CHICAGO – Kerry Wood never wanted to leave. The Chicago Cubs were part of who he was as a pitcher, through the tough times and the good ones. Chicago was the city where he grew up as a person and an athlete.
So after Wood saw general manager Jim Hendry a week ago at Ron Santo's funeral, the two talked later that night at a charity event hosted by pitcher Ryan Dempster.
Wood's pitch to Hendry: He wanted to come home and raise his family in Chicago and he wouldn't break the bank, or try to, if the Cubs were interested in bringing him back.
A couple of days later, after talking with owner Tom Ricketts, Hendry worked out a deal with Wood and his agent, a $1.5 million, one-year contract that includes performance bonuses for appearances and games finished.
Just like that, in the matter of a week, Wood was pulling back on his familiar No. 34 after two seasons away.
"It's never been about the money for me. I did leave some money out there," Wood said Friday at a news conference trumpeting his return to the team he won NL Rookie of the Year with in 1998.
"It's about being home. It's about being here at Wrigley, which is home for me," he said. "My wife grew up here. We have family here obviously. From a personal standpoint for my family, it's a perfect fit for us ... We really feel that's where we belong, where I belong."
He said there were offers from three or four other teams. Reports say one of those teams interested was the crosstown White Sox.
"If I'm going to be in Chicago, I'm going to play for the north side," Wood said.
The 33-year-old Wood left the Cubs as a free agent in December 2008, signing with the Cleveland Indians for two years and $20.5 million. He was traded to the Yankees last July.
"I wasn't a fan of leaving, didn't want to leave, felt like I wanted to stay here my whole career. But I was fortunate to go on to another team and give it a shot, but we're definitely glad to be home," Wood said.
Wood's career has been plagued by injuries. He missed the 1999 season after elbow-ligament replacement surgery and has made 14 trips to the disabled list. He will be a late-inning reliever to set up closer Carlos Marmol, and his presence will allow talented young right-hander Andrew Cashner to perhaps move into the rotation.
Wood pitched well after joining the Yankees. As Mariano Rivera's primary setup man, he was 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in 24 appearances with New York.
Now the Cubs are hoping for similar results.
"It was just something that I think made perfect sense," said Hendry. "It wouldn't be done on sentiment. He obviously fits a need."
Chicago earlier signed free agent first baseman Carlos Pena to a $10 million, one-year deal. Wood's contract will give them some payroll flexibility to make a few more additions before spring training.
"He can still pitch. He can pitch late in the game. He can close when Marmol needs a blow. He can close if Marmol pulls a hamstring ... He's going to be a great influence on the young kids," Hendry said. "He didn't come back here to be on a fifth-place team."
That's where the Cubs finished last season in the NL Central.
In 12 seasons, Wood is 83-68 with a 3.65 ERA and 62 saves — 34 of those with the Cubs when he was their closer in 2008.
Wood is one of the most popular players in Cubs' history and before a series of injuries struck, his career took off early.
In his fifth major league start in 1998, he struck out 20 Houston Astros in a brilliant one-hitter that made him an immediate star. In 2003 he helped the Cubs reach Game 7 of the NLCS, where he was the losing pitcher despite hitting a home run against the Florida Marlins.
After winning the closer's role in 2008, he saved 34 of 40 games, his fastball blazing in the mid 90s mph again.
That bullpen career appeared to be nearly over in 2007 as he battled shoulder problems for a third straight season. But he made a stirring comeback in August that year after the pain in his shoulder went away, and he pitched well in relief.