From time to time the name Wilbur Wood pops up on the editors' list of projected stories. You remember Wood; he was the Chicago White Sox knuckleballer who, in 1972 and again in 1973, won 24 games. Wood retired after the 1978 season. So why does his name continue to appear on our story list a couple of times every year? Well, we don't mean to put a knock on Wood, it's just that his name has become an inside code phrase at SI for a journalistic necessity—the backup story.
This is an article from the April 22, 1985 issue
Wilbur's name caught on in 1973, when rain delayed the Indianapolis 500 past our final deadline and we went to press with a Wood cover and story that had already been put to bed for just that eventuality. Thus was born an institution. Thereafter, whenever we have approached a major event that for one reason or another might be aborted at the last moment, we have prepared a "Wilbur Wood" that could take the place of the canceled story.
Coming up to this issue, we took out some insurance against the possibility that Monday's middleweight championship fight between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns (page 20) might be postponed at the 11th hour—another baseball story, by the same writer who gave you the original Wilbur Wood, Ron Fimrite. The job of assigning and preparing it for publication fell to our new baseball editor, Steve Wulf, who says, "My second week on the job and they throw me an off-speed pitch called Wilbur Wood." But we knew Wulf could handle any pitch thrown his way. In his six years as an SI baseball writer, Wulf had to turn out a few Wilbur Woods himself.
And what of the real Wilbur? Well, while Wulf and Fimrite were swinging in the on-deck circle last week, Wilbur Forrester Wood, 43, was busy poaching and filleting fish as the proprietor of Meister's Seafood store in Belmont, Mass. And although Wood hasn't thrown a baseball since 1978, we'd like to thank him for a lot of potential SI saves.