By Glen Sparks
The description “all-around athlete” gets bandied about by coaches, broadcasters and writers. Dave Winfield certainly fit that compliment. Four teams in three different sports drafted him out of the University of Minnesota.
The San Diego Padres selected Winfield in the first round—fourth overall—in the 1973 MLB draft. The Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and the Utah Stars of the ABA also drafted him. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings chose him in the 17th round of the NFL draft. Keep in mind that Winfield did not play football in either high school or college.
Winfield, born in St. Paul, Minn., on Oct. 3, 1951, decided to play pro baseball. He chose wisely, as his Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y., can attest. Over a 22-year career (1973-88, 90-95) with the Padres and five other teams, Winfield mashed 465 home runs and drove in 1,833. The 6-foot-6-inch right-handed hitter batted .283 lifetime with a .353 on-base percentage and a .475 slugging percentage (.827 OPS). He retired with 3,110 hits.
In addition, he collected 1,093 extra-base hits, 223 stolen bases and seven Gold Gloves. The graduate of Central High School in St. Paul made 12 All-Star teams and played on a Word Series winner.
Winfield, with that strong frame, looked menacing at the plate, wielding a quick bat that knocked even the best fastball into the seats, or, more menacingly, on a sharp line, rushing toward fielders at eye level.
He ran hard and slid hard. He also threw hard from his spot in right field (168 outfield assists). Once, while warming up before a game at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium in 1983, Winfield hurled a ball that killed a seagull. Police arrested him for animal cruelty. (Prosecutors latter dropped the charges. The birds were warned.)
Over his eight seasons for mostly losing San Diego teams, Winfield enjoyed several solid campaigns. He made four All-Star squads and posted his best numbers in 1979. The Padres finished 84-78 that year, the first time they ever ended with a .500 record. Winfield ripped 34 home runs, drove in a National League-high 118 and batted .308 (.395 on-base percentage and .558 slugging percentage). He also led the league in OPS+ (166) and total bases (333). He finished third in the N.L. MVP balloting.
The New York Yankees signed Winfield to a 10-year, $23 million free-agent contract following the 1980 season. (It was a big deal at the time.) Winfield’s tenure with the Yankees was tumultuous to say the least. On the plus side, he knocked 205 home runs and drove in 818. He set a single-season high in home runs in 1982 with 37 and established career marks in hits (193), runs scored (106), batting average (.340) and on-base percentage (.393) in 1984. Winfield drove in at least 100 runs six times.
On the minus side, the Bronx Bombers didn’t win a World Series with Winfield. In fact, they only went to the postseason one time, in 1981. That year, Winfield batted just .045 (1-for-22) in the World Series against the eventual winner, the Los Angeles Dodgers. He famously asked for the ball when he finally did get a knock. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was not amused. He referenced Reggie Jackson, his star from the 1977-78 World Series teams. Jackson was Mr. October. “Winfield is Mr. May,” the Boss said. Winfield was not amused.
The Steinbrenner-Winfield feud turned nasty. Steinbrenner was accused of hiring an organized crime figure to dig up dirt on Winfield and the player’s charitable foundation. MLB banned the Boss from baseball for life and then lifted the suspension after two years.
Winfield ended up playing nine seasons in the Bronx. (He missed the entire 1989 season due to a back injury.) The Yanks traded him to the California Angels during the 1990 season. He enjoyed a couple of solid years in southern California and hit 28 home runs in 1991.
In 1992, Winfield left for Toronto where he hit .290 and slammed 26 home runs with 108 RBI. He played on the World Series champion Blue Jay squad that year. Once again, Winfield struggled a bit in the playoffs. He hit just .250 in the ALCS against the Oakland A’s, but he did knock two home runs. In the World Series, he hit only .227. The personal numbers didn’t really matter, though. Winning a championship did.
“I’ve been thinking of this,” Winfield said to Sports Illustrated. “If my career had ended (before Toronto), I wouldn’t have been really happy with what baseball had dealt me. I would have had no fulfillment, no sense of equity, no fairness. I feel a whole lot better now about the way things have turned out.”
Winfield played the 1993 and ’94 seasons for his hometown Minnesota Twins and spent his final year in baseball with the Cleveland Indians in 1995.
The writers elected Winfield to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2001 with 84.5 percent of the vote. He and his wife, Tanya, live in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. Winfield has hosted a radio show, served as a spokesman for the United Negro College Fund and other organizations and is in demand as a motivational speaker.
By Glen Sparks
The San Diego Padres nearly left the SoCal surf and sunshine in 1974. They were bound for Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital.
San Diego businessman C. Arnholt Smith sold the team for $12 million to a D.C. ownership group, headed by Joseph Danzansky. National League owners approved the transfer on Dec. 6, 1973.
President Richard Nixon, among others, looked forward to buying some peanuts and Cracker Jack. “You can be sure all of us in the Washington metropolitan area would enthusiastically welcome a National League team,” Nixon wrote in a letter to league president Chub Feeney, according to a recent article in the Washington Post.
Nate Colbert, the first big Padres star, along with Cito Gaston, Randy Jones and a young Dave Winfield were among those players headed to D.C., a city without a baseball team. The Senators left for Arlington, Texas, after the 1971 campaign.
(That version of the Senators played in the American League from 1960-71. The great Ted Williams managed them from 1969 through the first year in Texas. Slugger Frank Howard led the A.L. twice in homers. The earlier version of the Senators played from 1901-60 and then moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul and became the Twins. Walter Johnson was that franchise’s greatest star. He pitched for Washington from 1907-27, won 417 games and posted a career 2.17 ERA.)
The Topps baseball card people certainly thought the Padres were moving. Some cards from the 1974 set featured players wearing the unmistakable brown-and-gold San Diego uniform, but with “Washington” and “Nat’l Lea.” in place of “San Diego” and “Padres.”
As the Post article recounts, Padres pitcher Dave Freisleben even modeled a proposed Washington baseball road uni. The jersey and pants were powder blue, with a red, white and blue waistband and sleeve and “Washington” spelled across the uniform front in red lettering.
It nearly happened. But, did San Diego deserve to lose its team? Major league baseball had arrived there just a few years before this proposed 3,000-mile move. Baseball awarded the city an expansion team to play in the National League West. (Baseball also added the Montreal Expos in the National East, the Kansas City Royals in the American League West and the Seattle Pilots in the American League East.)
The Padres, named in honor of the former Pacific Coast League franchise, landed on the big league scene with quite a thud. The team went 52-110 in its rookie MLB season, followed that with a 63-99 campaign and a 61-101 year in 1971. Colbert provided most the baseball thrills in San Diego during those early, awkward seasons. He slammed a total of 89 homers from ’69-’71, including 38 in 1970.
Fortune didn’t change much in 1972. San Diego bumbled through a 58-95 campaign cut short due to a two-week strike. Colbert enjoyed his biggest year. He ripped 38 homers again and a career-high 111 runs with 15 stolen bases. He never had a bigger day than on Aug. 1 at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta. The St. Louis native (Sumner High School) jacked five homers and drove in 13 runs as the Padres swept the Braves in a doubleheader.
The 1973 version of the Padres ended up 60-102. Colbert hit just 21 home runs; the team’s top four pitchers (starters Bill Grief, Clay Kirby and Steve Arlin and closer Mike Caldwell) went a combined 34-63. Like they did every year, the Padres finished in last place.
They didn’t do buffo box office, either. Team attendance peaked at 644,273 in 1972. (To be fair, fans didn’t flock to baseball games back then like they do today. The New York Mets led the way with 2.1 million fans in ‘72, followed by the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers at close to 1.9 million. The Dodgers were the first team to break the 3 million mark, in 1978.)
Ultimately, the Padres-to-D.C. deal fell through. The city of San Diego threatened to sue Smith for breaking the team’s lease at San Diego Stadium (later, Jack Murphy Stadium and now Qualcomm Stadium, home of the San Diego Chargers.)
Smith, who had some financial problems according to the Post article, sold the team to McDonald’s hamburger tycoon Ray Kroc for $12 million in January 1974.
And, the Padres kept losing. Early on in Kroc’s tenure as owner, he famously grabbed the p.a. microphone and grumbled to the crowd: “I have never seen such stupid ballplaying in all my life.” Fans watched the team go 60-102 in 1974 and, for the sixth straight year, end the season in last place.
The Padres finally made it to the World Series in 1984, losing in five games to the Detroit Tigers. They lost to the New York Yankees in four games in 1998.
As for Washington, D.C., baseball fans, it was a long wait. The Houston Astros were rumored to be moving there in 1995. Baseball skipped over D.C. as an expansion city a couple of times.
Finally, the Montreal Expos, the team that joined San Diego as an N.L. expansion squad in 1969, left Canada for D.C. in 2005. Fans in the nation’s capital can cheer on the Nationals.
By Glen Sparks
Steve Garvey boasted Popeye-like forearms and a compact swing.
No. 6 smacked 272 home runs over a 19-year career. He batted .294 with 1,308 RBI and collected at least 200 hits in six seasons. Garvey drove in 100 or more runs five times and made 10 All-Star teams.
Fans voted him as the starting first baseman on the 1974 All-Star team as a write-in candidate; writers voted him the National League MVP that year as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Tampa native hit .338 in 55 post-season games and smashed a memorable walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 1984 N.L. Championship Series for the San Diego Padres.
Baseball people recall Garvey as an ironman. He once played in 1,207 consecutive games—Sept. 3, 1975, to July 29, 1983. The streak still stands as the fourth longest in baseball history and the longest in N.L. history.
Steve Garvey packs quite a baseball resume. He also won two All-Star game MVPs and four Gold Gloves. But. Garvey’s legacy still seems a bit muddled. Some fans, especially of the Dodgers (1969-82) and Padres (1983-87), figured that one of Garvey’s post-career stops would be Cooperstown, N.Y., for his Hall of Fame induction.
It never happened. Garvey peaked at 42.6 percent of the vote in his third year on the ballot (1995). He is not a Hall of Fame inductee; he is an argument. The argument starts here with Bill James, the esteemed sabermatrician.
In his Baseball Abstract 1982 edition, James rated Garvey as the game’s 12th best first baseman following the 1981 campaign (admittedly, not Garvey’s best). That bugged me. I guess it still does. I grew up in southern California during the era of Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey. The Dodgers played in four World Series from 1974-81. Garvey, more than anyone, was the team’s marquee player. He needed to rated higher than No. 12, at least in my mind.
A guy like Garvey tends to be overrated, James wrote. He played most of his career in a big market, he played on good teams that saw lots of t.v. time, etc. James wrote several paragraphs and then concluded that Garvey is not in fact overrated. Garvey, James concluded, is one of a handful of players who “you absolutely know will give you that good year.”
James rated Garvey the No. 14 first baseman in his 1984 Abstract. That was near the end of Garvey’s career, though. It didn’t bother me that much. I think. (The 1982 Abstract was the first one to get mass distribution. Be interesting to know how James would have rated Garvey during the mid-1970s.)
The 2002 Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranked Garvey as the 31st best first baseman of all-time (just behind Gil Hodges, anotherformer Dodger and another HOF argument). Once again, James offered some mixed messages. Garvey was a “good” player, James wrote, but a “selfish” one. He was an “odd” player, but one who finished the season with 200 hits more often than not. He basically “never” went into a slump and was a “fine” first baseman, but “he couldn’t throw.” Plus, he drove in 100 runs during an era when that meant something, and while playing his home games at a pitcher’s park.
Tom Boswell, the Washington Post columnist, also didn’t care for Garvey, as I recall. Boswell created something called Total Average, a stat everyone loved for a few years and was especially popular during Garvey’s playing days. Basically, TA attempts to determine a player’s overall effectiveness on offense.
The problem with Garvey, the critics concluded, is that he hit into too many double plays, and he didn’t walk very much. The stats due back this up. He led the lead in GIDP twice, in 1979 (25) and 1984 (25 again). Some baseball fans ripped Jim Rice, a Hall of Famer, for the same thing. My thought on this is that both Rice and Garvey hit the ball hard with men on base.
Garvey’s career on-base percentage was just .329. He set his career in walks with 50 in 1976. Six years later, Garvey recorded 625 official at-bats. He walked just 20 times. Of course, that meant he didn’t get on base at a high rate. Garvey never scored 100 runs in a season (topping out at 95 in 1974).
A typical Steve Garvey season was close to 90 runs scored, 35 doubles, 25 homers, 110 RBI, .315 batting average, .350 on-base percentage, .485 slugging percentage.
Paul Haddad makes the best HOF case for Garvey. A Dodger fan, Haddad wrote High Fives, Pennant Drives and Fernandomania. In the book, he offers a bit of background on one of his favorite childhood ballplayers. Born Dec. 22, 1948, Garvey grew up in Florida. His dad drove the Dodger team bus during spring training. Yes, Garvey was a Dodger from way back.
He attended Michigan State on a football scholarship and busted up his shoulder. That’s why he couldn’t throw. He could, however, scoop up just about any ball that a fellow L.A. infielder could throw his way.
The Dodgers drafted Garvey in the first round of the secondary phase in June 1968. He made his major league debut late in the ’69 campaign and played on-and-off for the next few years, usually at third base despite his bad shoulder.
Walt Alston put Garvey over at first base to stay in 1974. By the end of the season, or thereabouts, he was a “future Hall of Famer.” In addition to the aforementioned stats, Haddad points out that Garvey retired with 2,599 base hits, hit .393 in those 10 All-Star games, was named the MVP of the NLCS both in 1978 (as a Dodger) and 1984 (as a Padre). He led the league in fielding percentage five times and once played 193 straight games without making an error.
When he retired, Garvey held the NLCS record for most career home runs (eight) and RBI (21) in 22 games. Interestingly, Garvey is the only player in baseball history to collect six 200-hit seasons, five 100-RBI seasons and four Gold Gloves.
Yes, Haddad brings up Garvey’s low walk totals. In the age of sabermetrics, on-base percentage trumps batting average every time. Haddad also points out that Garvey committed so few errors because of his lack of range and his reluctance to throw the ball due to his bad arm.
Hadded then brings us back to Bill James. James has another formula, the Hall of Fame monitor. He assigns a set number of points for 100 RBI seasons, .300 batting averages, 200-hit seasons, etc. According to the formula, a score of 100 makes a player worthy of HOF induction. Garvey’s score is 130.
I don’t know whether Garvey is a worthy Hall of Famer or not. I’d like to think he is. Under the current line of thinking, he is not. The great things that he did (and he did plenty of great things) don’t seem to make up for what he did not do. For now, he seems relegated to the Hall of Very Good. And, that’s still very good.
By Glen Sparks
Clay Kirby deserved better. Circumstance played some cruel tricks on the right-hander from Washington, D.C. That final one was tragic.
The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Kirby in the third round of the 1966 draft. He only pitched a few years for one of the most storied organizations in baseball history, all of them in the minors. Back then, the Cardinals had pitching prospects like Jerry Reuss and Mike Torrez on the farm. Maybe not surprisingly, St. Louis left Kirby unprotected in the 1968 expansion draft. The San Diego Padres picked him up.
Kirby progressed through the bare San Diego system. He debuted as a 20-year-old on April 11, 1969. The San Francisco Giants clobbered the Padres 8-0. Kirby gave up three earned runs in four innings. The bullpen took a hit, too.
San Diego finished its season 52-110, firmly in the cellar in the National League West. Kirby went 7-20 with a 3.80 ERA (93 ERA+) in 215.2 innings.
Kirby saved his best game, or at least his most famous, for July 21, 1970. He gave up a first-inning run against the New York Mets on a walk, two stolen bases and a fielder’s choice. But, he didn’t give up a hit. He didn’t give up a hit for the next seven innings, either. The problem was, Mets starter Jim McAndrew was tossing a shutout.
In the bottom of the eighth, his team down 1-0, San Diego Manager Preston Gomez sent in Cito Gaston to pinch hit for Kirby. The small crowd at San Diego Stadium booed with the announcement and booed even louder after Gaston struck out.
Gomez said he simply wanted to win the game and that putting in a pinch-hitter made sense. Afterward, Kirby said only that he was “surprised.”
“I don’t care if we were 160 games behind. I’d do the same thing,” Gomez said in a 2010 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune. “The commissioner (Bowie Kuhn) called me and so did several managers, and they all said it was the only way to play the game.”
Looking back on it, Kirby said, “We were 20 or 30 games behind, and we needed something to drum up interest in the ballclub. A no-hitter would have given the franchise a much bigger boost than one more victory.”
Kirby went 10-16 that season with a 4.53 ERA (88 ERA+) for a San Diego that ended up 63-99. He pitched a total of eight seasons in the majors and retired with a 75-104 won-loss mark. He enjoyed his best season in 1971, going 15-13 with a 2.83 ERA (117 ERA+) 231 strikeouts and 13 complete games. The following year, he went 12-14 with a 3.13 ERA (105 ERA+).
San Diego traded Kirby to the Cincinnati Reds in November of 1973. These were the Reds of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench. Kirby was finally catching a break. He responded with a 12-9 mark and a 3.28 ERA (107 ERA+) in 1974 and then went 10-6 in 1975 but with a disappointing 4.72 ERA (77 ERA+). The Reds won the World Series, but Kirby didn’t even get into one game in the postseason.
Cincinnati banished Kirby to Montreal. There, he struggled to go 1-8 with a 5.72 ERA (65 ERA+). The pitcher was one and done as an Expo and retired as a player at age 28 in 1976.
Some time afterward, Kirby took over as acting chairman of the Washington, D.C., area Major League Baseball Players Alumni golf tournament. The event benefited the American Lung Association. “Former players are pretty good guys and know how to get everyone to have a good time,” Kirby said before the start of the tournament one year.
On Oct. 11, 1991, the former pitcher died of a heart attack in Arlington, Va. He was just 43 years old.
Yes, Clayton Laws Kirby Jr. deserved better.