Minnesota's best athlete, Dave Winfield
Dave Winfield, an African-American athlete and an administrator and corporate executive, was born on this date in 1951.
David Mark Winfield was born in St. Paul, MN. He and his older brother Stephen were the sons of Arline V. Winfield, whom he has often acknowledged as a beacon of support in his life. Winfield attended St. Paul Central High School and earned a scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where he starred in both basketball and baseball for the Golden Gophers. After hitting and pitching the Gophers to the College World Series in 1973, he was drafted by the San Diego Padres, a baseball team, the Minnesota Vikings, although he did not play college football, the Atlanta Hawks and the Utah Stars of the ABA, both basketball teams. He is one of only two men ever drafted in three different pro sports.
Winfield chose baseball, and gained another distinction when the Padres promoted him directly to the majors. This rare move in modern baseball made him one of a select few players since the origins of the amateur draft in 1965 to make the leap straight to Major League Baseball without playing in the minor leagues first. Winfield proved up to the task, batting .277 in 56 games. For the next several years, he gradually increased his power and hits. He went from good to great in 1979, when he batted .308 with 34 home runs and 118 RBI, then played one more season with the Padres before becoming a free agent. In 1981, Winfield made headlines by signing a 10-year, $23 million contract with the New York Yankees, making him the game's highest-paid player at the time.
Winfield was one of the best players in the game throughout the life of the contract. He helped the Yankees to the 1981 American League pennant, but then had a poor World Series, and the Yankees lost in six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He went on to hit 37 home runs in a spectacular 1982 season and batted .340, second in the league in 1984. Between 1982 and 1988, he drove in 744 runs, won five Gold Glove Awards, and was named to the All-Star Game every season.
On August 4, 1983, Winfield, while warming up during a game at Toronto's Exhibition Stadium, accidentally killed a seagull with a thrown ball. After the game, he was brought to the Ontario Provincial Police station on charges of cruelty to animals and was forced to post a $500 bond before being released. For years afterward, Winfield's appearances in Toronto were greeted with loud choruses of boos, but he later became a fan favorite.
In 1989, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was suspended from running the Yankees for two years because of his connections to a gambler, whom he'd paid to find embarrassing information on Winfield. The year was no better for Winfield, who sat out 1989 with an injury.
The next year, he was traded to the California Angels. Although in his late 30s, Winfield was still a productive hitter. In 1992, he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays as their designated hitter, and batted .290 with 26 homers and 108 RBI. The Blue Jays won the pennant, giving Winfield a shot at redemption. In Game 6 of the Series, he delivered with a game-winning two-run double to win the World Championship for Toronto. He spent 1993 and ‘94 with the hometown Minnesota Twins, achieving 3000 hits. he ended his career with the Cleveland Indians.
Winfield retired in 1995 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001, in his first year of eligibility. He became the first player to choose to go into Cooperstown as a San Diego Padre, a move that reportedly irked Steinbrenner so much he tried to get the Hall of Fame to change its rules that did not allow the inductee to choose his team.
Dave Winfield is the best professional athlete to come from the state of Minnesota. Yet Winfield has another passion that he has supported for 30 years, young people of color in his home city of St. Paul. The “Winfield Student-Athlete” annual awards are given out each June to 12 deserving girls and boys. It recognizes and supports their academic career choices to SOAR after leaving high school. Winfield author has written two books: “Dropping the Ball: Baseball's Troubles and How We Can and Must Solve Them” (2007) and “Making the Play: How to Get the Best of Baseball Back” (2008).
Winfield and his wife Tonya have 2 children, twins David and Arielle. He has an adult daughter, Shanel, by Sandra Renfro.
Swinging for the Fences, Black Baseball in Minnesota,
Ed. By Steven R. Hoffbeck
Footnotes by Kwame McDonald
Minnesota Historical Society Press