February 1 – Happy Birthday Ron Woods
When I saw the name of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant it instantly brought back good/bad memories. My good/bad memories are reminisces that at the time they originally occurred, gave me agita but now, remembering them decades later, they actually make me smile.
When I first started watching Yankee baseball in 1960, the team was almost unbeatable and when one of New York’s players got old, injured or drafted into military service and a replacement was needed, they’d reach down inside their well-stocked farm system and bring up a talented replacement. In 1962, for instance, rookies Tom Tresh, Joe Pepitone and Jim Bouton all made meaningful contributions to a Yankee team that won its second straight World Championship.
But just a few seasons later, that had all changed. Since almost the beginning of the franchise, the Yankees had been owned by very wealthy individuals with immense personal fortunes who loved winning. They’d pour huge amounts of money into the team’s farm system and sign up the best young talent from around the country. In 1965, however, the Yankees were sold to CBS, a corporation of stockholders concerned with just one thing, profits. At the same time, Major League Baseball instituted its amateur draft, which for the first time rewarded the teams with the worst records the ability to select the rights to sign the best amateur players in the country ahead of the teams with the best records and the most money.
There would be no more 1962′s for a long long time in Yankee universe. The farm system was gutted during CBS’s reign of error and that’s why Ron Woods got to wear pinstripes in the first place. By 1968, the Yankees had become one of the worst teams in the American League. They needed to replace their entire outfield and since prized franchise prospects like Steve Whitaker, Roger Repoz and Ross Moschitto all fizzled, Yankee GM Ralph Houk found himself forced to trade Yankee veterans for the best prospects of other teams. That’s why in 1969, New York traded Tresh to Detroit for a young outfielder named Ron Woods.
There were times during the previous seven seasons in the Tiger farm system that Woods looked like he had the potential to become one of those special five-tool outfielders. Unfortunately for Houk and the Yankees, potential on the farm doesn’t win games in the majors. Ron Woods was a complete bust during his two plus seasons in the Bronx. In 192 Yankee games between 1969 and ’71, he averaged just .208 with 10 home runs and only 36 RBIs. Even his greatest play as a Yankee turned out to be a mirage. Woods had fallen head first into the stands chasing a long fly ball and knocked himself unconscious. His Yankee outfield teammate, the late Bobby Murcer had reached over the wall and held up the ball, as if he had grabbed it out of Woods glove and the umpire signaled the batter was out. Years later, when he was announcing Yankee games, Murcer admitted during a televised broadcast that he had found that ball lying next to and not inside Woods’ glove.
New York gave up on Woods in June of 1971, trading him to Montreal for the ex-Met, Ron Swoboda. Woods remained an Expo through the 1971 season, ending his 582-game big league career there with a .233 lifetime batting average.