The flashy $55,000 ring on Gene Woodling's finger trumpeted the five straight world championships he helped the New York Yankees win from 1949-53, but Woodling said yesterday that he left his baseball heart in Baltimore.
"My best years in baseball were in Baltimore," said Woodling, who will be inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame tonight at 6:40 before the Orioles meet the Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. "If you don't believe me, everything in my den at my farm in Ohio is Orioles. I met a lot of friends in Baltimore who have become a major part of my life."
Woodling, 70, joins the likes of Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Boog Powell and Earl Weaver in the Orioles Hall of Fame.
But unlike those greats, Woodling was once booed out of town by irate Orioles fans.
It happened early in the 1955 season after Woodling came to Baltimore from the Yankees in a 17-player deal and immediately was a flop.
"I was supposed to be Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle and turn the team around," said Woodling, whose career batting average was .284 in 17 years in the majors. "I got one hit a week, and Paul Richards [Orioles manager] said he better get me out of town before the fans lynch me."
Woodling was traded to Cleveland but three years later he was given the opportunity by Richards to come back to Baltimore in another trade.
That was the beginning of a three-year run by Woodling with the Orioles that earned him the label as one of the best clutch hitters to wear an Orioles uniform.
It was during Woodling's first season, 1958, back in Baltimore that he warmed the hearts of people all around the country with a visit to 8-year-old Leonard Fewster of East Baltimore, who was dying of cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Woodling took autographed pictures, a bat and a ball to Fewster and promised him that he could come to Memorial Stadium as Woodling's guest once he got better. Fewster never did get well enough to come to an Orioles game.