The Top 100 Cubs Of All Time - #46 Woody English

Profile by BCB reader MadHatterBlues

Elwood "Woody" English made his Cubs debut in April of 1927, aged just 21, after being purchased from the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association. He quickly established himself as the everyday shortstop, and didn't leave the team until 1936. Woody was short for a ballplayer, standing in at only 5'10", but he compensated for his lack of height with an extremely large pair of hands. This was obviously an aid to his defense, but he was never hailed as an above average defender at the big league level. A right-handed hitter and thrower, his strength lay in contact hitting. The Sporting News wrote of him on January 26, 1933:

The Cubs laid out important money to acquire him ($50,000), but no mistake was made and he became a regular from the start with the Chicago team.

English was hailed as a very likeable/upbeat man, and he even managed to get along with Rogers Hornsby when the two were roommates (and middle infielders) together. In "Fouled Away", a biography of Hack Wilson, English explained why he liked Hornsby, while others hated him:

You know, I liked the guy, because see, he was so good to me. I couldn't help but like him, but a lot of players didn't like Rogers.
He grew into the role of Team Captain with the Cubs, and in 1932 held the infamous clubhouse meeting where the Cubs players decided not to pay Hornsby a World Series share. Mentally strong and a dependable everyday player, Woody was a clubhouse leader on some very good Cubs sides.

His best year offensively was undoubtedly 1930. Hitting .335/.430/.511 (all career highs) he managed to score an incredible 154 runs, and achieved the very rare feat of amassing 200+ hits and 100 walks in the same season. Overall, he reached base 320 times that year to lead the National League. He also hit 14 of his 32 career home runs all at the age of 24. Although his 1931 season failed to match the previous year, he still played well enough to finish 4th in the MVP voting that year.

In many ways his play never managed to reach the standard he set for himself these two years. His astonishing totals of 1930/1931 would have been hard to match anyway, but injuries and limited playing time made his chances even slimmer. English had the added misfortune of being replaced by excellent players. In 1932 he suffered a broken thumb, and on his return found he had lost his spot at SS to defensive whiz Billy Jurges. He found playing time at 3B until in 1934 he was edged out (by his backup till then) Stan Hack. He was selected to She National League squad for the first ever All-star game in 1933. His participation in that game, though, was limited to a pinch-hit fly-out.

In the 10 years English played with the Cubs, the club never won less than 84 games, and won 90+ on 5 occasions. This success translated into 3 league pennants, and of course 3 World Series defeats. Unfortunately for Woody his appearances in the World Series were not his best in a Cubs uniform. In 38 at bats he managed only 7 hits (2 doubles) and managed only to highlight the struggles of the entire team who went 3-12 in the 3 series while English was at the club. By the time of the '35 series against the Tigers, English had fallen out of the everyday line-up and did not appear at the plate during the series.

Of course just because he wasn't hitting, doesn't mean he wasn't enjoying a part of history. English was playing 3rd base in 1932 when Babe Ruth hit his "called shot" at Wrigley Field. When asked about it in 1995 he replied:

Babe Ruth did not call his HR. I was playing 3rd base that game and he held two fingers up indicating two strikes - the press indicated he pointed which he did not.

And on whether the blast quieted the Cubs players:

The Cub bench never let up on him.

Woody English was a good man and a component of some highly successful times for the Cubs. Often overlooked in the history books, as he was never a player to set records, but nonetheless he was a key player on three Cub NL championship teams, and thus ranks as one of the all-time Cubs greats.

After he retired, English managed in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League for three seasons, and then returned to his hometown of Newark, Ohio, where he worked quietly as a custodian for State Farm Insurance, retiring in 1971. According to the Unofficial Woody English Web Site, there is a local highway in the Newark area named in his honor. English died September 26, 1997, aged 90.

Woody English's career stats at baseball-reference.com

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