JUNE 4, 1973
When Wilbur Wood pitched in the major leagues, his signature was a knuckleball that left hitters shaking their heads as they walked back to the dugout. Wood's signature since leaving baseball in 1978 has been, well, his signature. "They say to me, 'Are you Wilbur Wood the ballplayer?' " says Wood, 60, of the doctors he schmoozes in his current job as a pharmaceutical salesman for Carolina Medical in suburban Boston. "Then they want an autographed picture. I wait a couple of days and bring it to their office. And I'm back in the door again."
As a 17-year major league veteran, Wood knows a thing or two about making a pitch. A knuckleballer from the start, the lefthanded Wood took awhile to hone his craft. Signed in 1960 by his hometown Red Sox, he spent 3� seasons working out of the bullpen for Boston and another 1� with the Pittsburgh Pirates before being traded to the Chicago White Sox, with whom he came under the tutelage of knuckleball master Hoyt Wilhelm.
His knuckler nuanced, Wood continued as a reliever, leading the American League in games for three consecutive years (1968-70) before earning a starter's role. He won 164 games in his career, including 20 or more in each season from 1971 through '74. In each of those years he pitched more than 300 innings, and in '72 and '73 he led the league with 24 wins. In May 1976 a line drive off the bat of the Detroit Tigers' Ron LeFlore shattered his left kneecap, and led to two operations and countless hours of rehabilitation. "I was a little gun-shy," says Wood of his return the next season, when he went 7-8 in 123 innings. "I didn't want the ball coming back over the middle again."
After a mediocre 1978 season, Wood retired from baseball. He headed home and spent the next year fishing, which led to his buying Meister's Seafood, a Belmont, Mass., fish market. After five years of doing everything from filleting salmon to sweeping floors, he sold the business and set out to establish his next career. Says Wood, "Being a ballplayer or being a salesperson, you have to sell yourself."
Wood sold a friend on giving him a chance in pharmaceutical sales, and he proved a natural. These days he has cut back on his hours to spend more time with his wife of 10 years, Janet, and his three children and three grandchildren. He still enjoys cooking, gardening and "watching a good ball game," though he laments the ascendancy of the fireballing reliever. "Today," says Wood, "a lot of managers don't like a trick pitcher."
It seems safe to say, though, that in any era, Wood would have made his mark.