Dave Winfield was in Kathmandu once when somebody stopped him
and asked about George Steinbrenner. Winfield's role as
tormented foil to the New York Yankees' owner--like some
humorless Punch and Judy act--followed him to the ends of the
earth. It also obscured some of the brilliance of his epic
career, which ended last week with his retirement at age 44.
Steinbrenner didn't care for Winfield almost from the moment the
Yankees signed him as a free agent in 1980. Steinbrenner was
steamed because he had underestimated the value of a cost-of-
living clause in Winfield's 10-year contract. For the next
decade Steinbrenner told the world what he thought Winfield was
not: He was not Reggie Jackson; he was not a home run hitter; he
was not a leader; he was not a clutch player. He was, in
Steinbrenner's estimation, Mr. May.
In fact, Winfield was an elite, dynamic player who hit .291 and
averaged 26 home runs and 101 RBIs in his prime, between 1977
and '88. None of his peers hit more ferocious line drives, threw
with more majestic strength or covered the ground between first
and third with so few strides. Only six players have appeared in
more games (2,973), only 10 have driven in more runs (1,833),
only 13 have accumulated more hits (3,110).
Winfield's most joyous moment came in the deciding game of the
'92 World Series, when he drove in the winning run for the
Toronto Blue Jays with an 11th-inning double. Steinbrenner was
banned from baseball at the time for having paid a gambler to
ferret out information about Winfield. At that time, as on the
day of his retirement, Winfield did not once utter
But then Winfield is not the vindictive sort. What he is, above
all else, is a Hall of Famer.
COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA Steinbrenner's smears did not stain Winfield. [Dave Winfield]