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Original Issue

This Old Man, He Plays Well

In the locker-room bedlam that followed the final out of the World Series, the Toronto Blue Jays' Dave Winfield took several showers of Bud Light and champagne, yelling, "Give it to me! I deserve it!" Moments later he was asked by a man with a microphone, "Is this your first World Series ring?" With his usual politeness, Winfield replied, "Yes, the first." Yet one couldn't help but wonder if he wasn't saying to himself, "How could you not know? How could anyone not know how long I've waited, how much I've gone through to finally get my ring?"

Two hours later, Winfield was cornered once again by questioners. Before he spoke he dropped slowly to one knee and pressed his right hand to his forehead. Was he praying? Or was he trying real hard to remember George Steinbrenner's phone number so he could call him up and say, "Not bad for Mr. May, eh pal?"

But it was without bitterness that Winfield then said, "When I played for the Yankees, a lot of disparaging things were said about me and done to me. Things that hurt my career, hurt my life. It took a couple years to regain some of the things that were taken away. But now, tonight, everything is so good for me. Finally."

There's no need to recount Win-field's tempestuous 10 years (1981 to '90) with the New York Yankees except to say that Steinbrenner signed him, spied on him, sued him and savaged him, including labeling him Mr. May after Winfield's 1-for-22 flop in the '81 World Series. Eleven years later, Winfield hit the two-out, two-run double in the 11th inning that gave Canada its first World Series championship and gave Winfield peace of mind for the first time in his 21-year career. Winfield called it "one stinkin' little hit," his first extra-base hit in 44 career at bats in Series play. That one stinkin' little hit, a two-hopper past third base, gave the Blue Jays a 4-2 lead and silenced Winfield's critics—including the Washington Post columnist who wrote this year that Winfield "may be the first player in baseball history to get 3,000 hits, none of them important." That one stinkin' little hit guaranteed his induction into the Hall of Fame, if indeed, after his remarkable season, that was still in question.

Winfield has Cooperstown stats: a .285 average, 432 homers (20th all-time) and 1,710 RBIs (15th alltime). All that was missing from his rèsumè was a World Series championship.

"He's a slam-dunk Hall of Famer," said Toronto pitcher Jack Morris. "I don't believe he had to do something here [in this Series] to get in. If I win 300 games in my career, you mean you're going to keep me out of the Flail of Fame because I sucked in the 1992 World Series? Forget what he needed to do, this is what he wanted to do. It was in his heart to do this."

Winfield, at 41, is perhaps the best old player in major league history. He has been playing longer than the Blue Jay franchise: When Toronto made its major league debut in 1977, Winfield had 3½ years of service and 51 homers. This year he became the oldest man ever to drive in 100 or more runs. He is the oldest every-day player to play for a World Series champion. "This isn't solely because of genetics that I'm still playing," Winfield said. "I've worked hard."

Winfield's brother Steve, 42, was in the Toronto clubhouse on Saturday night, wearing a BIG DAVE WINFIELD T-shirt. "For Dave," said Steve, "there couldn't be a better moment than this. Never. For all the crap he's taken in his career, and then to get to the top of the mountain like this. We've talked about him someday being on a team that wins the World Series. We talked about how Ernie Banks never played for one. This is so special for Dave. Even if he wins two or three more, nothing will compare to this."

As the clubhouse crowd thinned, Dave Winfield, still kneeling, sighed and said, "Man, I'm tired. Real tired. I'm taking a long rest." A long and well-deserved rest.



Did Winfield's hit hasten his trip to the Hall? Morris (left) says he was already in.