Darrell Woodard (TRADING CARD DB)

Darrell Woodard

This article was written by Rory Costello

Darrell Woodard (TRADING CARD DB)The Oakland A’s had a pair of young speedsters in their farm system in the late 1970s. Rickey Henderson went on to a 25-year career in the big leagues, becoming the all-time leader in stolen bases and runs scored en route to the Hall of Fame. By contrast, Darrell Woodard, Henderson’s minor-league teammate in 1977 and 1978, was in the majors for just the last two months of the ’78 season.

Woodard’s statistics with Oakland were odd. The second baseman played in the field in just 15 of 33 games, going hitless with a walk in 10 plate appearances. His primary reason for being on the roster was pinch-running, which he did 22 times. Woodard was the last of six men who occupied this specialty role for the A’s under owner Charles O. Finley, who also served as his own general manager.

Woodard stole 368 bases in his minor-league career, which ran from 1974 through 1982. He led the short-lived Inter-American League of 1979 in steals with 45 in a season that lasted just 72 games.1 He had little power, hitting just four homers as a pro in 986 games, though he did post a respectable .270 batting average. He was not rated highly as a fielder.

Darrell Lee Woodard was born on December 10, 1956, in Wilmar, a small town in southern Arkansas, to Eardee and Arthalene (Sanders) Woodard. Further information about them and the family has not yet come to light.

At some point in Darrell’s youth, the Woodards moved to southern California — specifically, to Bell, an incorporated city in Los Angeles County. At Bell High School, Woodard lettered in four sports. In baseball, he earned All-Los Angeles honors and hit .385 as a senior.2

On the recommendation of scout Phil Pote, Oakland selected Woodard in the 12th round of the amateur draft in June 1974. The 17-year-old’s first assignment was Lewiston (Idaho) in the Northwest League (NWL). He showed some promise with a .304 batting average in 56 games, though he hit no homers, had just eight RBIs, and stole only eight bases. He was also extremely error-prone, with 40 miscues at short leading to an .830 fielding percentage. For example, in one game that August, his four errors led to four unearned runs in a 4-2 loss, even though Broncs pitcher Bobby Ray Salas struck out 12 in eight innings.3

Nonetheless, the following spring, John Claiborne (director of player personnel for Oakland) labeled Woodard a definite major-league prospect.4 To start the 1975 season, he went to Modesto in the California League (Class A). After hitting just .143 in 27 games, he was sent back down to the Northwest League. For Boise (Oakland’s new NWL affiliate), he hit .313 in 64 games, stole 22 bases, and won an all-star berth at shortstop.5 His fielding percentage at short was much better (.942) but still left room for improvement.

Woodard returned to Modesto in 1976. Splitting his time between short and second base, he hit .273-0-26 in 104 games. He was much more surehanded at second (.974) than short (.906). He stole 28 bases, a rather modest number by his standards. But in 1977, his second full year with Modesto, he ran wild, stealing 90 bases while getting thrown out just seven times. His

streak of 37 steals without getting caught (from May 20 to July 5) set a California League record that still stands. However, he didn’t lead his own team in steals; that honor went to 18-year-old Rickey Henderson, who had 95. Modesto’s manager, Tom Trebelhorn (who’d been Boise’s skipper in ’75), actually described Woodard as the better baserunner at that point.6

Playing almost exclusively at second, Woodard’s batting line was .282-0-39 in 128 games, and 59 walks boosted his on-base percentage to .358. His fielding percentage at the keystone was decent at .964.

Both Henderson and Woodard were promoted to Jersey City in the Eastern League (Class AA) for 1978. They shared an apartment with pitcher Mike Norris and outfielder Ray Cosey. The four of them were known as “Charlie’s Boys” because Finley wanted to make sure that special care was taken of them. That job went to the club’s teenaged factotum, Jim Hague, who later became a longtime sportswriter in northern New Jersey.7

The two base stealers continued their neck-and-neck race in the first half of the ’78 season.8 Eventually, Woodard swiped 53 and got caught 14 times while hitting .254-0-23 in 108 games. Henderson finished that season with 81, but he spent the whole year with Jersey City — whereas Oakland called Woodard up on August 5 along with outfielder Dell Alston. The team then optioned third baseman Wayne Gross and rookie outfielder Dwayne Murphy to the minors.

For most of the 1975-1977 period, the A’s had carried two pinch-running specialists on their roster. Early in 1975, the tandem was track star Herb Washington (who’d succeeded Allan Lewis in 1974) and Don Hopkins. Oakland then added Matt Alexander; for a brief time all three specialists were on the team, but Washington was cut. During 1976 and 1977, Larry Lintz teamed with Alexander.

Near the end of March 1978, however, Oakland released both Alexander and Lintz. It is not known why Finley — who’d been enamored of “designated runners” since bringing Lewis to the majors in 1967 — changed his thinking. Yet he hadn’t given up entirely on the concept, as Woodard’s call-up showed.

During his time with Oakland, Woodard was successful on just three of seven steal attempts, though he did score 10 runs. One of them came in his big-league debut on August 6. In the first game of a doubleheader at the Oakland Coliseum, the A’s and Seattle Mariners were tied 3-3 in the eighth inning when Dave Revering hit a one-out double. Woodard came on to run for Revering and scored when the next batter, Taylor Duncan, blooped a single.9 Rick Langford then held the M’s scoreless in the ninth to earn a complete-game victory.

In the second game of the twin bill, Woodard made his first appearance in the field. It actually came at third base, where he had played just once before as a pro (with Modesto in ’76) and never did again. Decades later, Jack McKeon, who was then the A’s manager, enjoyed telling the story (though he conflated this game with another).

According to McKeon, Finley said, “Put him in to steal bases. He’s not a very good infielder, but if you play him, only play him at second base.” With the score tied in the seventh, Woodard replaced Duncan at third. There were runners at second and first when Dan Meyer grounded to Woodard, who stepped on third and then threw to Mike Edwards at second to complete an inning-ending double play. The A’s went ahead in their half of the seventh and held on to complete the sweep. No other balls were hit Woodard’s way.

The following day at 6 A.M., McKeon’s phone rang, and the caller was Finley. The manager’s account of the conversation went like this:

“McKeon, this is Finley. They’re all laughing at you. Players are laughing at you. The media’s laughing at you. The fans are laughing at you.”

“What the hell are they laughing at?”

“Hot damn. I’m trying to help you become a good manager and I told you not to play this guy anyplace but second base.”

McKeon explained his decision, and there was silence for about 20 seconds. Finally, Finley said, “Well, I guess you think you’re a genius now.” The anecdote ended with McKeon saying, “That’s him. He wanted that guy to play second. He just wanted to second-guess.”10

Otherwise, when Woodard was in the field, he spelled Edwards and Rob Picciolo at second base (for 34 innings in total). Despite what Finley thought of the rookie’s glove, he made just one error in 29 chances.

In a technicality, Woodard was listed as designated hitter in three box scores after running for Rico Carty, who was 38 going on 39. He did not come to the plate as a DH. It’s worth noting that Woodard wasn’t totally overmatched at bat in the majors. He struck out only once.

Another nice moment came on August 19. Again at home, Oakland held a 4-2 lead over the Boston Red Sox in the bottom of the sixth. Revering led off with a single, and Woodard ran for him. One out later, he advanced to third on Bruce Robinson’s single; he scored on a squeeze bunt by Edwards. That run was the difference-maker in an 8-4 win for the A’s.11

Woodard’s one start in the majors came on the last day of the 1978 season. In front of just 2,742 fans at the Coliseum, the A’s concluded a dreary year by losing 9-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers.12 Woodard went 0-for-3. As it developed, his big-league career was over at the age of 21.

At the end of October, Woodard’s contract was assigned to Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League (Class AAA). A few days later, he became available in the re-entry draft (the mechanism then in place for teams to negotiate with free agents). He was not selected. That winter, Oakland’s top affiliate shifted from Vancouver to Ogden, Utah — a new franchise, also in the

PCL, that lasted for just two seasons. However, Woodard’s career was about to take a new direction.

In 1979, Cuban baseball entrepreneur Bobby Maduro launched the Inter-American League (IAL), which featured many former big-leaguers and was classified as a Triple-A circuit. Woodard played for the Miami Amigos. In a pre-season deal, Oakland traded him along with infielder Steve Staggs for veteran catcher George Mitterwald. Staggs did not report to Miami (later that year he joined the Montreal Expos organization). Mitterwald became the A’s bullpen coach.13

“I was getting ready to report to the big league camp when I found out about it,” said Woodard that April. “It was a letdown, but that’s what life is all about. Hopefully, I won’t be here too much longer if I impress some people.”14

Woodard, who played some center field for the Amigos in addition to second base, did in fact do well in the IAL. Along with his league-leading 45 steals, he hit .301-1-17 in 72 games.

The Amigos were managed by Davey Johnson, marking the first entry in his long and successful career as a skipper. Johnson’s assessment of his squad heading into the season reflected on Woodard in various ways. Johnson said that power was the team’s strength and that there wasn’t a lot of speed, but that having power made it “not as imperative to be stealing.” He viewed the defense as adequate and noted that his middle infielders were inexperienced. A former All-Star second baseman himself, Johnson was still an active player then. He planned to use himself strictly as a pinch-hitter at first, adding, “Later, I may play second some. But, now, I want to give everybody a chance to play.”15

It turned out that Johnson did get into 10 games for Miami, his last professional action on the field. IAL statistics are scanty, so it’s not clear how much he played at second, but one may infer that it was a minimal amount. An April 29 report noted that Johnson had used Woodard more than his other second baseman, 26-year-old Marvin Webb, because he wanted to see what Woodard was capable of. The Amigos traded Webb to the Panama Banqueros and gave the job to Woodard full-time — barring the possibility that Johnson decided to play more himself.16 In early May, the player-manager’s bad back prevented him from doing so.17

Woodard’s duty as a center fielder was a consequence of the injury to starter Leon Brown, who was sidelined with a hairline skull fracture from a beaning on May 17.18 In mid-June, playing in center, Woodard impressed Rubén Amaro Sr., then a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies. Amigos pitching coach Orlando Peña remarked, “He should be impressed with Woodard. . . He has a lot of talent and so do a couple of other guys on this club that could be helping major league teams right now.”19

At the end of June, the IAL folded. As Sam Jacobs of the Miami Herald put it succinctly in 2004, the league was “a victim of high costs, shaky financing, visa problems, unreliable plane schedules and incessant rain.”20 Shortly thereafter, Woodard joined the Chicago Cubs organization. The Miami franchise sold his contract for an undisclosed amount of cash.21 He split

the remainder of the season between Midland in the Texas League (Double A) and Wichita in the American Association (Triple A).

Woodard was released in early April 1980 and did not catch on with another club for a few weeks. To do so, he had to take a big step back to Class A ball. His new club was Macon in the South Atlantic League. The Peaches were not affiliated with any single team that year; rather, they operated independently as a co-op.22 Against the lower-level competition, Woodard’s batting line was .276-0-41, and he stole 47 bases.

Woodard then joined the Detroit Tigers organization and made it back to Double-A ball. In 1981 and 1982, he was the primary second baseman for the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League. He put up similar modest batting lines, with overall totals of 2 homers, 49 RBIs, and a .239 average in 236 games. He stole 55 bases and was caught 15 times. Of interest, during his last few years in the minors, Woodward’s fielding percentage was the best it had ever been: over .980 in each year.

Woodard’s pro career ended when he was released near the end of March 1983. He has kept a low profile since then. About all that can be determined is that he returned to Los Angeles and is living there. He did, however, receive a couple of mentions in Rickey Henderson’s 1992 autobiography, Off Base. Jack McKeon also provided his anecdotes in 2007 and 2017.

Last revised: November 1, 2021

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Gregory H. Wolf and Jan Finkel and fact-checked by Evan Katz.

 

Sources

Cliff Blau, “Leg Men,” SABR Baseball Research Journal, Summer 2009

The Sporting News Baseball Players Contract Card Collection

 

Notes

1 “Cubs buy speedster,” Des Moines Register, July 15, 1979: 28.

2 “Boise A’s get 22 players,” Idaho Free Press, March 29, 1975: 15.

3 “Rainiers Slip Past Mavs,” Centralia (Washington) Daily Chronicle, August 23, 1974: 8.

4 “Boise A’s get 22 players.” The other players named were pitchers Rick Lysander, Steve McCatty, and Jim Oldham, along with Ray Cosey. Oldham had a good season for Modesto in 1975, but his career then ended at the age of 19 (perhaps because of injury).

5 “Cal League Opens on Three Fronts Tonight,” Nevada State Journal, April 13, 1976: 5.

6 Kevin T. Czerwinski, “The night Rickey ran wild for Modesto,” MILB.com, October 31, 2007 (https://www.milb.com/news/the-night-rickey-henderson-ran-wild-for-modesto-302559006)

7 Jim Hague, “Future Hall of Famer Henderson comes back to area where his baseball career took off,” Hudson Reporter, May 2, 2003.

8 “Eastern League,” The Sporting News, June 24, 1978: 44. “Eastern League,” The Sporting News, July 22, 1978: 46.

9 The bloop description comes from wire service accounts of the game.

10 Clark Spencer, “Can’t Touch This: Jack McKeon and his favorite Oakland A’s stories involving Charlie Finley and MC Hammer,” Miami Herald, May 23, 2017. McKeon also told the story in 2007 but in that version, the opponent was the Cleveland Indians. It could have been one of the A’s-Indians games in July 1978, but that predated Woodard’s arrival, and various other details do not jibe with the record. See David Laurila, “Prospectus Q&A: Jack McKeon,” Baseball Prospectus.com, May 27, 2007.

11 Here too, the squeeze description comes from wire service accounts of the game.

12 It was by no means the smallest crowd the A’s drew that year as they finished 14th and last in the AL in attendance.

13 “Major League Trade,” The Sporting News, May 26, 1979: 38. Mitterwald got into some exhibition games with Oakland that spring.

14 “New Minor League, Amigos Make Debut,” Fort Lauderdale News, April 10, 1979: 37.

15 Bill Brubaker, “The Miami Amigos in a Word? Hungry,” Miami News, April 7, 1979: 19.

16 Michael Janofsky, “Amigos Win, Send Webb to Banqueros,” Miami Herald, April 29, 1979.

17 “Amigos chalk up number six,” Miami News, June 5, 1979. According to this story, Johnson’s appearance as a designated hitter on June 4 was the first time he’d played in a month. Then, on June 14, he underwent back surgery. “Johnson Has Operation,” The Sporting News, July 14, 1979: 39.

18 “Amigo Notes,” Miami News, May 18, 1979: 6C.

19 “Amigos,” Miami News, June 12, 1979: 6B.

20 Sam Jacobs, “A Vanishing League,” Miami Herald, July 4, 2004.

21 “Cubs buy speedster.”

22 “Sally League Reborn–Eight Clubs,” The Sporting News, February 16, 1980: 45.

Full Name

Darrell Lee Woodard

Born

December 10, 1956 at Wilma, AR (USA)

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