Other than playing the game of baseball, Chris Woodward shares little in common with Ted Williams except they both once elected to hit in the final game of the regular season and risked their batting average.
On the final day of the regular season in 1941, Williams elected to hit despite the fact he was batting .400.
On the final day of the regular season in 2007, Woodward elected to hit despite the fact he was batting .200.
“No one knew I was hitting .200; I knew. I knew if I got an out, I’m dropping to .199,” the new Rangers manager said. “I knew .201 was a lot better than .199. It’s still awful but it looks a lot better on your baseball card.”
Famously, Williams went 6-for-8 in the doubleheader to finish with a .406 average.
Dubiously, Woodward was 0-for-1 and finishing batting .199.
The at-bat, and more specifically the decision to take it, is a defining moment for a life and a career.
“I cannot look at myself in the mirror and sit on a .200 batting average. That’s embarrassing,” he said. “I’m not Ted Williams here. Everyone has heard that story. This is the .200 Ted Williams story.”
DO YOU WANT THE AT-BAT
By the time Woodward was with the Atlanta Braves in 2007, he was in his ninth season in the majors, and his production had begun sliding.
The Braves were playing the Astros on the final day of the regular season in a game that had no significance in the standings.
Woodward, who in the previous game went 0-for-1, was not in the starting lineup. He was sitting on .200.
“Look, .201 or .200 still sucks, but it looks a lot better than .199,” he said.
Braves third baseman Chipper Jones was to be taken out of the game, and batting coach Terry Pendleton asked Woodward if he wanted to bat, as a pinch hitter. Woodward said it was not his decision, so if they wanted him to take it he would.
“I knew full well what was at stake; I could have said no. Like, what’s the point?” he said. “But, I’m not that guy. I’m not going to be that guy and I tried not to be that guy my whole career. I’m going to; I’m nowhere near Ted Williams, obviously, but I’m going to do it.
“I knew I was up against it and I had not been swinging it well. I knew the likelihood of me getting a hit wasn’t very good. Maybe a walk would keep me at .200. I’m willing to sacrifice that.”
Woodward took the at-bat in the top of the seventh inning, and he struckout on a 1-2 pitch.
Immediately on the scoreboard in Houston, Pendleton saw Woodward’s average updated. Woodward’s average was an MLB position player worst .199 that season.
I’M NOT GOING TO BE THAT GUY
In the clubhouse after the game, Pendleton approached Woodward.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Pendleton asked. “Woody’ ... why? You didn’t have to do that. If you had said anything I would never have asked you to do that.”
Woodward told Pendleton, “TP, one day I’ll have this story to tell. I’ve hated guys who did that and I was never going to be that guy.”
Woodward played three more big league seasons, but his days as a regular player were over.
Today, as a big league manager, there is a pride in taking that final at-bat.
“Those decisions I think kinda defined me,” he said. “One day I’ll look back and I’ll see the numbers and I won’t care.”
Today, as a big league manager, he sees the error. The error wasn’t taking the at-bat, but his approach overall to it.
“When I stepped in, I knew I was chasing a hit. When you’re chasing a hit, all process goes out the door,” Woodward said. “As a player I had a ton of fear. When you’re good, you don’t. And some guys naturally don’t have fear. For 75 to 80 percent of players there is an anxiety, expectations, fear of failure – what are those driven by? Results.
“If I have results, I have no fear.”
It’s not exactly Ted Williams, but taking one extra at-bat is a defining point for Chris Woodward nonetheless.