#Shortstops: Dave Winfield still towers over the game

Written by: Troy Farkas

Fifteen years after his August 5, 2001 Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown, Dave Winfield is still larger than life.

Even for a giant like Henry Aaron.

A recently digitized 2001 Hall of Fame interview with Aaron offers a unique perspective on the athletic ability of Winfield, who is the only player ever to be drafted by pro teams in baseball, football and basketball.

“For the first time we were taking something away from another sport, like basketball. I hate to say this, but basketball and football have been stealing our athletes for a little while. Now we were stealing somebody away from them. To have him come into baseball, somebody like Dave Winfield, and have the kind of career that he had, makes me feel great.” — Hank Aaron, 2001

Winfield stood a menacing 6-foot-6 and registered 230 pounds in the prime of his career. A baseball player in a power forward’s body, the former outfielder spent 22 MLB seasons with six different organizations, leaving behind a career that left him among the game’s all-time leaders in hits, runs batted in, extra-base hits, and defensive putouts. The 12-time All-Star is one of seven players in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits and 450 home runs. He earned Hall of Fame election in 2001 – becoming the first Hall of Famer to have a Padres logo on his plaque cap – along with Kirby Puckett, Bill Mazeroski, and Hilton Smith -- receiving 84.47 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Baseball fans everywhere remember Winfield as a superior all-around athlete who was a staple of consistency throughout his tenure in the big leagues. But since his retirement in 1995 and induction in ’01, the younger generation of baseball fans never got the chance to appreciate how versatile an athlete Winfield was. ESPN ranked him one spot ahead of Bo Jackson -- the football/baseball superstar known more for his elite athleticism than perhaps any athlete in modern sports history — in its 2004 Top 10 list of the best all-around athletes ever, placing him third behind Olympian/baseball player Jim Thorpe and Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown, who also earned All-America honors in lacrosse at Syracuse University.

Winfield earned a full baseball scholarship to the University of Minnesota in 1969. In 1972 he also helped guide the school’s basketball team to a second-place finish in the Big Ten as well as a berth to the National Invitation Tournament. His coach, Bill Musselman — a future NBA head coach — later called Winfield the best rebounder he had ever coached.

Dave Winfield during his first World Series appearance in 1981. (Anthony Neste / National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

When the Gophers were knocked out of the NIT, Winfield immediately joined the university’s baseball team in Texas. Despite missing a majority of the offseason program, Winfield earned All-America honors en route to his team’s appearance in the College World Series.

Winfield shined brightly in the postseason despite the Gophers’ third-place finish, earning MVP of the 1973 College World Series — as a pitcher. His prowess drew affection from the Padres, who liked Winfield so much they drafted him fourth overall in that year’s draft. Winfield never spent a day in the minors; the Padres said they needed his powerful bat in the lineup. Taking a path rarely seen today, Winfield was primed for a big career despite passing up the developmental process considered vital to molding young stars.

Perhaps more impressive is how many other teams were vying for his services. He remains the only athlete ever to be drafted by four professional sports leagues. In 1973, the Utah Stars of the ABA and Atlanta Hawks of the NBA also called Winfield’s name on draft day. Even though he never played in college, the NFL sought Winfield’s talents too, as his hometown Minnesota Vikings took him in the 17th round of the draft. The highly coveted Winfield ultimately chose to stick with baseball, the sport he had shined in most during his collegiate career.

Although he never played another professional sport like some of the other famous dual-sport athletes — Jackson, Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders among them — Winfield very well could have enjoyed a successful career in another sport, a feat few top-tier athletes can accomplish in today’s age of specialization.

Troy Farkas was the 2016 multimedia intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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