For this Winfield was not suspended but placed in the starting five. He played virtually every minute of every game for the rest of that season, and Minnesota went on to win the Big Ten title. The next spring Winfield, who pitched and played the outfield, led the Gophers to the Big Ten baseball championship. One can only imagine what the football coach was thinking.
Not to mention the pros. Here, dug up in St. Paul, was the rarest of finds—a huge, fast, graceful athlete who could do most anything on the court or on the field and handle any interview after the game. The Minnesota Vikings of the NFL, the Utah Stars of the ABA, the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and the Padres of Major League Baseball all drafted him. (The Baltimore Orioles had selected him after his senior year in high school four years earlier.) But it was San Diego that signed him, for $15,000.
So Winfield left the row house on Carroll Avenue and tried life on his own. To the fans, and to the cameras, Winfield looked to be doing just fine: that engaging gap-toothed smile, the firm handshake, a dugout-side manner that was 10 years beyond his age. But inside that well-molded, well-mannered body was a 21-year-old still looking for nurturing, a kid who was secretly hunting for a father. Winfield found one in Los Angeles in the form of a rumpled and retired New York caterer, a two-pack-a-day, fast-talking, 5'4", 220-pound chunk of walking cholesterol named Al Frohman. In a life chock-full of mistakes, this would be Winfield's biggest.
Frohman was introduced to Winfield in the mid-1970s as a businessman willing to lend advice. "You have any questions at all," Frohman told him, "you just call," and Winfield did. An odder pair of friends you couldn't invent. Winfield was tall, sleek and gorgeous. Frohman, who was short and wrinkled, looked like 10 pounds of Malt-O-Meal stuffed into a five-pound bag. Frohman ate badly, blew his stack readily and had had his tact removed surgically. Everybody, or so it seemed, took an instant dislike to him, just to save time. Everybody, that is, except Winfield. "He had this way of making David feel like he was the most important thing in his life," says Winfield's longtime friend Dorothy Bow-en, who says she couldn't stand Frohman. "And that made David feel good."
Frohman even took to spying on Winfield's behalf. He would go up to players he happened to know, guys like Los Angeles Dodger catcher Steve Yeager, and say, "So, this kid Winfield, how do you get a guy like that out?" And guys like Yeager would say something like, "Jam him early and then hit the corner." The next time around, Winfield would leave a few baseballs out in parking lot 3B.
Frohman also served as a financial consultant to Winfield. One time in 1977 Winfield was about to sign a deal with the Padres for about $25,000 less than Frohman had wanted. Frohman, says Winfield, snatched the pen out of his hand, broke it in half, and snarled at San Diego president Buzzie Bavasi, "Pay the two dollars."
Winfield would spend a week at a time in the off-season at Frohman's house in Encino, Calif., where Frohman would counsel him on everything from how to invest to whom to date to when to swing at a slider. When Winfield decided in 1980 to become a free agent, he let Frohman, who had no experience as a sports agent, represent him. When Winfield signed a 10-year, $23 million deal with the Yankees, Frohman took $3.5 million for himself, a tidy 15% chunk.
And Frohman had tricked Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, on the deal. Steinbrenner said he did not understand the cost-of-living escalator that Frohman had built into the contract, so Steinbrenner thought the deal would cost him only $16 million. When he realized he had agreed to pay Winfield an extra $7 million, secretaries hid under desks. To soften things up, Frohman then insulted Steinbrenner, telling the New York Daily News, "If he ever touches a hair of my boy's head...I'll blow the lid. I've got stuff on George that if it ever came out, he would be in big trouble. It's very easy to be friends with George if you have blackmail on him."
Steinbrenner's dislike of Frohman was intensified by the fact that Frohman had talked him into being his partner in a company called Top Hat, Inc., a baseball memorabilia business that went bust. "This guy Frohman thought he was Jewish mafia," says an acquaintance. "He thought New York was still 1950s tough-guy stuff. In reality, he had no contacts. He'd been out of the city for years."
After less than a year of Winfield/Frohman, Steinbrenner was trying to bum rush them both out of the Big Apple. He started trashing Winfield in the papers, especially after Winfield led the Yankees into the 1981 World Series and then went 1 for 22. "He's no Reggie," said Steinbrenner, and he was right. Though Winfield was thrice the gloveman Jackson was and hit for better average. Reggie had adorned Steinbrenner's hand with two World Series rings. Winfield—"Mr. May," Steinbrenner called him—has not made it back to the Series.