Ex-outfielder Woodling enjoys life as it crops up


The farm is only 15 acres now, but it keeps the 72-year-old owner busy. Takes 200 gallons of paint to cover the buildings, you know, and there's the scraping and all that grass mowing.

"I'm the full-time maintenance man," Gene Woodling said. "Keeps me out of trouble. I've always got a tan. I'm not overweight. I sleep good."

Woodling, the Most Valuable Oriole in 1959 when he batted .300 and led the club with 77 RBIs, bought 76 acres in Medina, Ohio, in the 1940s, later added 30 acres and farmed it for years and raised appaloosa horses. He recently sold all except 15 acres to a developer who threw up houses.

"They go for $1 million and up," Woodling said. "Want to buy one?"

Most days, before he goes outside, Woodling goes through his mail and signs autographs. Card show mania has generated strong interest in the autographs of even non-Hall of Famers such as Woodling. He does not charge for autograph requests that come through the mail.

"I owe it to people," he said. With a chuckle, he added, "Kids used to write saying their dads told them about me. Now it's their grandpas telling them about me."

Shrugging off his heart bypass surgery eight years ago, Woodling maintains that he and Betty, his wife of 53 years, are in fine health. They come and go as they please, on trips (Alaska this month), to card shows ("You could go every weekend if you wanted") and to their condo in Clearwater, Fla., for the winter.

Their farm was called "Rovin' " when he was playing and now it is is called "Dun-Rovin'," though they're not done.

During a 17-year career in which he batted .284 as an outfielder, Woodling played for six teams, hit .318 in five World Series with the New York Yankees and had two hitches as a player with the Orioles, part of 1955 and from 1958 to 1960.

After serving from 1964 to 1967 as an Orioles coach under manager Hank Bauer, Woodling scouted for the Yankees and then, as a consultant for Eaton Corp., sold 14 million grips for aluminum baseball bats.

He keeps in touch with his old Yankees teammates, especially those from the five straight world championship clubs, 1949 to 1953.

Woodling and Yogi Berra were talking to Mickey Mantle on the bench during an old-timers' game last year. Even then, Mantle was having liver trouble from years of drinking.

"He looked good, although he had aged in the face, like anyone does who was a heavy drinker," Woodling said. "He said he felt good but knew he wasn't out of the woods.

"Bauer and I were saying if only Mickey had taken baseball as seriously as [Joe] DiMaggio, you'd have seen some kind of talent. He was just a big kid, the opposite of DiMaggio. With one bad leg, Mickey could outrun anyone in the American League. He could bunt on one hop to the pitcher and beat it out."

Next: The little outfielder who now starts churches.

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