable to stick at the big league level over four seasons from 1961-64. The Red Sox sold his contract to the Pirates in late 1964, and Wood spent all of 1965 in Pittsburgh’s bullpen, pitching in mostly lost-cause games.
Wood was returned to the minors by the Pirates in the spring of 1966, and won 14 games that year for the Triple-A Columbus Jets. But the Pirates did not recall him at any point that year, and following the season Pittsburgh traded Wood to the White Sox in exchange for Juan Pizarro.
Seeing no clear path toward Chicago’s big league roster in Spring Training of 1967, Wood turned to knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm. The 44-year-old Wilhelm was already a bullpen ace, and he convinced Wood to commit to the knuckleball fulltime.
In 51 games with the White Sox that year, Wood went 4-2 in 95.1 innings with a tidy 2.45 ERA.
In 1968, Wood burst onto the national scene by appearing in a then-record 88 games, going 13-12 with a 1.87 ERA with 16 saves (which were not an official statistic until the following year).
And for those who like modern-era stats, consider this: Wood’s 1971 season produced a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 11.7. Since then, only four pitchers – Steve Carlton in 1972 (12.1), Dwight Gooden in 1985 (12.2), Roger Clemens in 1997 (11.9) and Pedro Martinez in 2000 (11.7) have reached that mark in any season.
Old school or new metrics, it didn’t matter: For a time, Wilbur Wood was among baseball’s best.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum