March 25 – Happy Birthday Woodie Held
One of the Yankees most impacted by the infamous Copa Cabana Nightclub incident wasn’t even there celebrating that night. I’m referring to Woodie Held, a rather free spirited middle infield prospect for New York in the fifties who along with alleged troublemaker Billy Martin, pitcher Ralph Terry and an outfielder named Bob Martyn were traded to Kansas City for reliever Ryne Duren and outfielders Jim Pisoni and Harry “Suitcase” Simpson. Both Martin and Terry would get a chance to return to New York and capture glory in pinstripes. Bob Martyn would never enjoy much success in the big leagues. But Held would go on to play fourteen years in the big leagues and belt 179 home runs.
Back when I was a kid, I collected baseball cards, which in addition to the annual Street & Smith’s Baseball Preview issue were my primary information conduit for the performances and stats of non-Yankee players. I remember checking the backs of cards of every player to find out what teams they played for. It was most likely on the back of the 1961 Woodie Held card pictured with this post that I found out he used to be a Yankee. Once you were a Yankee, I continued to root for your success except when your team happened to be playing the Yankees. That is how and why I became a fan of Woodie Held. I loved his name and I loved the fact that he played in the middle of the infield but could still hit for power. I remember the year I got this card, Maris and Mantle were chasing Ruth but Skowren, Berra, Howard and Blanchard all had more than 20 home runs that season while Clete Boyer (11), Bobby Richardson (3) and Tony Kubek (8) didn’t reach that milestone. I remember looking at Held’s card and seeing he had hit 21 home runs as a shortstop for the Indians in 1960 and 27 the season before. He would hit 23 during the ’61 season. I remember hoping some day he’d return to New York and hit all those home runs as a Yankee shortstop. Of course back then, I didn’t realize that would have been pretty difficult for Held to do since he was a right-handed pull hitter and probably, just like Clete Boyer ended up doing, many of Woodie’s blasts would have been turned into outs by Yankee Stadium’s cavernous left field.
In any event, Held never did come back to the Yankees. He hung on in the big leagues until 1969, quitting when he was 37 years old. He then enjoyed one of the most erratic retirements of any big league player in history. He opened a pizza parlor, ran a lumber yard, he raced snowmobiles, became an iron worker, he worked as a bartender and an electrician. Woodson George Held died in June of 2009 in his adopted home of DuBois Wyoming at the age of 77. He shares his March 25th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and coach.