December 15, 1980
The San Diego Padres lose free agent outfielder Dave Winfield, as he signs with the New York Yankees for 10 years and $23 million dollars.
Dave Winfield was a great athlete. He was born on the same day that Robby Thompson hit his immortal “shot heard ’round the world” for the Giants. The slugger was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and showed great athleticism and versatility at an early age. He excelled in baseball and basketball and played at the University of Minnesota in both sports.
He was named the 1973 College World Series Most Outstanding Player. In the series, Winfield started two games on the mound and tossed 17 1/3 innings, only allowing nine hits and one earned run while striking out 29 batters. He also hit .467 in the series for the Golden Gophers.
Can you imagine that? Winfield was so talented athletically that he was a successful pitcher, as well as being a natural at the plate. He went 13-2 on the mound his senior year in college and also hit .385 on the year with nine home runs. The San Diego Padres came calling, and they were not alone. Winfield was drafted by four teams in three different professional sports. The Padres drafted him in the first round (fourth overall), the Atlanta Hawks (NBA), Utah Stars (ABA), and Minnesota Vikings (NFL) also drafted the 21-year-old superstar.
Winfield wisely chose baseball, and the Padres rewarded him by signing him and bringing him immediately to the big league level. Winfield spent no time in the minor leagues and made his debut with the team on June 19th of 1973 against the Houston Astros. Winfield went one for four on the day and his major league career took off from there.
His first year, Winfield put up a respectable .277 batting average in 56 games. He also slugged three home runs and drove in 12 runs. The next season, his first full season in the big leagues, Winfield developed even more. He had a batting line of .265/.318/.438 in 145 games while hitting 20 homers and knocking in 75 runs.
The lanky outfielder had a rocket arm and was continually one of the top outfielders in assists. He won two Gold Gloves as a Padres’ outfielder, and was the first San Diego Padres player to be voted into the all-star game (1979). That season, Winfield exploded by hitting .308 on the season with 34 home runs and 118 RBIs. His bat kept the Padres out of the cellar, but the team had little else built around the slugger and his pending free agency was looming.
In his last season as a Padre, Winfield played in all 162 games for the team. He hit .276 with 20 home runs and 87 RBIs while stealing 23 bases. His rare combination of power and speed made the slugger an appealing free agent target in the winter of 1980. The New York Yankees came calling and signed Winfield to an unheard of ten-year contract. The slugger signed for $23 million dollars and was one of the richest players in Major League Baseball. The Padres lost a huge part of their franchise, and there were not going to be any compensatory picks like there are now for losing top-tier free agents. The loss of Winfield was devastating to the franchise.
Winfield ended his eight-year Padres career with a .284/.357/.464 batting line and 154 home runs with 626 RBIs. The four-time Padres all-star also stole 133 bases in his career in San Diego. Winfield went on to the Yankees and was remarkably consistent. He played nine of the ten years of the contract in New York, but was dealt to the California Angels after a continued rift with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
Winfield went on to win a World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 at the age of 40. That season, Winfield played in 143 games, batting .290 with 26 home runs and 108 RBIs. He was mostly used as a DH, but did play 23 games in the outfield. It was an amazing season for Winfield given his age. He topped that by returning home to Minnesota and playing for the Twins at the age of 41 in 1993.
He played in 143 games for the Twins that season, hitting .271 while slugging 21 home runs and knocking in 76 runs. He would play two more seasons and retire with 22 total seasons in the major leagues. He played in 2,973 games and had 3,110 hits. The 12-time all-star and seven-time gold glove winner produced 465 home runs and stole 223 bases in his career. He was elected to the Major League Baseball hall of fame in 2001 and went in wearing a Padres hat. Losing him was horrible for the franchise. Thankfully, Tony Gywnn was only a couple of seasons away from making his debut with the team. Could you imagine a Padres team led by Winfield and Gwynn? Padres history could have been much different. Much different.
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