October 2nd, 2011

October 3 – Happy Birthday Dave Winfield

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.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1981 NYY 105 440 388 52 114 25 1 13 68 11 43 41 .294 .360 .464 .824
1982 NYY 140 597 539 84 151 24 8 37 106 5 45 64 .280 .331 .560 .891
1983 NYY 152 664 598 99 169 26 8 32 116 15 58 77 .283 .345 .513 .858
1984 NYY 141 626 567 106 193 34 4 19 100 6 53 71 .340 .393 .515 .908
1985 NYY 155 689 633 105 174 34 6 26 114 19 52 96 .275 .328 .471 .799
1986 NYY 154 652 565 90 148 31 5 24 104 6 77 106 .262 .349 .462 .811
1987 NYY 156 655 575 83 158 22 1 27 97 5 76 96 .275 .358 .457 .815
1988 NYY 149 631 559 96 180 37 2 25 107 9 69 88 .322 .398 .530 .927
1990 NYY 20 67 61 7 13 3 0 2 6 0 4 13 .213 .269 .361 .629
22 Yrs 2973 12358 11003 1669 3110 540 88 465 1833 223 1216 1686 .283 .353 .475 .827
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/2/2013.