Gary Woods, who played centre field and batted fifth in the first game in Toronto Blue Jays history, died unexpectedly at his home in Solvang, Calif., on Thursday. He was 60 years old.
The Santa Barbara Foresters, the California Collegiate League team that Woods had been coaching with, shared on their website that the cause of death was a heart attack. The Chicago White Sox, whom Woods was scouting for in Southern California, confirmed his passing earlier today.
Reports indicate that Woods had scouted games at UCLA and Pepperdine University as recently as last weekend.
Born in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1954, Woods attended San Marcos High School and Santa Barbara City College before he was signed as an amateur free agent by the Oakland A’s in 1973. He played parts of four seasons in the minors before making his big league debut with the A’s on September 14, 1976.
He went just 1-for-8 with the A’s that season, but he was promising enough that the Blue Jays selected him with their fourth pick in the November 1976 expansion draft. Woods cracked the Jays’ big league roster out of spring training and was in centre field for their snowy opener at Exhibition Stadium on April 7, 1977. He went 1-for-5 and scored a run in the Blue Jays’ 9-5 win over the Chicago White Sox.
In all, in 60 games with the Blue Jays in 1977, Woods batted .216 and drove in 17 runs. He spent the majority of the following campaign with the Jays’ Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, before he was dealt to the Houston Astros on December 4, 1978 for minor league outfielder Don Pisker.
After spending most of the next two seasons in Triple-A, Woods was called up by the Astros in September 1980 and he excelled as a reserve outfielder/pinch hitter during the stretch run, batting .377 in 19 games, enough to earn him a spot on the club’s postseason roster. Wood would go 2-for-8 for the Astros in a grueling National League Championship Series battle that Philadelphia Phillies eventually won in five games.
The versatile outfielder batted .209 in 54 games for the Astros in 1981, prior to being dealt to the Chicago Cubs that December. He’d play his final four big league seasons at Wrigley.
Following his playing career, Woods served as a coach with the aforementioned Foresters of the California Collegiate League, helping them win five national championships. He also scouted Southern Caifornia for the White Sox.
“The Forester Family lost not only a wonderful coach and mentor but a dear friend, father, and brother to so many,” said Foresters manager Bill Pintard. “His players were like his sons and he cared so much for all of them. He will be dearly missed by all of us but never forgotten. Rest in Peace, our brother.”
Riley Moore, a catcher with the Foresters in 2011 who’s now playing for the University of Arizona, shared similar thoughts about Woods on Twitter.
“Gary Woods was an amazing coach and mentor,” he tweeted. “Great man all around. You’re in my thoughts as we celebrate your favorite game today.”
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.