“The Man who Lives in the Santa Claus House””

23 Dec

Walter Sydney Woods earned his nickname “Sunday School Pitcher” because he never played a game on Sunday throughout his 20-year professional career.

Woods also played lacrosse, football, basketball and tennis and was considered one of the best athletes in New Hampshire when he chose to enter professional baseball with Portland in the New England League in 1895.

In 1897, he won 17 games for the Springfield Ponies in the Eastern League and was drafted by the Chicago Orphans.

When Woods arrived in Chicago, it was assumed he’d give up his pledge not to play on Sunday, but he quickly made it clear that he would quit first.  The Sporting Life said:

“Walter Woods, Chicago’s model man, will not play Sunday ball either at home or on the road.  The conscientious youngster who neither smokes, drinks nor swears, also has scruples against participating in games on the Sabbath. He will thus be a standing reproach to all the other members of the Chicago Club”

Woods pitched and played infield and outfield for Chicago, going 9-13 and hitting only .175.  He was traded to the Louisville Colonels the following season and posted an identical pitching record, although The Sporting Life said in July:

“Walter Woods is an unlucky pitcher.  Though pitching finely he has won but two games out of his last eight.”

Woods went to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900 but was released in April.  He spent the next 14 season playing for a variety of teams in the Eastern and New York State Leagues, exclusively as a position player after 1902.

Walter Woods, 1899 Louisville Colonels

Walter Woods, 1899 Louisville Colonels

Woods also coached baseball at the University of New Hampshire from 1897-99 and at Dartmouth from 1912-1915 and played semi-pro football during the winter.  After baseball, he went to work for the US Postal Service.

But to a generation of kids in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, none of that mattered.  At Christmas every year, he was known as “Jolly Wally Woods-the man who lives in the Santa Claus house.”

For about 15 years until his death, kids would line up in front of Woods’ house one day about a week before Christmas and wait for him to appear in an attic window dressed as Santa Claus.  Woods would lower baskets of candy and toys down to the children with a rope, and then on Christmas morning, he was back in the suit with presents for all the neighborhood kids.

Wally Woods

Wally Woods

The “Sunday School Pitcher” died in Portsmouth in 1951.

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