Winfield is a 12-time MLB All-Star, a seven-time Gold Glove Award winner, and a six-time Silver Slugger Award winner. The Padres retired No. 31, Winfield's uniform number, in his honor. He also wore No. 31 while playing for the Yankees and Indians and wore No. 32 with the Angels, Blue Jays and Twins. In 2004, ESPN named him the third-best all-around athlete of all time in any sport. He is a member of both the Baseball Hall of Fame and the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
Winfield was born the same day Bobby Thomson hit his pennant-winning home run for the New York Giants, known as "the shot heard 'round the world". He grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. His parents divorced when he was three years old, leaving him and his older brother Stephen to be raised by their mother, Arline, and a large extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins.
The Winfield brothers honed their athletic skills in St. Paul's Oxford playground, where coach Bill Peterson was one of the first to take the young Winfield under his wing. Winfield did not become a formidable 6'6" athlete until his senior year of high school.
He earned a full baseball scholarship to the University of Minnesota in 1969, where he starred in baseball and basketball for the Golden Gophers. His college baseball coach was former MLB player Dick Siebert. His basketball coach was Bill Musselman, who was later a head coach in the American Basketball Association and National Basketball Association and who later referred to Winfield as the best rebounder he ever coached. Winfield's 1972 Minnesota team won a Big Ten basketball championship, the school's first in 53 years. During the 1972 season, he also was involved in a brawl when Minnesota played Ohio State.
Winfield also played for the Alaska Goldpanners for two seasons (1971–72) and was the MVP in 1972. In 1973, he was named All-American and voted MVP of the College World Series—as a pitcher. Following college, Winfield was drafted by four teams in three different sports. The San Diego Padres selected him as a pitcher with the fourth overall pick in the MLB draft and both the Atlanta Hawks (NBA) and the Utah Stars (ABA) drafted him. Though he never played college football, the Minnesota Vikings selected Winfield in the 17th round of the NFL draft. He is one of five players ever to be drafted by three professional sports (the others being George Carter, Noel Jenke, Mickey McCarty and Dave Logan), and one of three athletes along with Carter and McCarty to be drafted by four leagues.
Winfield chose baseball, and gained another distinction when the San Diego Padres signed in him the first round draft and promoted him directly to the major leagues. Although he was a pitcher, the Padres wanted his powerful bat in the lineup and put him in right field, where he could still use his "rifle arm." He proved up to the task, batting .277 in 56 games his first season.
Over the next several years, he developed into an All-Star player in San Diego, gradually increasing his power and hits totals. In 1977, he appeared in his first All-Star game at New York's Yankee Stadium and he burst into national stardom. In 1978, he was named Padres team captain and in 1979, he batted .308 with 34 home runs and 118 RBI. He played one more season with the Padres before becoming a free agent.
In 1981, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner made Winfield the game's highest-paid player by signing him to a ten-year, $23 million contract. Steinbrenner mistakenly thought he was signing Winfield for $16 million, a misunderstanding that led to an infamous public feud.
Winfield was among the highest rated players in the game throughout his Yankee contract. He was a key factor in leading the Yankees to the 1981 American League pennant, but then had a sub-par World Series, which the Yankees lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games. After getting his only series hit, Winfield jokingly asked for the ball. Steinbrenner did not find this humorous, and criticized Winfield at the end of the series. Many commentators have since noted that Winfield's post-season doldrums were somewhat overstated when compared to those of his teammates. In the exciting 1981 American League Division Series, Winfield batted .350 with two doubles and a triple and made some important defensive plays helping the Yankees to victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Four of his seven hits came in games won by the Yankees. The team's offense for the most part was inconsistent, and they were also set back by key injuries to Reggie Jackson and Graig Nettles.
Winfield did not let Steinbrenner's antics affect his play. He hit 37 home runs in a spectacular 1982 season. On August 4, 1983, Winfield killed a seagull by throwing a ball while warming up before the fifth inning of a game at Toronto's Exhibition Stadium. Fans responded by hurling obscenities and improvised missiles. After the game, he was brought to the Ontario Provincial Police station and charged with cruelty to animals. He was released after posting a $500 bond. Yankee manager Billy Martin quipped, "It's the first time he's hit the cutoff man all season." Charges were dropped the following day. In the offseason, Winfield returned to Toronto and donated two paintings for an Easter Seals auction, which raised over $60,000. For years afterward, Winfield's appearances in Toronto were greeted by fans standing and flapping their arms—until he became a fan favorite when he joined the Blue Jays in 1992.
From 1981 through 1984, Winfield was the most effective run producer in MLB. In 1984, he and teammate Don Mattingly were in a memorable race for the batting title in which Mattingly won out by .003 points on the last day of the season; Winfield finished with a .340 average. In the last few weeks of the race, it became obvious to most observers that the fans were partial to Mattingly. Winfield took this in stride noting that a similar thing happened in 1961 when Mantle and Maris competed for the single season home run record.
In 1985, Steinbrenner derided Winfield by saying to New York Times writer Murray Chass, "Where is Reggie Jackson? We need a Mr. October or a Mr. September. Winfield is Mr. May.". This criticism has become somewhat of an anachronism as many cite the statement to Steinbrenner after the 1981 World Series. Winfield was struggling while the Yankees eventually lost a pennant to Toronto on the second to last day of the season. The Mr. May sobriquet lived with Winfield until he won the 1992 World Series with Toronto.
Throughout the late '80s, Steinbrenner regularly leaked derogatory and fictitious stories about Winfield to the press. He also forced Yankee managers to move him down in the batting order and bench him. Steinbrenner frequently tried to trade him, but Winfield's status as a 10-and-5 player (10 years in the majors, five years with a single team) meant he could not be traded without his consent. Winfield continued to put up excellent numbers with the Yankees, driving in 744 runs between 1982 and 1988, and was selected to play in the All-Star Game every season. Winfield won five (of his seven) Gold Glove Awards for his stellar outfield play as a Yankee.
In 1989, Winfield missed the entire season due to a back injury. In 1990, the feud between Steinbrenner and Winfield had escalated to the point where Steinbrenner was "banned for life" from running the Yankees because of his connections to Howie Spira, a known gambler with Mafia connections, whom he had paid $40,000 for embarrassing information on Winfield. However, the suspension lasted only two years. Winfield was traded mid-season to the California Angels.
Winfield was traded for Mike Witt during the 1990 season and won the Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year Award. He hit for the cycle in June 1991 against the Kansas City Royals, hitting 5 for 5 in the game. He also recorded his 400th home run against the Twins in his hometown.
Winfield was still a productive hitter after his 40th birthday. On December 19, 1991, he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays as their designated hitter, and also made "Winfieldian" plays when he periodically took his familiar position in right field. He batted .290 with 26 home runs and 108 RBI during the 1992 season.
Winfield proved to be a lightning rod for the Blue Jays, providing leadership and experience as well as his potent bat. Winfield was a fan favorite and also demanded fan participation. In August 1992 he made an impassioned plea to the reserved fans during an interview for more crowd noise. The phrase "Winfield Wants Noise" became a popular slogan for the rest of the season, appearing on T-shirts, dolls, buttons, and signs.
The Blue Jays won the pennant, giving Winfield a chance at redemption for his previous post-season futility. In Game 6 of the World Series, he became "Mr. Jay" as he delivered the game-winning two-run double in the 11th inning off Atlanta's Charlie Leibrandt to win the World Series Championship for Toronto. At 41 years of age, Winfield became the third-oldest player to hit an extra base hit in the World Series, trailing only Pete Rose and Enos Slaughter.
After the 1992 season, Winfield was granted free agency and signed with his hometown Minnesota Twins, where he continued to perform at a high level of play despite advancing age. He batted .271 with 21 home runs, appearing in 143 games for the 1993 Twins, mostly as their designated hitter. On September 16, 1993, at age 41, he collected his 3,000th career hit with a single off Oakland Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley.
During the 1994 baseball strike, which began on August 12, Winfield was traded to the Cleveland Indians at the trade waiver deadline on August 31 for a player to be named later. The 1994 season had been halted two weeks earlier (it was eventually canceled a month later on September 14), so Winfield did not get to play for the Indians that year and no player was ever named in exchange. To settle the trade, Cleveland and Minnesota executives went to dinner, with the Indians picking up the tab. This makes Winfield the only player in major league history to be "traded" for a dinner (though official sources list the transaction as Winfield having been sold by the Minnesota Twins to the Cleveland Indians).
Winfield, who was now the oldest MLB player, was again granted free agency in October but re-signed with the Indians as spring training began in April 1995. A rotator cuff injury kept him on the disabled list for most of the season; thus he played in only 46 games and hit .191 for Cleveland's first pennant winner in 41 years. He did not participate in the Indians' postseason.
Winfield retired in 1996 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001, in his first year of eligibility. He was the first San Diego Padre player inducted into Cooperstown—a move that reportedly irked Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner. Nonetheless, when he was inducted Winfield sounded a conciliatory note toward Steinbrenner:
In 1998, Winfield was inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into the Breitbard Hall of Fame honoring San Diego's finest athletes both on and off the playing surface.
In 1999, Winfield ranked number 94 on The Sporting News list of Baseball's Greatest Players, and was a nominee for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
He was inducted into the San Diego Padres Hall of Fame in 2000. The Padres retired Winfield's No. 31 on April 14, 2001.
On July 4, 2006, Winfield was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in its inaugural class.
In 2010, Winfield was voted All-Time Left Fielder in the National Sports Review poll and selected as one of 28 members of the NCAA Men's College World Series Legends Team.
The Big Ten Network named Winfield its #15 ranked Big Ten Conference "Icon" in 2010.
The 2016 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, played at Petco Park in San Diego, is expected to be dedicated to Winfield. He had represented the Padres at the first All-Star Game to be played in San Diego.
In 1996, Winfield joined the new Major League Baseball on Fox program as studio analyst for their Saturday MLB coverage.
From 2001 to 2013, Winfield served as executive vice president/senior advisor of the San Diego Padres.
In 2006, Winfield teamed up with conductor Bob Thompson to create The Baseball Music Project, a series of concerts that celebrate the history of baseball, with Winfield serving as host and narrator.
In 2008, Winfield participated in both the final Old Timer's Day ceremony and Final game ceremony at Yankee Stadium.
On June 5, 2008, Major League Baseball held a special draft of the surviving Negro League players to acknowledge and rectify their exclusion from the major leagues on the basis of race. The idea of the special draft was conceived by Winfield. Each major league team drafted one player from the Negro Leagues.
On March 31, 2009, Winfield joined ESPN as an analyst on their Baseball Tonight program.
On December 5, 2013, Winfield was named special assistant to Executive Director Tony Clark at the Major League Baseball Players Association.
On July 14, 2014, Winfield returned to Minnesota to throw out the first pitch at the 2014 Home Run Derby along with fellow St. Paul natives Joe Mauer, Paul Molitor, and Jack Morris.
In March 2016, Winfield helped represent Major League Baseball in Cuba during President Obama's trip to the island in an attempt to help normalize relations. On March 21 he gave a press conference with Joe Torre, Derek Jeter, and Luis Tiant in Havana and attended the baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuba National Team the next day.
Winfield resides in California with his wife Tonya, and three children, Shanel and twins David II and Arielle.
Well known for his philanthropic work, Winfield began giving back to the communities in which he played from the beginning of his professional athletic career. In 1973, his first year with the Padres, he began buying blocks of tickets to Padres games for families who couldn't afford to go to games, in a program known as "pavilions." Winfield then added health clinics to the equation, by partnering with San Diego's Scripps Clinic who had a mobile clinic which was brought into the stadium parking lot. When Winfield joined the Toronto Blue Jays, he learned teammate David Wells was one of the "Winfield kids" who attended Padres games.
In his hometown of St. Paul, he began a scholarship program (which continues to this day). In 1977, he organized his efforts into an official 501(c)(3) charitable organization, known as the David M. Winfield Foundation for Underprivileged Youth, the first active athlete to do so.
As his salary increased, Foundation programs expanded to include holiday dinner giveaways and national scholarships. In 1978, San Diego hosted the All-Star game, and Winfield bought his usual block of pavilion tickets. Winfield then went on a local radio station and inadvertently invited "all the kids of San Diego" to attend. To accommodate the unexpected crowd, the Foundation brought the kids into batting practice. The All-Star open-practice has since been adopted by Major League Baseball and continues to this day.
When Winfield joined the New York Yankees, he set aside $3 million of his contract for the Winfield Foundation. He funded The Dave Winfield Nutrition Center at Hackensack University Medical Center near his Teaneck, New Jersey home. The Foundation also partnered with Merck Pharmaceuticals and created an internationally acclaimed bilingual substance abuse prevention program called "Turn it Around".
The Winfield Foundation also became a bone of contention in Steinbrenner's public feud with Winfield. Steinbrenner alleged that the foundation was mishandling funds and often held back payments to the organization, which resulted in long, costly court battles. It also created the appearance that Steinbrenner was contributing to the foundation, when in actuality, Steinbrenner was holding back a portion of Winfield's salary. Ultimately, the foundation received all of its funding and the alleged improprieties proved unfounded.
Winfield's philanthropic endeavors had as much influence on many of MLB's players as his on-field play. Yankee Derek Jeter, who grew up idolizing Winfield for both his athleticism and humanitarianism, credits Winfield as the inspiration for his own Turn 2 Foundation. In turn, Winfield continues to help raise funds and awareness for Jeter's Foundation and for many other groups and causes throughout the country.Now it's on to May, and you know about me and May. —after setting an American League record for RBI in April 1988.
I am truly sorry that a fowl of Canada is no longer with us. —to the press after being released following the 1983 bird-killing incident.
These days baseball is different. You come to spring training, you get your legs ready, your arms loose, your agents ready, your lawyer lined up.—at spring training, 1988, in response to his on-going feud with Steinbrenner.
I have no problem with Bruce Springsteen.—when asked by the New York Daily News why he has such a problematic relationship with "the Boss" (a nickname shared by both Springsteen and Steinbrenner).
"Three-ninety-nine sounds like something you'd purchase at a discount store. Four hundred sounds so much better.—upon hitting his 400th home run after 10 days mired at 399.