Wilbur Forrester Wood, Jr. (born October 22, 1941) is an American former professional baseball player. He was a pitcher in Major League Baseball for seventeen years, most notably with the Chicago White Sox where he earned 163 of his 164 wins. A knuckleball specialist, he threw left-handed, and batted right-handed.
In 1960, Wood was signed out of Belmont, Massachusetts high school by the Boston Red Sox. He pitched on-and-off for them for a few seasons before being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in late September 1964. After two seasons with Pittsburgh, he was traded to the White Sox after the 1966 season. When he arrived, knuckleball specialist Hoyt Wilhelm advised him to use his knuckleball exclusively. Taking Wilhelm's advice, Wood's career took off, first as a relief pitcher, and then as a starting pitcher. With the White Sox, Wood became well known as a durable workhorse, and one of the last pitchers to consistently throw well over 300 innings in a season.
As a relief pitcher in 1968, Wood set the major league record (since broken) of 88 games pitched in a season. He converted to starting pitcher in 1971, and continued to display unusual durability. During the years 1971-74, Wood averaged 45 games started and 347 innings pitched, winning a total of 90 games, while losing 69. He led the American League in games started in each year from 1972 through 1975, and he was the league leader in both wins and innings pitched in 1972 and 1973. Wood finished second in the 1972 voting for the American League Cy Young Award, losing a close vote to Gaylord Perry.
Wood's resilience, which was attributed to the less stressful nature of the knuckleball delivery, led to some unusual feats of endurance. On May 28, 1973, while pitching for the White Sox against the Cleveland Indians, Wood pitched the remainder of a 21-inning carryover game that had been suspended two nights earlier, allowing only two hits in five innings to earn the victory. He then started the regularly scheduled game and pitched a four-hit complete game shutout, earning two wins in the same night. Later that season, on July 20, Wood started both ends of a doubleheader, making him the last pitcher to do so. He lost both of those games. The knuckleball is also difficult to control, and in 1977, Wood tied a record by hitting three consecutive batters in the first inning.
Wood was seriously injured in a game against the Detroit Tigers in Tiger Stadium, May 9, 1976, when Ron LeFlore, the Tigers' center fielder, hit a vicious line drive back toward the pitchers mound. The ball struck Wood's left knee forcibly, shattering his kneecap. He had surgery the next day, but the outlook was bleak. Many predicted that he would never pitch again, but after considerable rehabilitation, he did some pitching for two more seasons with the White Sox. However, he showed few signs of his former mastery. He retired in 1978, moving back to his native New England.
In a seventeen-year major league career, Wood compiled a 164-156 record with a 3.24 ERA in 661 games played. He had 1,411 strikeouts in 2,684 innings pitched. He compiled 24 shutouts and 114 complete games in 297 games started. He was also the last pitcher in American League history to win and lose 20 or more games in the same season (24-20 in 1973).
- 3-time All-Star (1971, '72, '74)
- American League The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award winner in 1972
- American League The Sporting News Reliever of the Year Award winner in 1968
- Led the league in wins twice (1972, '73)
- Led the league in games started four times (1972, '73, '74, '75), with his career high coming in 1972 (49)
- 2nd in the league in shutouts twice (1971, '72), tied with Mel Stottlemyre in 1971
- Set the single-season record for games pitched in 1968 (88, including 2 starts), since surpassed by 12 pitchers through 2005