Thursday, May 29, 2014

Card #49: Alvis Woods

Who Can It Be Now?
Alvis Woods a/k/a Al Woods was born August 8, 1953, in Oakland, California.  Woods came from a large family -- he was one of 11 children -- and he admitted in news stories in the early 1980s that he was the quietest of his siblings.  Woods attended St. Elizabeth High School -- an urban Catholic college prep school, according to its website -- in Oakland.  Directly out of high school, Woods was drafted in the 32nd round of the 1971 June Draft, but he did not sign.  

He was drafted again by the Minnesota Twins in the 2nd round of the June 1972 Secondary draft and signed as a draft-and-follow with the Twins after he spent some time at Laney College -- a junior college in Oakland.  Woods signed in time to play in 1973 in low-A ball as a 19-year-old, where he hit .302/.401/.422 in 137 plate appearances.  Woods worked his way up the chain in the Twins system so that, by 1976, he had reach Triple-A in Tacoma.  

At every stop, Woods hit reasonably well, showed a little bit of home run pop, stole a couple of bases, and played decent enough defense in the outfield.  His abilities were not enough, however, to convince the Twins to protect him from selection in the 1976 Expansion Draft. As a result, the Blue Jays selected Woods as the 15th overall pick in the expansion draft.  

While Woods did not start the first game in Toronto Blue Jays history, he did appear in the game starting first as a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning and then coming into the game in right field.  His first major league at-bat came against Francisco Barrios, and Woods made it count -- hitting a two-run home run on the first pitch he saw that put the Blue Jays ahead 7-4 in a game that they would eventually win 9-5. Woods finished his rookie season with the Blue Jays with a .284/.336/.382 line -- giving him an OPS of 718 which put him at 96% of the average for the league. 

His 1978 season was one to forget, though -- he struggled immediately out of the gate and got sent down to Triple-A just 9 games into the new season.  He did not return to the majors until July 21.  He enjoyed a hot August, pushing his batting average up to .270.  His September was a cold one, though, and he finished at just .241 with a .278 OBP. 

The Blue Jays struggled through their first several seasons as a major league team -- as you might expect.  In 1980, Woods put up his best season as a major league player under manager Bobby Mattick.  1981's strike cut into his overall numbers, but again Woods looked like he not doing badly.  

Then 1982 came.  The Blue Jays hired Bobby Cox as their manager.  Cox employed some platooning involving the lefty-hitting Woods and a host of others -- Barry Bonnell mostly, in left field, but also Wayne Nordhagen, Tony Johnson, and Leon Roberts.  At least that is how Woods explained it in an interview he did in 2012.  More to the point, Bonnell shifted to left field -- taking Woods's spot -- while youngsters Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield jumped into the lineup in center and right fields, respectively.  By 1983, the Blue Jays had gone from doormat to 89-73.  

In the process, though, the Blue Jays decided that Woods was expendable.  At the end of the 1982 season, Woods was traded to the Oakland A's in exchange for Cliff Johnson.  The trade was one of sure genius by Pat Gillick, who took advantage of then-neophyte GM Sandy Alderson and the vacuum in leadership there created by Billy Martin's firing.  I say that because the A's released Woods at the end of Spring Training in 1983, while Johnson hit 22 home runs as the Blue Jays designated hitter.  

Woods eventually signed back up with the Blue Jays later in 1983, but he never again reached the majors with the Jays.  Not until 1986 did Woods even get a cup-of-coffee from the Minnesota Twins, who used him to fill in for injuries in May and June of 1986, and then called him up to be a pinch hitter at the end of the year.  

Woods closed out his baseball career playing for Tabasco in the Mexican League in 1987.

Trivial Pursuit
Only 114 Major League players have hit a homerun in their first major league at bat.  Woods was only the 11th player in history at the time to have hit a homerun on the first pitch he ever saw in the major leagues.  Since Woods accomplished this feat in 1977, 16 more players have also hit a homerun on the first pitch they saw as of 2012.  By comparison, hitters have hit for the cycle 304 times  and pitchers have thrown 283 no-hitters.  

But, then again, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Woods's descent off the Blue Jays major league roster was swift and hastened by the coming surge of youthful talent enjoyed by the Jays in the early to mid-1980s.  While a youth movement is no guarantee of winning down the road, it certainly worked well for the Blue Jays. 

Between 1979 and 1985, they had turned an outfield of Al Woods, Rick Bosetti, and Bob Bailor into an outfield of George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, and Jesse Barfield.  The upgrades both in hitting and in fielding were impressive, and it led to the Blue Jays winning the AL East in 1985.  

In that regard, it is not unlike what you will see with any expansion team.  The "first" team tends to be shunted aside fairly quickly for youth.  The first seasons of futility lead to high draft picks, which allows the expansion team to infuse what should be top-level talent into their farm system.  Since the farm system had been stocked previously with a lot of castoffs, the top-level talent will rise to the top quickly -- sometimes too quickly, but often at a pace that the player can handle.  As a result, the top guys get to the majors and start showing their talent quickly.  

Meanwhile, the Al Woods of the world are traded for spare parts or simply become spare parts themselves.  

These days, as Mr. Woods says in the 2012 interview linked above, he is a Deputy Sheriff in the San Francisco Sheriff's Department.  He has a page at LinkedIn as well.  For that, I thank him for his service to San Francisco County.

The one ironic item about Woods I found is actually the news story to which I cited for the fact that Woods is one of 11 children.  The story was written in spring training in 1981, and it talks about how Toronto loved hockey and football but not baseball.  In that context, the article mentioned that Toronto was "kinda negative" (that's Woods's words).  

The ironic part relates to Woods's success at the plate in 1980.  He hit .300 that year despite injuries.  The story introduced the idea as follows:
So when Woods hit .300 last year despite injuries . . . the skeptics said wait until 1981 because he'll hit .241. ... The last time someone hit .300 in Toronto, sure enough the next season he batted .240.  That was Bob Bailor.
Al Woods did not hit .241 in 1981, though.  He hit .247.  Take that, naysayers.

1 comment:

  1. Al Woods had no chance with those young guys coming through the systems. Also, Al Woods is a good cop name.