Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Woodling led four minor leagues in batting

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

Gene Woodling a good, but not a great, outfielder for the New York Yankees between 1949-54 and later with the Orioles, Indians, Senators and Mets before retiring in 1962.

During his minor league days, he had the distinction of winning batting titles in four different circuits.

In his professional debut at age 17 in 1940 he led the Ohio State League (Class D) hitting .398 for Mansfield.

The next year, with Flint he topped all Michigan State League (C) hitters with a .394 mark.

Moving up to the Class A Eastern League at Wilkes-Barre in 1942 his hitting dropped more than 200 points, to .192. In 1943, again at W-B he rebounded to a .344 average -- second-best in the circuit.  That earned him a September call-up to the parent Cleveland Indians, where he posted a .320 mark in eight games.

Woodling spent 1944-45 in military service, then returned to Cleveland for 1946, batting just .188. In the off-season he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for future Hall of Fame manager Al Lopez (for whom he played at Cleveland in 1955-56).

He had another September call-up with the Bucs in 1947, batting .266. He was traded in the off-season to the San Francisco Seals in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League.

In 1948, he hit .385, to lead his fourth minor league in batting. At the end of the season he was sold to the New York Yankees, ending his minor league days.

Woodling's six seasons with the Yanks earned him five World Series rings and five World's Series checks. In the 1949 Series he hit .400 against the Dodgers and in 1950, versus the Phillies, he hit .429. In his five Series with New York he batted .318.

Following the 1954 season, Woodling was part of a 16-player, three-team deal that sent him to the Orioles in 1955. He moved on to the Indians later that year. He was traded back to Baltimore in 1958, then went to the Senators for 1961 and part of 1962, before ending his career with the expansion Mets in 1962.

Woodling never challenged for a major league batting title. The closest he came was third in 1957 when he batted a major league career high of .321. He did hit .300 or better in five of his American League seasons. His lifetime big league hitting mark was .284.

Woodling first baseball card was in his 1948 title year with S.F., when he appeared in a team set sponsored by Sommer & Kaufmann's boy's shop. In 1950 he was part of the tiny vending machine strip card set known as R423.

He made his major baseball card debut in 1951 Bowman and appeared in Bowman sets through 1954. He was on Topps cards between 1952-63. His 1963 Topps card, "Veteran Masters," pictured him with Mets manager Casey Stengel, though he was gone from the Mets by then.

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