Local baseball historian circles the bases in celebration of America’s favorite pastime

Warren Woods lives and breathes baseball.

Sporting a Twins T-shirt, Warren Woods pages through a photo album, packed with snapshots he took of baseball icons and overflowing with memories of baseball history. Photo by Sue Austreng
Sporting a Twins T-shirt, Warren Woods pages through a photo album, packed with snapshots he took of baseball icons and overflowing with memories of baseball history. Photo by Sue Austreng

His obsession with the game and its greats began 65 years ago, when as a 10-year-old tuning in the radio, he came on the play-by-play of a St. Paul Saints ball game.

“That was it… hearing that game on the radio, I became enraptured,” Woods said, relaxing in his dining room and surrounded by a collection of autographs and snapshots, newspaper clippings and correspondence he’s collected over the years.

As a 12-year-old, his allegiance switched from the Saints to the Minneapolis Millers, Woods said, and confessed to having skipped an accordion lesson to sneak over to Nicollet Park to see the Millers play.

“I’d never pick up the accordion again. Baseball, on the other hand, has never left me,” Woods said.

The baseball fanatic, who is a member of the Coon Rapids creative writing group and lives in Fridley, played ball as a boy and as a young man even had a two-day try out with the Minnesota Twins.

“I was a walk-on and I didn’t get cut,” the outfielder said, “but my wife was pregnant and about to give birth and I had already taken two days off work for the try out. I just couldn’t take another, so that was it.”

Even though he would never take the field with the major leaguers, Woods took to heart the players’ wins and losses, their stories and their lives.

During the past decades, Woods has traveled the country, visiting baseball museums, collecting autographs and memorabilia, devouring baseball biographies and novels and corresponding with the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig.

In 1986, Woods created a calendar and collected autographs of baseball’s greats, each signing on his birth date. In all, Woods collected 713 autographs in that calendar.

Not only that, in 1998, Woods organized a reunion of the 1947 St. Paul Saints baseball team and 10 of those players attended.

Those players – the ones who took the field and fueled Woods’ obsession with baseball so many years ago – are getting older. Some have died.

“I’ve been to five funerals and I’ve been in a lot of living rooms (of Saints players’ homes),” Woods said.

The baseball fanatic has also written a couple of baseball songs, “Do They Play Baseball in Heaven?” – a song he’ll have played at his funeral, Woods said – and “It Wasn’t Just a Dream,” an ode to Shoeless Joe Jackson.

The expulsion of Jackson after his alleged participation in the 1919 World Series Black Sox scandal is of particular interest to Woods.

That scandal erupted when eight members of the Chicago White Sox were banned for life from baseball after intentionally losing games, which allowed the Cincinnati Reds to win the World Series.

The conspiracy was the brainchild of White Sox first baseman Arnold “Chick” Gandil, who had long-standing ties to petty underworld figures, and included seven of his teammates.

The story goes, however, that Jackson told White Sox owner Charles Comiskey of the fix. When Comiskey ignored his warning, Shoeless Joe refused to participate.

He asked to be benched during the World Series so there was no way anyone could say he had any part in it. Comiskey refused his request and ordered Jackson to take the field and step up to the plate.

Well, Shoeless Joe sure did and, in fact, in the 1919 World Series, he hit a robust .375 while setting a major league World Series record with 12 hits, one of which was the only home run hit during the entire series.

“He played a pure, outstanding World Series – does that sound like the kind of game someone trying to lose would have? No! But they kicked him out anyway. They said he was part of (the Black Sox scandal),” Woods said.

And that is, perhaps Woods’ greatest passion: to expunge Shoeless Joe’s ban and see him posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, “where he belongs,” the baseball historian said.

Through the years, Woods has sent dozens of letters to Selig, pleading with him to overthrow the decision to ban Shoeless Joe – a decision made 91 years ago by then-commissioner U.S. District Court Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

“Twice a year I write to Selig: on his birthday and at Christmas. And he writes back, telling me they’re looking into it, they’re reviewing the case,” Woods said.

But, he said, Selig also tells him he doesn’t think he could justifiably overturn a past commissioner’s decision.

Nonetheless, Woods’ passion for baseball remains undiminished. He’s visited Shoeless Joe’s graveside in Greenville, S.C., he’s toured baseball museums, he’s read books and collected autographs – he even got to meet the Pennsylvania man who paid $577,610 at auction to buy a baseball bat used by Shoeless Joe.

“He even let me hold that bat and I’ve got a picture. That was a big day,” Woods said.

Woods enjoys great delight as his collection of baseball memorabilia, autographs and pictures grows. In fact, he said, baseball stories will undoubtedly be his focus as he continues to participate in the Coon Rapids creative writing group.

“I’m reliving my youth. I was enraptured and still am. I live and breathe baseball,” Woods said.

Sue Austreng is at [email protected]