“There are ballplayers who can’t remember the last town they were in, much less the first fellow to ever help them, but Woody Woodward remembers both and also has a habit of remembering to be right there any time someone needs his help. He sees nothing strange about that. ‘That’s the only way to do it, and the only way I know how.’”1
William Frederick “Woody” Woodward was born on September 23, 1942, in Miami, Florida. He was the only child of Will and Ingevorg Woodward. Shortly after he was born, his parents moved to the Augusta, Georgia, area. His father was in the hotel and restaurant industry and played some semipro baseball. The family moved back to the Miami area in 1956.
Woodward played baseball and basketball at Coral Gables Senior High School and led the Cavaliers to the 1960 Class 2A state baseball title. He attended Florida State University in Tallahassee and played for coach Danny Litwhiler, a former major league outfielder. Litwhiler was a major influence on Woodward from the time Woody attended a clinic at the university before going to college. It was from Litwhiler that Woodward got the coaching bug. As a sophomore, he batted a team-leading .365, and set a school record for assists by a shortstop as the Seminoles finished third in the College World Series. That summer he was a standout for the Pierre (South Dakota) Cowboys of the semipro Basin League.2 The team won the pennant and Woodward was a unanimous choice for all-league shortstop.
The Detroit Tigers tried to sign Woodward but he turned down the offer and returned to FSU for his junior year. That season he upped his average to .380 and had 7 homers and 35 RBIs. He led his team in triples, homers, RBIs, and walks, and topped his assists record. Woodward was named third-team All-American, and was named to the College World Series all-tournament squad. In the Series, Florida State upset Western Michigan in the first round before falling to Arizona State and eventual tournament winner Southern California.
Scout Zack Taylor signed Woodward to a contract with the Milwaukee Braves after his junior year. His bonus of $60,000 was the highest paid to that time for a prospect from the Miami area.3 At Triple-A Denver he batted .247 with 7 home runs in 89 games. On June 27 the Braves came to Mile High Stadium to take on their affiliate, and Woodward made a favorable first impression with four hits, including a home run, and five RBIs, as the Bears won the game, 16-1. He was called up to the Braves late in the season.
Woodward’s first major-league appearance, on September 9, 1963, was as a defensive replacement. He entered the contest with the Braves leading 9-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning. “The Reds had a man on second [actually first with two outs], and Gene Freese hit a shot up the middle. I raced over, got a glove on the ball, and made a backhand flip to (Frank) Bolling at second for the game-ending out.”4
Woodward went back to Florida State to get his degree (eventually picking up his master’s degree in 1968), and contributed $5,000 to the school for lighting at the baseball field. “I’m happy to have a chance to help the school,” he said. “Florida State has been good to me; and this is one way I can show I appreciate it.”5
Woodward spent the entire 1964 season with the Braves. With 32-year-old Frank Bolling at second base and Denis Menke at shortstop, he was used sparingly, getting into 77 games and batting .209. Nevertheless, he was made to feel welcome, especially by Bolling. Woodward remembered, “I broke in as a shortstop, but Mr. (Bobby) Bragan, the manager, wanted me to learn how to play second base, too. Frank Bolling was the one who taught me. We roomed together (on the road) three years (1964-1966) and he impressed me more than any ballplayer I’ve ever met.”6 During that time, Woodward met Pamela Terrell, and the two married on October 7, 1966, in Atlanta.
Woodward started the 1965 season back in Triple-A, this time with the Atlanta Crackers in the International League, rooming with outfielder Adrian “Smokey” Garrett. He batted .245 in 37 games and had his only home run of the season in a 3-0 win over Syracuse on May 9. He would have to wait awhile for his next dinger.
On May 22, after Menke was placed on the disabled list with a knee injury, the Braves called Woodward up to Milwaukee. He batted .208 in 112 games, but was often quite likely to be pulled for a pinch-hitter, and had only 280 plate appearances.
When the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, Woodward had his best season, playing in 144 games, with career highs in batting (.264), hits (120), and RBIs (43). The Braves finished in fifth place with an 85-77 record. Bobby Bragan was the manager most of that season and understood the importance of Woodward’s presence on the field. “There is no doubt about it. Woody is the backbone of our defense,” Bragan said. “You can’t really put your finger on it, but when we win, we win with Woody in the lineup. He seems to come up with the little things to beat you.”7 Woody’s place in the lineup was certain, but his position was not as he split his time between second base (69 starts) and shortstop (67).
Woodward’s biggest day of the season came on June 10 when he had a triple and two singles to lead the Braves to an 8-2 win over Pittsburgh. He had his only four-hit game with the Braves on July 3, but received little “ink,” because the Braves’ pitcher, Tony Cloninger, had two grand slams in the 17-3 rout of San Francisco.
By 1967, Woodward’s mentor, Bolling, was no longer with the Braves, but Woody’s job was not secure. Rookie second baseman Felix Millan had joined the Braves and, when Woodward got off to a slow start, Millan was inserted into the lineup. An injury to Millan resulted in Woodward’s being in the lineup on May 7, and he took full advantage, driving in two runs and playing flawlessly in the field. Woodward eventually took over the regular job, making 114 of his 129 starts at second base.8 For the season, he had the highest fielding percentage (.982) among second basemen in the National League. He attributed his improvement in the field to coach Bob Kennedy, saying, “Bob noticed that when I took my defensive position, I kind of faced the batter too much. He said I was cutting off some ground I should be covering to my right.” He made a change that enabled him to get a better jump on balls hit to his right, and the improvement was immediate.9 At the plate, he batted .236 from May 7 to the end of the season, and .226 for the entire year. The Braves finished in seventh place, and Millan was ready to take over at second base.
A new tandem, Millan and Sonny Jackson, became the Braves’ middle infielders in 1968. On June 10 Woodward was traded to the Cincinnati Reds along with pitchers Clay Carroll and Tony Cloninger for infielder Bob Johnson and pitchers Ted Davidson and Milt Pappas. At the time, he was batting .167 and had played in only 12 of his team’s 50 games for new manager Lum Harris. While with the Braves he was a player representative on the board of the Major League Baseball Players Association, and when Woodward moved to the Reds he became their player rep as well.
For the balance of 1968, Woodward batted .244 with Cincinnati. On occasion he would have a strong game at the plate, but he was often below the media radar. On one occasion, “Judy” as he was called by teammate Pete Rose (for being a Punch and Judy hitter) lashed out five hits and had three RBIs in a doubleheader sweep against the Mets. Said Woodward, “I waited in the dugout for 10 minutes, but nobody put a mike in my face. I thought sure they’d want me for that ‘Star of the Game’ show.”10 Nevertheless, he impressed manager Dave Bristol enough that, during the offseason, the Reds traded All-Star shortstop Leo Cardenas and did not, as Woody at one time expected, expose him to the expansion draft.
Despite high expectations, Woodward got off to a slow start in 1969, and a thumb injury set him back. The Reds, to Woodward’s chagrin, put in 21-year-old Darrel Chaney at shortstop and Woodward found himself on the bench, again. Woodward, as always, put the team first and helped groom Chaney. Chaney was not quite ready and Woodward remained on the bench as the Reds tried Chico Ruiz at shortstop.
Only when second baseman Tommy Helms required surgery and Ruiz was shifted to second base did Woodward return to the lineup.11 He took over at shortstop on July 25. Over the balance of the season, he batted .278 in 69 games. Down the stretch, he helped keep the Reds in the hunt for the Western Division title. They weren’t eliminated until the final weekend of the season. Woodward reached base via hit, walk, or being hit by a pitch in 20 consecutive games in September, batting .293 and prompting Bristol to state, “Every time we score, Woody has been in the middle of the rally with either a walk or a base hit.”12 Woodward also put together the longest hit streak of his career during this period, 10 straight games, between September 14 and September 23. For the season, his average was .261.
But in the spring of 1970 another young player seemed to be the heir apparent at shortstop and Woodward, still only 27, would have to prove his worth one more time.13 That season he was one of the lesser cogs in the Big Red Machine, as the Reds finished atop the standings for the first time since 1961. The middle-infield positions were manned by Helms and newcomer Dave Concepcion, but Woody kept himself ready just in case. Woodward played in only 11 of the Reds’ first 53 games. However, Concepcion’s fielding proved inadequate, and new manager Sparky Anderson inserted Woodward into the lineup on June 6. He played in 89 of the remaining 109 games, 71 times as a starter. Although he batted only .226 during this time, his steady fielding and occasional key hits were vital to the success of the Reds.14
On June 17 against the Mets Woodward banged out singles in two of his first three at-bats. The score was tied, 4-4, as the teams entered the ninth inning. Woodward led off the inning with a bunt single. Said Woody, “I made up my mind that I was going to bunt if (Mets reliever) Ron Taylor got ahead of me, because I figured he’d throw me a slider.” His bunt came off the slider.15 The next batter attempted a sacrifice, and Mets catcher Jerry Grote appeared to gun down Woodward at second. However, Woody upended Buddy Harrelson and was safe. He eventually came around to score the lead run as the Reds beat the Mets, 7-4.16
On July 10, 1970, during the first game of a doubleheader, Woodward hit his only major-league home run in 2,423 plate appearances, a two-run shot off Ron Reed of the Braves. He connected in his 1,761st official at-bat. As Woodward rounded third, Clete Boyer, the Braves’ third baseman, said, “What’s going on here?” to which Woody replied, “I don’t know.” 17 Teammates didn’t let the occasion pass without comment. Wayne Granger said, “We figured out that if he keeps hitting home runs at this pace, it will only take him 4,198 years to catch Babe Ruth.” Tony Perez chimed in: “No matter what happens now, Woody, you will get a raise.”18
Concepcion was out of the starting lineup during the League Championship Series against Pittsburgh while Woodward started each game in the three-game sweep. He started the first two games of the World Series, going hitless in four at-bats, before connecting for his only World Series hit as a pinch-hitter in Game Three. His last appearance in the Series was as a defensive replacement in Game Four, as the Reds lost to the Baltimore Orioles in five games.
On Opening Day in 1971, Perez was moved from third base to first as Lee May was injured. Woodward was moved to third base. The normally sure-handed Woodward made three errors as the Reds lost, 7-4, to the Braves. For the balance of the season, he made only four errors in 380 chances. Offensively, his 1971 season got off to a great start, and he was batting .301 through his first 34 games. But he knew that reality would set in, and so it did. For the season, his batting average was .242, as the Reds finished a distant fourth in the National League West.
Still a young man, Woodward chose to retire after the 1971 season at the age of 29. In those days players weren’t being paid much, and he was able to make more money outside of the game. In 880 games he had 517 hits for a batting average of.236. He had given his future some thought. Before he retired, Woodward “had two things in mind (for the future). The first was to become a college coach in a town like Tallahassee. The other thing, and I spoke to (Reds GM) Mr. (Bob) Howsam about this, was to remain in professional baseball when my playing days were over, maybe even in the front office.”19
Woodward became a part-owner of Winewood Inc., a Florida land-development company.20 However, he wasn’t out of baseball for long. In 1974, while still working with Winewood, he accepted a position as a Reds TV commentator, working with Charley Jones, doing 35 games during the season. After the 1975 season, Woodward received a World Series ring when the Reds defeated the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
By this time, Woody had sold his interest in the land-management company and had returned to FSU in the fall of 1974 as head baseball coach. For the next four college seasons, through1978, his teams earned three NCAA tournament bids. In his first season at the helm, 1975, his team won its first 15 games en route to a 46-8 regular season record, was ranked Number 1 in the country, and went to the College World Series, only to be eliminated after losing to Eastern Michigan and Seton Hall. Woodward was named Regional (District III) Coach of the Year. He also lost the “mild-mannered” tag that he had acquired over the years, getting thrown out of three games early in the season.21
One of Woodward’s players from that championship team was catcher Terry Kennedy. “I was pretty much of a high-strung redneck then, but he didn’t let me go too far,” Kennedy said.22 Woodward was a 1981 inductee of the Florida State University Athletic Hall of Fame. In four seasons at FSU, his team went 170-57 and had the second best winning percentage (.749) in FSU history.
In September 1978 Woodward became the field coordinator for the Reds’ seven-team minor-league system. In November 1980 he was named assistant general manager of the Reds. He moved to the New York Yankees in October 1984 with the title of vice president for baseball administration. Woodward knew it would be a radical change to go from the tight-fisted Reds to the free-spending Yankees. It was a jump into the biggest media market in the world for big money, and he signed a four-year contract. He also knew that he would be working for the mercurial George Steinbrenner. But he was ready for the challenge, telling a sportswriter, “George Steinbrenner is a demanding man. The thing is he absolutely wants to win. I cannot find fault with that. In fact, I like the attitude – I always have. And you gear your hours and you gear your work habits to that goal. That’s exactly what it comes down to. The man is dedicated to his ballclub. If you understand that going in, I think you handle it a lot better.”23
In his first spring with the Yankees, Woodward wore many hats and welcomed the challenge. He coordinated the team’s scouting efforts, was in charge of the minor-league system, and assisted general manager Clyde King with the major-league squad. He also became very familiar with the basic player agreement. It didn’t leave much time for golf. As he commented, “Bobby Murcer works in our front office now and we joke that when we feel like we want to play golf, we put on our golf caps and walk around the office here. That’s as close as we come to golf.”24
When King stepped aside in October 1986, he chose Woodward to succeed him. The 1987 season proved to be unfruitful for the Yankees. After finishing either second or third the prior four seasons, they dropped to fourth place in a seven-team division. As noted by Bill Madden, Woodward’s life became a daily living nightmare. Lou Piniella was the Yankees’ manager that season and often joked about the stash of aspirin bottles and other pills for stress and high blood pressure that Woodward kept in his desk drawer at Yankee Stadium. “Poor Woody,” he joked to reporters. “His desk drawer was like a pharmacy up there!”25
The team started the 1987 season well and was leading the division on August 8, but its lead, which at one time had been five games, was fast eroding. Between August 3 and 14, they lost eight of 11 games and slipped to third place. Woodward was caught in the crossfire between Steinbrenner and Piniella and on one occasion was told by Steinbrenner not to speak with Piniella.26 The Yankees won only 23 of their last 51 games to slip to an 89-73 record and fourth place, nine games behind the division-winning Detroit Tigers.
After three seasons, Woodward had had enough of the Steinbrenner Yankees and elected to move on after the 1987 season, despite Steinbrenner’s offer to extend his contract. Piniella took over as general manager, and Billy Martin was brought back (for the fifth time) as manager.
A week after leaving the Yankees Woodward caught on with the Philadelphia Phillies as vice president for player personnel. Team owner/general manager Bill Giles shifted much of his responsibility to Woodward. “He’s going to evaluate the players we have both in the majors and the minor leagues. It will be up to him to decide if a prospect is ready to come up to the majors. And it will be up to him to negotiate trades,” said Giles.27 The team, despite a big payroll, got off to a poor start. Woodward, generally not one to publicly show his frustration, did exactly that. “Here’s a team with one of the highest payrolls in the major leagues ($13.7 million), and they lose three in a row to a team (Pittsburgh) whose payroll is $6 million. I’ve seen veteran players make inexcusable mistakes. A veteran pitcher doesn’t cover first (base), balls go through the infield like water through a sieve. In fact, the infield play stinks!”28 Giles, after giving Woodward free rein, fired him in June 1988.
The next month Woodward became the general manager of the Seattle Mariners, and worked there until he retired at the end of 1999. Before he arrived in Seattle, the team had had losing records ever since joining the league in 1977. During his tenure, the Mariners finally crept above .500 in 1991 and 1993 and made the playoffs in 1995 and 1997. In 1993 he hired Piniella as manager and he helped secure funding for Safeco Field, which became the home of the Mariners on July 15, 1999.29
In 1995 the Mariners were in third place on August 2, three games below .500 and 13 games out of first. Then, in a deal for which he took a fair amount of criticism, Woodward acquired starting pitcher Andy Benes from the San Diego Padres for two prospects (pitcher Ron Villone and outfielder Marc Newfield). Down the stretch, Benes went 7-2, and the team surged into the division lead, winning 16 of 19 games between September 8 and September 29, finally clinching the AL West Division title by winning a one-game playoff over the California Angels. They eliminated the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs, coming back to win three games after dropping the first two. In the League Championship Series, the Mariners were eliminated by Cleveland in six games.
Woodward’s draft picks in Seattle included Alex Rodriguez, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, Bret Boone, and Raul Ibanez. Perhaps his most notable trade was the acquisition of pitcher Randy Johnson from the Montreal Expos in 1989. On the negative side, he traded slugging first baseman Tino Martinez to the Yankees in December 1995. The Yankees went on to win four World Series during Martinez’s six years in the Bronx. The Martinez trade was due in large part to the economics of being in a smaller market. As Woodward said, “While all of us here wish we could keep the entire club intact, it is just not possible under the current economic system.”30
Toward the end of Woodward’s time in Seattle, the team fell on hard times, finishing below .500 in 1998 and 1999. His trade of Johnson to Houston for three minor leaguers on July 31, 1998, angered the faithful. Seattle’s other star players, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr., were thinking of moving on and eventually did so. On September 17, 1999, the announcement was made that Woodward was stepping down at the end of the season.31 He continued as a consultant to the team through the 2004 season.
In retrospect, the Johnson trade was one of Woodward’s best. The probability of Johnson’s moving on once he became a free agent effectively forced the trade. Two of the players received from Houston, Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen, became All-Stars. Garcia posted a 72-43 record in his first five years with the Mariners, and Guillen played six seasons with Seattle, batting .264, before achieving All-Star status with the Tigers. The third player obtained, John Halama, went 41-31 in four years with the Mariners – not a bad trade at all.
In January 2009 the Mariners hired Woodward to work as a part-time scout.32 As of 2014 he followed the Braves’ and Marlins’ minor-league when they played near his home in South Florida.
Of Woody and Pamela Woodward’s three children, son Matt played played two years of minor-league ball in the Seattle organization, and became a scout for the San Francisco Giants. He signed Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum in 2006. The Woodwards also have two daughters and five grandchildren.
Gastonia (North Carolina) Gazette
Panama City (Florida) News-Herald
Reading (Pennsylvania) Eagle
Google News Archive
Woody Woodward File at Baseball Hall of Fame Library.
Interview with Woody Woodward, January 14, 2014.
1 Milton Richman, United Press International, “Reds’ Woody Woodward Helping Rookie Try to Steal Job Away,” Anderson (Indiana) Daily Bulletin, March 28, 1969, 11.
2 Earle Hellen, Greensboro (North Carolina) Record, June 5, 1963, 26.
3 Tommy Fitzgerald, “$60,000 Bid Lures Woody to Braves,” Miami News, June 16, 1963, 1C.
4 Dick Pezdirtz, “Woodward Just Wants to Start for Braves,” Miami News, February 2, 1964, 3C.
5 Associated Press, November 14, 1963.
7 Horace Crowe, “Winging Sports,” Marietta (Georgia) Daily Journal, May 28, 1966, 6.
8 Wayne Minshew, “Braves Hit Daily Double at Second Base,” The Sporting News, May 20, 1967.
9 Wayne Minshew, “Like a Tent – That’s how Woody covers ground for Braves,” The Sporting News, July 22, 1967.
10 Earl Lawson, “Benchwarmers Keep Reds Hot,” The Sporting News, September 14, 1968.
11 Jim Ferguson, “Woody Proving Himself as He Said He Would,” Dayton(Ohio) Daily News, August 1, 1969, 18.
12 Earl Lawson, “Woody’s Lumber Work Prop to Reds,” The Sporting News, October 4, 1969.
13 Earl Lawson, “Handyman? Woody’s a Whiz as Reds Regular,” The Sporting News, July 4, 1970, 7.
16 Bus Saidt, “Reds Machine Mows ‘em Down,” Trenton (New Jersey) Evening News, June 18, 1970. 30.
17 Charlie Nobles, “Says Slugger Woodward: Only 713 to Go,” Miami News, July 11, 1970, B-1.
18 The Sporting News, July 25, 1970.
19 Bob Hertzel, “Woodward Quits Reds,” Cincinnati Enquirer, February 16, 1972.
20 Rockford (Illinois) Morning Star, February 16, 1972, B-3.
21 Charlie Nobles, “Great Year, Great Fans Make Woody Ecstatic,” Miami News, May 14, 1975, C-3.
22 Rick Hummel. “Kennedy in Pasture and Cards Make Hay,” The Sporting News, July 12, 1980.
23 Charlie Nobles, “Woody Woodward: Steinbrenner’s Main Man,” Miami News, November 10, 1984, B-2.
24 Charlie Nobles, “Woody’s Way: Yankees’ Woodward Trying to iron Out Missing Links,” Miami News, March 21, 1985, B-4.
25 Bill Madden, Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball. (New York: HarperCollins, 2010),264-265.
26 Madden, 267-268.
27 Reading Eagle, October 29, 1987, 39.
28 Bus Saidt, “Figuring Out the Phillies” Trenton Evening News, April 22, 1988. B-1.
29 St. Albans (Vermont) Daily Messenger, September 18, 1999, 9.
30 Aberdeen (South Dakota) Daily News, December 8, 1995, 15.
31 Larry Stone, Seattle Times, September 18, 1999.
32 Geoff Baker, Seattle Times, January 16, 2009.