Straight to the Majors: Dave Winfield
Over the extended weekend of the Field of Dream series the Yankees played against Garrett Crotchet, a relief pitcher for the Chicago White Sox who throws hard, pitches well, and has yet to ever play a game in the minor leagues. After getting drafted 15th Overall in the 2020 MLB Draft, he signed, and went straight to the majors.
This got me wondering about what other players were who went straight to the MLB, of which there have been 22 since the MLB Draft was implemented in 1965. Over the next few weeks there are 11 players who have played for the Yankees while making their professional debut at the MLB level.
Today’s player is: Dave Winfield
Road to the Show:
Dave Winfield was blessed to be an athlete, and while becoming an athlete he excelled in every sport he played. Standing 6’6” at the end of high school, Winfield was given a full scholarship to the University of Minnesota to play baseball. It also helps that during his offseason, Winfield also was a star on the Golden Gopher’s basketball team- a team which he helped deliver a Big Ten championship to in 1972. However, Winfield truly shined on the baseball diamond.
For two summers Winfield played amateur ball with the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks while being the team MVP in 1972. Though this would be just a small honor compared to his being named an All-American and MVP of the College World Series in 1973, doing so as a pitcher and not the notable outfielder as we remember him today.
Following college, Winfield shares an honor with only 6 other athletes (George Carter, Jo Jo White, Noel Jenke, Mickey McCarty and Dave Logan) to be drafted to play in 3 different professional sports. He was selected by both the Atlanta Hawks and Utah Stars for basketball (in the NBA and ABA respectively), selected 4th Overall in the MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres, and without even playing football for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Winfield was also drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. Ultimately, Winfield would choose baseball.
As a member of the San Diego Padres, immediately after signing on with the team he was promoted up to the major leagues. And, if that wasn’t enough to handle they also switched his position to becoming an outfielder. Now, Winfield did not immediately shine in the MLB, but slowly harnessed his power and became an annual All-Star with the Padres starting in his 5th professional season (all while never playing in the minor leagues). He also became a very reliable outfielder, winning two gold gloves and was named the Padres captain in 1979; a title he held for 2 years before becoming a free agent and signing on to play with the…
Road to the Yankees:
Dave Winfield’s Yankee career started with the largest MLB contract even given out (helped by a misunderstanding by George Steinbrenner about a “cost-of-living” clause) at 10-Years/$23 Million and ended with 8 All-Star appearances, 5 Silver Sluggers, 5 Gold Gloves, and 4 Top-10 AL MVP finishes (6 total within the Top-12) between 1981 and 1988.
To say he was a superstar and always in the spotlight would be an understatement, though the spotlight was also brought on to him by George Steinbrenner which caused lots of tension. While Winfield helped the Yankees to the 1981 World Series, a poor performance that helped result in the loss of the World Series to the Dodgers itself sparked the ire of Steinbrenner when Winfield asked for the ball after collecting his first (and only hit of the 6-game series) in Game 5.
Though, even through controversy and ire from the team owner, Winfield continued to do what he did best: play baseball at a high level, consistently. Over 8 seasons (1981-1988), Winfield hit to a .291/.357/.497 triple-slash (with a .854 OPS/135 OPS+) combined with 203 Home Runs, 812 RBI’s, and 1287 hits over 1152 games. Yes, he killed a seagull during a warm-up in Toronto in 1983, yes he was dubbed “Mr. May” (a moniker he wouldn’t shake until after his Yankee career), and yes he had another feud with Steinbrenner in 1990 when Steinbrenner tried to trade him to the Angels. But, during his Yankee career he was a constant force and carried the team on his back.
Hence, it shouldn’t surprise you he missed the whole 1989 season with a back injury before those final antics began.
Winfield was a great Yankee and one of the best during a 1980’s run where there was success but World Series trophies lacked. He came in with a bang and left with a bang, and will always be a well-remembered Yankee by the fans.
After being traded away to the Angles in the early part of 1990, Winfield spent that and the next year (1991) out in California. During this time he hit for the cycle and hit his 400th career home run, though nothing else spectacular really happened during his time with the Angles.
In 1992, Winfield would pay with the Toronto Blue Jays and was able to shake the “Mr. May” moniker that had followed him from a decade earlier as he helped the Blue Jays win the World Series as a solid designated hitter (.290 AVG, 26 HR, 108 RBI’s) and as a veteran in a leadership position for the team.
Winfield then spent 1993 and 1994 with the Minnesota Twins during which he collected his 3,000th career hit. His other notable thing happening during his Twins career came right before the 1994 strike, during which Winfield was essentially traded for a dinner at the trade deadline after the two teams were unable to come to terms on a PTBNL and instead executives from both teams went to dinner where the Indians picked up the tab.
Winfield would retire in 1996 after a 1995 season where he was limited to just 46 games while dealing with a rotator cuff injury.
In 2000, Winfield was elected into the San Diego Padres Hall of Fame. The following year, Winfield got his number 31 retired by the team the same year he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame (as the first Padre, and not a Yankee) with 84.5% of the vote.