Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #390, Dave Winfield (Article 73)
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
Legendary 23.1 Million Dollar Man.
He was great. He was amazing.
Among many of my Yankees friends, Winfield was their favorite Yankee. It is apparent why.
He was great. He was so athletic. He was bigger than life. He was a big star on the Yankees. Winfield made plays and did things on the baseball field that were simply amazing.
But, he was, for me, at least… a disappointment.
(Maybe I expected too much.)
When the Yankees signed Dave Winfield to that gigantic 10-year contract before the 1981 season, I thought the Yankees were getting the next great amazing superhero player.
He wasn’t quite that.
He was great. But there was something missing. At least for me.
But I shouldn’t have been surprised.
I was 12-years-old when the Yankees signed Dave Winfield. The Yankees were everything to me. They were great They had the great players. I knew that they were getting a great player in Winfield, because, well… they were the Yankees. They were smart. If they said they were getting a superstar, that is just what they must have been getting. I believed in the Yankees entirely.
And Winfield was great. He really was.
But he wasn’t great like what I hoped great would be.
To be honest, I took the Yankees at their word on this one. Winfield wasn’t even really on my fan radar before he came to the Bronx.
When I thought of great National League outfielders, I thought of Dave Parker. I thought of George Foster.
The great players (I was 12, remember) had that All-Star marker on their baseball cards.
Winfield didn’t have it on most of his cards, except in 1980. Greg Luzinski had it. Foster had it. Parker too.
Winfield was in my Kelloggs 3D All-Star cards. He was there!
I figured I just overlooked him.
And Winfield was good. Very good. Great in fact, but he was not “the most amazing thing ever” great as I expected.
Before coming to the Yankees, Dave Winfield was a lifetime .284 batter. He had hit .300 twice.
Before coming to the Yankees, Dave Winfield hit 154 homers in eight seasons. He averaged 19.25 homer a year. He hit over 30 homers in a season once.
Before coming to the Yankees, Dave Winfield had 625 runs batted in. He had driven in over 100 runs in a season once. He averaged 78 RBI’s a year.
The Yankees had just paid a fortune for a .285/20/85 type-player.
Yeah, he was good. Real good. Great. (I guess.)
I was expecting the most amazing player ever.
Winfield was great, but he wasn’t that.
As a Yankee, he did just about exactly as he should have – just about exactly as his stats showed in the years before he arrived in the Bronx.
Maybe that was it, he didn’t rise above the numbers to do amazing things…
In many ways, Dave Winfield was larger than life. He was 6’ 6”. He was tall (a giant) and strong and athletic. He was drafted in every major sport.
In those ways, he was a superman.
Reggie was the superstar of my youth.
Reggie was larger, much larger, than life.
I remember seeing Reggie standing next to Winfield on the field and seeming so… small.
Winfield was such a giant that he made Reggie seem small.
It didn’t see right.
I’ve never forgotten that image.
How could Reggie have been reduced to looking so small?
Dave Winfield played on the Yankees for eight seasons before a back injury that made him miss the 1989 season.
He hit over .300 once.
He hit over 30 homers twice.
He did bat in over 100 runs a bunch of times, six in total.
He was an All-Star in each of those eight years.
He played tremendous defense and had a rifle of an arm.
He was great.
There is no denying that.
But his overall typical season in that period: .291/25/102. Well, that wasn’t what I thought greatness was.
I thought .300 was the mark of a superstar.
30 homers too.
Winfield was great.
He just wasn’t Reggie great.
He wasn’t Mattingly great.
He wasn’t Rickey Henderson great.
There was something, even absent of the lack of championships, that just made me want or expect more.
A signature moment.
An amazing record.
Yes, I loved watching him leap the walls to grab would-be home runs away from opponents.
But, even with that, even with the 1984 batting race (the only time he bettered. 300 as a Yankee), there was something missing, at least for me, as a young fan coming of age.
I often wondered why I wasn’t more overwhelmed by this player who everyone saw greatness in.
My goodness. Winfield played forever.
He had over 3,000 hits.
He won a World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays.
He’s in the Hall-of-Fame.
He was amazing.
Dave Winfield’s final numbers remind me of another outfielder of that generation, one slightly older, but overall not much different, except in one critical way…
23 years, .285/452/1,844… 18x All-Star, 7 Gold Gloves
22 years, .283/465/1,833… 12x All-Star, 7 Gold Gloves
Player A is Carl Yastrzemski.
On paper, they seem to have very similar careers. But, Yaz had three batting titles, an MVP (his Triple Crown year), and an All-Star Game MVP. Yaz carried the Impossible Dream Red Sox. Carl Yastrzemski became a superhero.
Winfield never won an MVP. He never led a team to a World Series. And the only time he got there as a Yankee, it didn’t go so well.
Winfield led the league in an important category (RBI’s) once, in 1979.
Yaz led the league in Games (once), Runs (twice), Hits (twice), and Doubles (three times)… and he also had that Triple Crown year.
Yaz had legendary moments, a legendary season, he replaced a legend and became a legend. Yaz outperformed his total numbers.
Winfield, for all his greatness, never did that.
Lifetime WAR tells the story. It’s Yaz in a landslide (despite such similar total career numbers):
Carl Yastrzemski = 96.5 (33rd All-Time)
Dave Winfield = 64.2 (146th All-Time)
Dave Winfield was great. He was a very very very good Yankee.
When one looks at his numbers, he performed exactly as one would have expected throughout his Yankees career.
He just wasn’t that super-great-fantastic-superhero-player I thought he was supposed to be..
Maybe I just expected more.
(Maybe the Yankees did too…)