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2001 Hall of Fame Inductions
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Drama king
Throughout his colorful career, Winfield made his presence felt -- with flair

By Sandy Burgin
MLB.com

"For a guy to be successful you have to be like a clock spring, wound but not loose at the same time." -- Dave Winfield

SAN DIEGO -- Through a very colorful 22-year career that has seen many unusual twists and turns both on and off the field, Dave Winfield has somehow kept that dramatic tension of a celebrity athlete without ever uncoiling.

  DAVE WINFIELD

Q & A with Winfield >>
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He may well be the prototype for future baseball Hall-of-Famers.

Winfield played for six different teams. He began his career with the San Diego Padres, made his name with the New York Yankees, won a World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays, reached 3,000 hits with the Minnesota Twins and also played for the then California Angels and Cleveland Indians, with whom he finished his career in 1995.

Which hat to wear into the Hall? Winfield had to seriously ponder that question, as will future Hall-of-Famers who play for multiple teams.

"I had no idea when I was elected in January that I would have to think about it and look at this for so long and from so many ways," Winfield said. "This has been an extremely tough decision."

In April a year of speculation ended when the Hall of Fame announced that Winfield's plaque will bear the Padres' logo, making him the first Hall of Fame inductee to wear a Padres cap.

"I went with the team that gave me my first opportunity," Winfield said. "All my 'firsts' happened in San Diego, and that's where I developed as a player."

In April a year of speculation ended when the Hall of Fame announced that Winfield's plaque will bear the Padres' logo, making him the first Hall of Fame inductee to wear a Padres cap.

Winfield, who is the only athlete to be drafted by professional baseball (the Padres), basketball (Atlanta Hawks and Utah Stars) and football (Minnesota Vikings) played eight seasons for the Padres.

He was drafted out of the University of Minnesota on June 13, 1973, and two weeks later went immediately to the Major Leagues, where he batted .277 in 56 games for the Padres. In his first full season with San Diego Winfield had 20 home runs and 75 RBIs.

Throughout the rest of the 1970s Winfield's offensive production steadily improved, culminating in his 1979 season when he batted .308 with 34 home runs and led the National League with 118 RBIs.

Other aspects of his game began to attract notice as well. His spectacular running catches and rocket arm in right field garnered him the first of his seven Gold Glove awards in 1979. Combining his natural instincts with surprising speed on the basepaths, Winfield stole 20 or more bases five times during his first eight seasons. In 1977 he was selected to the first of 12 consecutive All-Star teams.

Of his 3,110 hits, 1,134 came in a Padres uniform. Winfield had 154 of his 465 homers and 599 of his 1,833 RBIs as a Padre. Winfield ranks third in the Padres record book behind Tony Gwynn and Gary Templeton in games played, hits, doubles and at-bats. He is second to Gwynn in RBIs, runs scored and walks, and second to Nate Colbert in homers.

Some Padres fans might have preferred that Tony Gwynn be the first Hall of Famer identified with San Diego. But Gwynn, a sure-shot for Cooperstown himself, has offered his ringing endorsement of Winfield going into the Hall as a Padre.

"I think it's great that Dave will be wearing the Padres cap," said Gwynn. "He's the first player in the Hall of Fame who established himself here. We've had other great players here, but most of them came from somewhere else.

"I'm happy for Winfield, the Padres and the city of San Diego. He earned the right to decide who he wants to represent in the Hall of Fame. We should all respect his decision. He has his own reasons. He did the work. He gets to make the decision."

"I think this proves there is something special about your first team," said Padres CEO and President Larry Lucchino. "Teams need a heritage and a history. For us, this is a nice piece of that puzzle. There's something special about him wanting to be embraced by the franchise."

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Winfield was born on Oct. 3, 1951 -- the day Bobby Thomson hit the famous "Shot Heard 'Round the World." Winfield has certainly been a lightning rod for a number of the changes in baseball during the psat two decades, and in the evolving perception of its players.

A four-time All-Star with the Padres, Winfield gained major media attention in 1981 when he became Major League Baseball's highest-paid player after he signed a $16 million contract with the New York Yankees.

Winfield's career with the Yankees was tumultuous from the start. Soon after he signed, conflict arose between Winfield and George Steinbrenner when the Yankees owner realized he had incorrectly interpreted the contract's first cost-of-living escalator and that the deal would probably cost him $23 million rather than the $16 million he had expected.

After hitting .294 with 13 homers and 668 RBIs in only 105 games in his first season in the Bronx, Winfield excelled in the divisional playoff against Milwaukee and the ALCS against Oakland. But Winfield started out 0-for-15 against the Dodgers in the World Series, finally collected his first (and only) hit of the series in the fifth inning of Game 5.

The Yankees lost the series in six games after winning the first two at home, and an irate Steinbrenner directed much of his frustration at Winfield, whom he dubbed "Mr. May" -- a snide reference to Winfield's seeming inability to fill the postseason shoes of "Mr. October," Reggie Jackson. Winfield finished the World Series 1-for-22.

Despite his off-the-field battles with Steinbrenner and the New York media -- in 1983 he accidentally beaned and killed a seagull between innings at a game in Toronto, for which he drew criticism from from Canadian fans and an environmental group -- Winfield enjoyed a number of productive seasons for the Yankees. He drove in more than 100 runs from 1982 through 1986 to become the first Yankee since Joe DiMaggio to do so in five consecutive seasons. He also garnered six more AL Gold Gloves to go with his NL one.

Back surgery forced Winfield out of the Yankees lineup in 1989 and after a slow start to the 1990 season, he was traded to the California Angles for pitcher Mike Witt. Winfield kept hitting, slugging 49 homers in his two years in Anaheim.

Winfield played for six different teams over his 22-year career, including nine seasons with the Yankees.

After leaving the Angels, Winfield signed a free-agent contract with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992. That year he hit .200 with 26 home runs and 108 RBIs and led the team to its first World Series appearance.

One of his greatest moments came, ironically, in October. In the eighth inning of Game 6, Winfield robbed Atlanta's Ron Gant of a base hit with a sliding shoestring catch. In the top of the 11th inning, Winfield came up up with runners on first and second, two out and the game tied, 2-2. Facing a full count against Charlie Liebrandt, Winfield choked up and laced a double down the third-base line, driving in two runs and propelling Toronto to a 4-3 victory its first World Series championship.

Even though he had over 3,000 hits, Winfield considers that World Series stroke his greatest.

"Absolutely," says Winfield. "That was the culmination of a perfect year. Every year you come out to practice and prepare, you hope you have the right team, you hope nobody gets injured. You hope someone pitches well, but you put it all together.

"We had great team unity, we did it for a club that had never won before. We didn't do it just for a city or state or province, we did it for a whole country. And it was a great bunch of guys. That sticks out in my memory. It was jut a lousy double. That hit, it just made everything right."

The following year, Winfield signed with the Twins. He spent two seasons with this hometown club and collected his 3,000th hit on Sept. 16, 1993 off Dennis Eckersley in Minnesota's 5-4 win over the A's.

"Three thousand hits is not something that, when you look at some guys at the start of their career, you think they may have the possibility of doing it," said Winfield. "Me, I'd probably be a long shot. Six-six, and (240) pounds, big strike zone, no minor-league experience, came out of college as a pitcher with a big swing. So I overcame a lot of things.

"I always set out to get a lot of hits. It was RBIs, home runs and playing good defense. So it was trying to play the whole game. I never knew what the numbers would be."

At the end of August 1994, Winfield was dealt to the Indians, with whom he played 46 games the following season. On Feb. 8, 1996, Winfield announced his retirement after 23 seasons, joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial as the only players in Major League history with 3,000 hits and more than 400 home runs.

Winfield was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, earned votes on 84.47 percent of the ballots cast.

While Winfield has had his uniform number (31) retired by the Padres and will go into the Hall wearing a San Diego cap, his relationship with the Yankees and George Steinbrenner has been repaired. Winfield was on hand on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium to help the defending champs hoist their 2000 World Series banner, and Dave Winfield Day will be held Aug. 18 in New York.

"I am looking forward to that day," said Winfield. "It will publicly affirm that things have been turned around with myself and George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees organization. It's been good for quite a while, but maybe that's what people will see."

Sandy Burgin is the site reporter for padres.com.