My first Padres games when I was a kid were really exciting and fun filled, even though the Padres weren’t very good. McNamara’s Band walked through the stands playing songs, The KGB Chicken would do crazy stunts and drink lots of beer offered to him by fans, and there were great giveaways to fans (the type of stuff you would keep, not the stuff they give out today that is blah) and an exciting owner named Ray Kroc. As far as players on the field, one stood tall due to his height and play and that was Dave Winfield.
Dave Winfield was a standout college athlete. He played both baseball and basketball. The San Diego Padres drafted Dave in the first round as a pitcher. He was also drafted by the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA, the Utah Stars of the ABA, and the Minnesota Vikings. Dave is the only player ever drafted in 4 different leagues. He chose to sign with the Padres and the Padres converted him to the outfield where his powerful arm and bat could be used every day. He was an all-star in 1977-1979 for the Padres and quickly became known as one of the best rightfielders in baseball. He also believed in working in the community. He started the Winfield Pavillion in the outfield so families who were in poverty could go to games.
In 1981, he was signed as a free agent by the Yankees to what was the largest contract ever awarded a player; 10 years 23 million dollars. He feuded with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner (a typical thing for almost any Yankees player at the time) and never did what he had hoped to do and that was win a World Series.
He was traded to the California Angels in 1990 and became the comeback player of the year. In 1992 as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, he had a game winning 2 run double and became the 3rd oldest player to get an extra base hit in the World Series. That hit led Toronto to a World Series win and gave the big man the World Series ring he so long desired.
Dave moved on to the Minnesota Twins and got his 3000th career hit on September 16th 1993 against A’s closer Dennis Eckersley. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians on August 31st, 1994 at the trade deadline for a player to be named later. The 1994 baseball strike ended the season with no player being traded for Dave. To compensate the Twins, the Indians took the Twins front office staff to dinner and picked up the check. This made Dave the ONLY player ever traded for dinner. Dave played his final game on October 1st, 1996 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001 as a San Diego Padre. He currently works with the San Diego Padres as their vice president and special Advisor for the Padres. Dave is a great player and a great man.
I had to chance to meet him at an autograph signing and ask Dave about players he liked and respected. He said, “I’m gonna tell you, Derek Jeter is one of them. We’re friends and would you believe I was his role model? Cause he wanted to play for the Yankees and give back to the community and his foundation and so we’re all good friends.” He also talked about Kirby Puckett and how he had a “passion for the game” and “loved to help out in the community.”
To me, this is what makes Dave Winfield a special person and player. He sees the big picture and uses his position to reach out to others in need. From Winfield Pavillion to his work with Negro League ballplayers still alive, he works in the community, and that is where his heart is.