SI Vault
Jim Kaplan
April 20, 1981
Only the harshest skeptics in attendance at Dave Winfield's New York debut failed to be favorably impressed by the Yankees' $20 Million Man
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April 20, 1981

Taking A Run At Monumental Success

Only the harshest skeptics in attendance at Dave Winfield's New York debut failed to be favorably impressed by the Yankees' $20 Million Man

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"The fans here are terrific," said Winfield. "They live and breathe baseball, and they came out today despite the fact the weather was lousy. I'm willing to work hard and pay my dues. Hey, what I'm going through here is nothing compared to what I went through last year in San Diego. The first day I went out on the field, I got booed. As far as they were concerned, I was going to fail seven out of 10 times, not succeed three out of 10.

"But that's all behind me. So is spring training. That's only important if you're trying to make the team or get a contract. Everything's ahead. There'll be good days and bad days, but mostly good."

True to his word, Winfield had a good day Saturday as the Yankees won again, 5-1. He had one single, was robbed of another and made more points with the fans by easily stealing second on a head-first slide. (He lost a point or two with Michael, though, who chastised him for running on his own with power-hitter Oscar Gamble up.)

Because Winfield's power is to right center and left center, he probably won't hit many homers in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees don't expect him to, nor by all appearances do they need him to. "This is the best New York team I've been on," said Gossage.

Winfield has another major media event ahead. That will come when Jackson, who has been out with a torn tendon in his right calf, returns. Winfield is too smart to have made any of Jackson's early mistakes. He hasn't proclaimed himself the straw that stirs the drink. But Jackson says the atmosphere Winfield has entered is also different. "The club is used to high-salaried free agents now," he said between treatments at the Yankees' Fort Lauderdale spring training base last week. "The guys are more willing to accept a new man."

Jackson and Winfield have little in common. Jackson lives in Manhattan, longs for the spotlight and issues headline-making quotes. Winfield lives in Fort Lee, N.J., gives compliant if somewhat nervous interviews and says little that will qualify for Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Asked why he is succeeding in April when he failed in March, he said, "I was ready when the bell rang."

What Jackson and Winfield do share is an interest in a favorable image. And like Jackson, Winfield defies easy labeling. On Opening Day he wore boots and a cowboy hat. The day before he had arrived for practice in a business suit, fresh from a meeting of his charitable organization, the David M. Winfield Foundation. Reporters caught him stashing dollar bills inside his socks. This is the 29-year-old millionaire breezing into Gotham? "I don't always stuff dollars into my socks," he said, a little testily.

Winfield was more comfortable discussing baseball. "Call it incentive," he said. "I've had success on the diamond and at the bargaining table. Now I want it as part of a team. You don't get respect until you play for a winner. If we get through the year all right and my play is acceptable, I'll let you call me a Yankee." If it's not, he'll be called plenty of other things.

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