As hard as he tried and he tried real hard, George Steinbrenner couldn’t get me and quite a few other Yankee fans to dislike this very talented, hardworking outfielder. I’ve been following Yankee baseball passionately since 1960 and I’ve seen no starting left fielder perform any better in Pinstripes than Mr. Winfield did.
Let’s go back in time. By 1976 after over a decade of mediocre team performances, Yankee fans were starving for postseason play and we were ready to accept anybody or anything that could get us there. In George Steinbrenner, we had an owner who would do absolutely anything to make the Yankees winners again and when free agency dawned, the perfect storm situation necessary to get New York back to the World Series was in place. But we fans had to pay a price for the return to glory and that price included Billy Martin’s embarrassing behavior, the Bronx Zoo clubhouse atmosphere, and Mr. Steinbrenner’s inability to understand that success on the field was not always directly proportional to how much money a team spent.
The Boss’s first wave of free agent investments had indeed returned almost instant dividends. Expensive hired hands like Catfish Hunter, Don Gullett, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage helped the Yankees not just get back to the World Series after a dozen-year absence, but also win two of the three the team played in during the second half of the 1970s. But by 1980, Gullett and Hunter were gone, Steinbrenner had tired of Jackson’s ego and after Thurman Munson’s death and the Yankee’s loss to the Royals in the 1980 ALCS, the Boss was ready to again open the Yankee wallet and buy the player who he felt would lead New York to a whole new decade of World Championships. That player was supposed to be Dave Winfield.
The Boss absolutely believed that because he gave Winfield a ton of cash and a ten-year contract to play for the Yankees, he had single-handedly guaranteed not just a slew of postseason appearances for his team but postseason success. Before that could happen, however, the 1981 player strike seriously degraded the relationship between owners and players. Then the Yankee’s new left-fielder hit .054 in the 1981 World Series. Even worse, that 1981 Fall Classic defeat to the Dodgers turned out to be the Yankees’ last postseason appearance for the next 14 seasons. George behaved as if he honestly felt this disastrous turn in his team’s fortunes was Winfield’s fault. He derisively nicknamed him Mr. May and then got himself embroiled up to his turtlenecked neck in the now infamous Howie Spira scandal to try and get rid of the future Hall-of-Famer and his contract.
Winfield just kept on playing. In spite of being pilfered in the NY media and actually getting booed by Yankee fans for challenging Don Mattingly for the 1984 AL batting title, the guy played every inning of every Yankee game at full and focused speed. He drove in runners, he hit more home runs than a right hand hitter is expected to hit in Yankee Stadium, and he kept himself out of the spotlight off the field. He was a great Yankee who played for the team at the wrong time and got a raw deal.
It was nice to see that Steinbrenner had buried his animosity with Winfield and invited him back to the Yankee family. It’s even nicer to see that Winfield has
graciously accepted that invitation. Dave was born in St Paul and turns sixty-years-old today.
Winfield shares his October 3rd birthday with one of the strangest pitchers to ever wear a Yankee uniform and one of the first Cuban ballplayers in big league history.
|NYY (9 yrs)||1172||5021||4485||722||1300||236||35||205||818||76||477||652||.290||.356||.495||.851|
|SDP (8 yrs)||1117||4512||3997||599||1134||179||39||154||626||133||463||585||.284||.357||.464||.821|
|MIN (2 yrs)||220||922||841||107||222||42||5||31||119||4||76||157||.264||.324||.436||.760|
|CAL (2 yrs)||262||1103||982||138||263||45||6||47||158||7||104||177||.268||.335||.469||.805|
|CLE (1 yr)||46||130||115||11||22||5||0||2||4||1||14||26||.191||.285||.287||.572|
|TOR (1 yr)||156||670||583||92||169||33||3||26||108||2||82||89||.290||.377||.491||.867|