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David is Goliath. The big guy stands 6'6", bats righthanded, pulls the ball, makes about $1.5 million a year, strides as if he owned the place and spits out half of Kansas's sunflower seed crop. In the other corner is The Kid. He's 5'11", only 23, lefty, a spray hitter earning $130,000 this year, one of the boys and up to snuff.
Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly are the unlikely opponents in the American League batting race, as well as teammates on the New York Yankees. "They're 1 and 1A," says the Yankee batting coach, Lou Piniella. "It doesn't matter which stablemate wins, so long as they flash that number on the tote board after it's over."
What a race they're in! In seven games last week, Sunday to Sunday, the lead changed hands 11 times, sometimes during games. At week's end Winfield was hitting .351812 and Mattingly .350806. Their nearest pursuer, Eddie Murray of Baltimore, was batting a mundane .322. The feats of 1 and 1A require the special perspective of their manager, Yogi Berra. "Three-fifty," mused Berra one day last week. "That's a lot of hits."
Those are hard .350s, too. Mattingly has 20 home runs and 89 RBIs, and following games last weekend against California, in which he singled, doubled and homered twice, he led the league in slugging percentage at .548. Winfield, sixth in slugging, has 16 homers and 81 RBIs. Together, they've helped turn the Yankee season around, pulling the team up from last on May 20 to fourth in the AL East.
With 27 games left, Mattingly, who has 174 hits, and Winfield, who has 165, could become the first Yankees since Bobby Richardson in 1962 to have 200 hits, and either one could become only the sixth Yankee ever to win a batting title. To the accompaniment of harps, the five previous winners are Babe Ruth... Lou Gehrig... Joe DiMaggio... Mickey Mantle and—who let him in?—Snuffy Stirnweiss.
Neither Winfield nor Mattingly was a preseason candidate to win a batting title. Winfield had a career average of .284 for his 11 seasons, never batting higher than .308. Mattingly, who hit .283 as a rookie in '83, wasn't even assured of a regular job.
Winfield got off to a slow start, spending 15 days on the disabled list with a hamstring injury and sinking as low as .242 on May 7. "When I came off the DL," says Winfield, "[Dave] Kingman had like 11 homers and 27 RBIs, and I was sitting at 2 and 5. I had nothing left to shoot for but the batting title. When I started to get serious I was around .269, and I said, 'Let me get out of here.' Then it was .270, .280, .290. I skipped right over the .300s, spent a few days in the teens, missed the 20s...." On July 5, after a month-long 58-for-121 (.429) tear, Winfield reached a high of .377.
Winfield says he became a better hitter because of an almost mystical weight/exercise program known as Sagekinetics, developed by a former minor league pitcher named Steve Sagedahl. The Sage-kinetic machines simulate the batting and throwing motions of baseball, building both strength and speed.
Winfield thinks it's amazing he's done so well, considering his ongoing feud with a certain owner who shall remain nameless. "He tried to trade me [to Texas] and assassinate my character," Winfield says. "I have had to fight adversity and animus, and I've answered: one, by the way I play, two, by speaking up when nobody else would, and three, by taking him to court and winning the money he owes the [David M.] Winfield Foundation. But none of this has been a motivating factor."
Winfield's real motivation is that he feels he has never gotten his due. For someone who puts up some great numbers, plays very hard, gives a lot of time to the public and stands up to an obnoxious owner, he has remained remarkably unpopular. "I know people are rooting for The Kid," says Reggie Jackson, who likes to keep an eye on his old team. "I hear people knocking Dave because he's sacrificed his home-run power for his average. But the man has over 80 RBIs. The only thing you can knock him for is that he's never won."