Woodling was an on-base machine throughout his seventeen year Major League career. Had the left fielder not missed time to World War II, he would have possibly played nineteen seasons at the highest level. Gene was a solid role player for the powerhouse postwar Yankees who never got the attention of teammates like DiMaggio, Rizzuto and Berra. Despite his modest fanfare, the Akron native was a star performer who drew plenty walks, played a flawless left field, knew the strike zone inside and out and possessed adequate power.
Gene was originally signed by his homestate Indians in 1940 and made his debut during the war ravaged 1943 season. The youngster only played in eight games and averaged a hit per contest but he would lose the next two years to military service during the Great War. Woodling returned to baseball in ’46 and had plenty rust to shake off. Due to the two-year layoff, Gene hit a meager .188 for the 1946 Indians and he quickly fell out of favor. After the season he was traded to the Pirates for Hall of Fame skipper Al Lopez, who was a catcher then. However, the change in scenery didn’t help much as Gene appeared in just 22 games for the Bucs. The Pirates then sent Gene to the PCL powerhouse San Francisco Seals and his career took off from there.
Woodling had such a terrific showing out west that the Yankees purchased his contract at the behest of skipper Casey Stengel who was terrorized by Gene when he managed in the minors. Woodling established himself as a solid Major Leaguer with the Yankees in 1949 as he hit .270 and won a World Series title his first year in the Bronx. A dynamite October hitter, Gene hit .400 in the 1949 Fall Classic and followed that up with a .429 batting average in the 1950 Series. Gene was a member of five straight World Champion teams with the Yankees from 1949 to 1953.
Although Woodling had established himself by 1951, that season was his breakout year. He clubbed 15 homeruns and eclipsed 70 RBI for the first time. But he would soon reach his peak. In 1952 he hit .309 with a terrific .397 on-base percentage. Even better in ’53, Gene led the American League with a .429 OBP. His plate discipline was so remarkable that he drew 82 walks compared to just 29 strikeouts during the season. But his batting fell off sharply in 1954 and after the season the Yankees parted ways with the 31-year-old outfielder.
Sent to the Orioles in a large trade that netted Baltimore Gus Triandos but saw stars Bob Turley and Don Larsen join the Yankees, Gene scuffled out the gate in 1955 and was dealt to the Indians that June. Gene was able to get back on track in Cleveland and enjoyed his most productive year there in 1957 when he clubbed a personal best 19 dingers while also setting career highs in hits, RBI, slugging average and batting average (.321). Since he was in his mid thirties at the time, Cleveland shipped Gene while he was at his top, fearing he would soon slide back down courtesy age. Traded back to Baltimore for Hall of Famer Larry Doby, Gene showed he still had plenty left in the tank.
Back in Baltimore, where he struggled in his first trial, Woodling hit .276 with 15 homeruns. Even better the following year, Gene drove in 77 runs on an even .300 batting average and posted his third over .400 on-base percentage season. The keen-eyed Woodling would put together two more such campaigns with the 1960 Orioles and ’61 Senators. His final year, 1962, Gene still had it at age 39. He hit ten dingers at a .276 clip and finished his career with his admirer from New York: Casey Stengel and his woeful Mets of 1962.
G 1,796/R 830/H 1,583/2B 257/3B 63/HR 147/RBI 830/SB 29/BB 921/SO 477/BA .284/OBP .386/SA .431