More than Mr. May

Dave Winfield was underappreciated 5-tool talent

2001 Fleer Greats of the Game #12

A continuing series of occasional meditations inspired by Joe Posnanski’s book, “The Baseball 100.”

2001 Fleer Greats of the Game

#12 Dave Winfield

OF, New York Yankees

ave Winfield stood 6-feet, 6-inches and weighed 245 pounds. It was unfair that he was also so agile and fast and strong. I wrote earlier that Roberto Clemente belongs on a 20th Century Mount Rushmore of five-tool outfielders (with Griffey, Bonds, and Mays). And he certainly does. But maybe there should be a fifth bust for Winfield.

At the University of Minnesota, Dave was a star pitcher and basketball player, his card back informs us, one of the best athletes ever to play baseball. Six-six, 245. Could you imagine him as a linebacker? Or a quarterback? Or pitcher?! Like Clemente, Winfield won seven Gold Gloves, was selected to 12 straight All-Star Games, and is a member of the 3,000-hit club (3,111). But unlike Roberto, Dave added an element of power: 465 home runs, which, as I type this, ranks 36th on the all-time list. And speed. Winfield slugged lots of doubles (540) as you might expect, but he also roped 88 triples. For comparison, Ken Griffey Jr., playing the same number of seasons, hit 38 triples.

Had Winfield’s career unfolded a little differently — e.g., if the Yankees had had decent pitching! — he might have been one of the most decorated players in team history. In the mid-80s, the Yanks had a powerhouse lineup that included peak Don Mattingly, Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey Sr., Willie Randolph, and Winfield. It had Billy Martin at the helm. On the mound there was Ron Guidry, and in the bullpen Dave Righetti. And nothing else.

Ed Whitson was supposed to be this ace pitcher they got in a trade. He flopped. Even worse was Steve Trout, whom the Yanks acquired in a mid-season deal that prompted owner George Steinbrenner to tell the team, “I just got you the pennant.” Nope! Trout was a frozen deer in New York headlights, and the Yankees consistently fell just short (there were no Wild Card Playoffs then).

In 1985, the Yanks finished second in team OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in the American League. They won 97 games and Winfield hit .275 with 26 homers and 114 RBIs. But the starting pitchers had a combined ERA of 4.00 (Whitson posted a 4.88), and the team finished second in the A.L. East.

In ’86 they led the league in OPS and Winfield slashed .262/24/104. But the team ERA was 4.11, “led” by Whitson at 7.54, and the Yanks finished second in the East again.

They would not return to the World Series until 1996.

So it’s unfortunate that Winfield will be remembered by some fans only as “Mr. May,” a derogatory tag from a frustrated Steinbrenner contrasting Dave to Reggie Jackson, whose clutch play had earned him the moniker “Mr. October.” I’m sure stats show Winfield had better springs than falls, but as a passionate boyhood Yankee fan I’ll take to my grave the conviction pitching failed my pinstriped heroes, not the offense. I will never own an Ed Whitson or a Steve Trout card.

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