10 moments that defined Dave Winfield's career

October 3rd, 2022

Dave Winfield never spent a day in the Minor Leagues. Seems about right. He was a Major presence in every way.

In the batter’s box, Winfield would coil his 6-foot-6 frame, ready to whip his bat through the zone to unleash screaming line drives that tested the resolve of pitchers and infielders. He moved around the bases with a stride akin to Edwin Moses between the hurdles. He closed on fly balls like he was still running the break in basketball and dared runners to test a right arm that made him one of college baseball’s premier pitchers before the outfield became his full-time calling.

Winfield backed up his athletic aesthetics with 22 seasons of Major League excellence, earning his way to 12 All-Star Games and to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a first-ballot inductee in 2001. Here are the top 10 moments and achievements that defined his career:

1. 3,000-hit club
Sept. 16, 1993
Winfield had the five tools, but he rarely was at the very top with any particular one of them. The only season he was a league leader in a major offensive category was 1979, when he topped the National League with 118 RBIs, 333 total bases and a 166 OPS+. So it brought extra meaning when he reached 3,000 career hits, a testament to his longevity and consistency. Better yet, the native of St. Paul, Minn., did it for his hometown Twins at the Metrodome. With the Twins down, 2-0, in the ninth inning against future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, Winfield pulled a slider through the left side of the infield to reach the milestone and drive in Kirby Puckett. Winfield then showed he hadn’t lost his athleticism at age 41 by going first to third on a line-drive single to center field by Brian Harper. Winfield scored the tying run on a single to left by Scott Stahoviak to send the game into extra innings. Minnesota won, 5-4, in 13.

2. World Series champion
Oct. 24, 1992
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner derided Winfield as “Mr. May” after the outfielder went 1-for-22 in New York’s 1981 World Series loss to the Dodgers. Winfield had to wait another 11 years for a crack at a title, and he made good with the Blue Jays. Primarily a designated hitter for the first time in 1992, Winfield notched the last of his six Silver Slugger Awards and earned a top-five American League MVP finish after posting 26 home runs, 108 RBIs and an .867 OPS. He wasn’t just along for the ride in October, either. Winfield drove in the deciding run in Toronto’s Game 6 clincher at Atlanta. With the game tied, 2-2, in the 11th inning, Winfield grounded a double down the left-field line off Charlie Leibrandt to bring home two runners. The Braves scored in the bottom of the frame, but Winfield’s big hit held up for a 4-3 victory and his only World Series ring.

3. The Big Apple beckons
Dec. 15, 1980
During his eight seasons in San Diego, Winfield developed into a perennial All-Star, but he craved a bigger stage. The Padres were still feeling their expansion growing pains and had only one winning season with Winfield. When he became a free agent for the first time, Winfield headed to the brightest spotlight he could find and joined the New York Yankees on a 10-year, $23 million contract, the richest in MLB history at the time. Winfield averaged 23 homers, 91 RBIs and a 134 OPS+ in his nine seasons in New York, but his tenure was marked by acrimony with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, astronomical expectations and criticism about that 1981 World Series performance. Winfield did not complete the 10 years on that historic contract -- he was traded to the Angels for pitcher Mike Witt in May 1990.

4. Call to Cooperstown
Aug. 5, 2001
After leaving the Yankees, Winfield remained a productive hitter well into his 40s, but he became a baseball vagabond, making quick stops with the Angels, Blue Jays, Twins and, finally, Cleveland. It had long been clear where his final baseball destination would be: Cooperstown. Winfield was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame after receiving 84.5% of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote in 2001. Winfield fashioned himself as a businessman as much as a ballplayer, and he had an appropriate quip for his induction speech: “I didn’t know what it was going to take to get here,” Winfield said, “but had I known I was going to be here, I sure would have saved all my rookie baseball cards.”

5. An abundance of options
Winfield wasn’t just a two-way star at the University of Minnesota -- he was a two-sport star. He averaged nine points a game in two seasons playing forward for the Golden Gophers men’s basketball squad and played in the 1972 NCAA tournament. In baseball, he dominated as a pitcher and as a hitter and had scouts split about where he should play as a professional. Winfield was named Most Outstanding Pitcher in the 1973 College World Series after posting a 1.56 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings and going 7-for-15 as a hitter. Winfield was drafted by four teams across three sports: the Padres, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, the ABA’s Utah Stars and the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, who took a flier even though Winfield did not play college football. The Padres saw Winfield’s future as an outfielder and put him on the Major League roster without any Minor League seasoning. He was up to the challenge, batting .277 in 56 games as a rookie.

6. Aged to perfection
April 13, 1991
Winfield waited until age 39 to have the game of his career. Like his milestone 3,000th hit, it came in his home state at the Metrodome. Winfield was in the visitor’s uniform this time when he enjoyed the only three-homer game of his career and set an Angels franchise record with 15 total bases. (He broke the mark of 14 held by Freddie Patek, a 5-foot-5 shortstop who stood 13 inches shorter than Winfield.) Starting in right field and batting cleanup, Winfield was 5-for-6 with a double, six RBIs and four runs scored in a 15-9 victory over the Twins. He homered in each of his first three at-bats, two against starter Mark Guthrie and once against Larry Casian.

7. Good as Gold
1979-80, ’82-85, ’87
Winfield’s contemporaries in right field included the likes of Dave Parker, Dwight Evans and Ellis Valentine -- defensive wizards with powerful throwing arms. So it was no small feat that he was recognized with seven Gold Glove Awards. Even more impressive, he was picked from a pool that included all outfielders, rather than the position-by-position system in use today. (Center fielders had a decided advantage in the old practice.) Winfield won two Gold Gloves with the Padres, five with the Yankees. He snagged two as a primary left fielder (1982-83) and five as a right fielder.

8, Making a mark
July 10-11, 1978
Winfield had a nice moment playing in front of the home fans when San Diego hosted the All-Star Game for the first time. What he did the day before the game helped transform the Midsummer Classic. For years, Winfield had treated young fans in need to free tickets to Padres games. With the sport’s top stars in town, Winfield organized a free meet-and-greet autograph session at a San Diego hotel. He personally recruited several players to volunteer their time. Concurrently, Padres executive Elten Schiller opened San Diego Stadium to the public on the Monday workout day -- also free. Winfield became an impromptu publicist and encouraged kids to come to the stadium after the autograph session. More than 30,000 San Diegans turned out to watch batting practice, sewing the seeds for the All-Star festival that now includes the Home Run Derby, Futures Game and celebrity softball. Winfield was recognized for his career-long community efforts with the Roberto Clemente Award in 1994.

9. The 400 club
Aug. 14, 1991
Winfield might have reached the 500-home run milestone if not for spending the bulk of his career playing home games at cavernous San Diego Stadium and the old Yankee Stadium, which depressed power numbers for right-handed hitters. Plus, there’s that lost season in 1989. But 400 homers certainly is worth toasting. Winfield marked that milestone at -- where else? -- the Metrodome with a drive to left field off the Twins’ David West in the fourth inning of the Angels’ 7-4 victory. Winfield finished with 465 career homers.

10. Legging out the cycle
June 24, 1991
Not content to mark age 39 with his only three-homer game, Winfield also collected the only cycle of his career. In the Angels’ 9-4 victory at Kansas City, Winfield was 5-for-5 with a first-inning single, a third-inning double, a fifth-inning homer and a sixth-inning single. He led off the eighth still needing a triple to complete the cycle. Winfield launched a drive over the head of center fielder Brian McRae, who attempted an over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track but stumbled after hitting the wall. Winfield motored into third base with a wide smile and one more feat checked off his list.