Overweight Wilbur Wood was one of the busiest and most effective lefthanders of the 1970s. Signed out of a Massachusetts high school by the Red Sox in 1960, he struggled in the Boston and Pittsburgh farm systems, throwing a fastball and a curve that flattened out when it reached the plate. He had learned the knuckleball from his father and had occasionally used it in high school, but it wasn’t until 1967, his first year with the White Sox, that he made it his bread-and-butter pitch. Chicago teammate and knuckleball master Hoyt Wilhelm advised Wood to forget everything else and go with the knuckler.
Wood quickly established himself as a top reliever, throwing the knuckleball with exceptional control and leading the AL in appearances in 1968-70. He helped himself with a deceptive and effective pickoff move. He was named Fireman of the Year in ’68, winning 12 in relief, saving 16, and setting an AL record by pitching in 88 games.
In 1971 Chicago manager Chuck Tanner and pitching coach Johnny Sain moved Wood into the starting rotation. Wood was so successful that he was soon pitching regularly on two days’ rest. He became the first White Sox pitcher to record 20 or more victories in four consecutive seasons. In 1972 he was named TSN AL Pitcher of the Year, tying for the league lead with 24 wins. He also set the ML season record for most strikeouts by a pitcher as a batter (65). For the second straight year in 1973, he led the AL in innings pitched, again recording a league-high 24 victories. Each year from 1972 through 1975, he started more games than any AL pitcher. In 1973, he even started both ends of a doubleheader but was hit hard by the Yankees.
Wood dropped to 16-20 in 1975, leading the league in losses. His ERA, which had increased each year since his 1.91 in 1971, ballooned to 4.11. He was pitching well early in 1976 when a line drive hit by Detroit’s Ron LeFlore shattered his kneecap. He sat out the rest of the season, but came back to pitch two more.