August 16 – Happy Birthday Gene Woodling
One of the greatest teams of all time had to be the Yankee squad that won five consecutive World Series between 1949 and 1953. Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and Hank Bauer were three of only four position players who started on all five of those championship teams. The fourth was Gene Woodling, who was born on today’s date in 1922, in Akron, OH.
He initially signed with the Indians as a 17-year-old kid in 1940 and made his big league debut with Cleveland, in 1943. He then served the next two years in the Navy. After the war, he ended up playing for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. Woodling led the PCL with a .385 average in 1948. One of the teams in that league that he absolutely crushed with his bat was the Oakland Oaks, managed by Casey Stengel. When the Yankees hired the Old Perfessor as their new Manager the following year, Casey told New York’s GM, George Weiss to go get Woodling.
Much was made in the Big Apple sports press about how Stengel would platoon the lefty-hitting Woodling with the righty-hitting Bauer in the New York outfield. These two were such steady all-around players, however, that more often than not and especially in big games, Woodling would start in left and Bauer in right. During Woodling’s six total seasons in the Bronx, he averaged .285 during the regular season and a robust .318 during the Fall Classics. He was a line drive hitter with a great eye at the plate, who was difficult to strike out. His best regular seasons in pinstripes were 1952, when he hit .309 and the following year, when he hit .306 and led the AL with a .429 on base percentage. When the Yankees failed to win the AL Pennant in 1954 and Woodling’s average slumped to .250, Weiss included the veteran in the historic seventeen-player deal with the Orioles that brought both Bob Turley and Don Larsen to New York.
Woodling proved he could still hit after that trade and he kept on proving it. He hit .321 for the Indians in 1957, .300 for the Orioles in ’59 and then .313 for the Senators in ’61, at the age of 39. In all, he spent sixteen seasons in the big leagues playing for six different teams including the Mets in their inaugural season of 1962, which was also Woodling’s final year in the Majors.
The Yankees were really fortunate to have Woodling and Bauer on those teams that won five straight titles six decades ago. Both were solid hitters who delivered well in the clutch; both were outstanding defensively especially in the huge difficult to play Yankee outfield; and both were consummate professionals and teammates, who played hard every second and knew how to win.
Woodling shares his August 16th birthday with this Yankee third base coach.