Turn Back The Clock: December 15th, 1980-Yankees Sign Another Big Bat


You have to give New York Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner credit for one thing: he never hesitated to sign the best player on the market, in an attempt to make the Yankees a title contender year-in and year-out. Unlike his children, it wasn’t about the bottom line on a financial report, it was about trophies, rings, and bragging rights. As the Boss often said, the people of New York and Yankees fans everywhere expect and deserve the a winner, and you do that by putting the best product on the field. For whatever reason, the boys, Hal and Hank just can’t or won’t grasp that concept. Today’s Turn Back The Clock takes a closer look at one of the Boss’ bigger moves as owner of the Bronx Bombers.

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By 1980, the Yankees were coming off a season in which they had posted a 100+ win season, and found themselves on the outside looking in, as their decade-long rival Kansas City Royals banged them out in the ALCS, and then lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. The Bombers, who were still looking to fill the offensive gap left by the death of Captain Thurman Munson in 1979, struggled to provide support to Reggie Jackson and Graig Nettles.

The Yankees looked far out west for their answer, and they found exactly what they had hoped. A 6’6″ 220 lb. right fielder with a cannon for an arm, who was already an established All-Star in the National League. Enter David Mark Winfield, nicknamed Winny, had been drafted to play all three major professional sports, and chose baseball with the San Diego Padres. Much like many of his fellow stars in San Diego, the Padres’ ownership simply weren’t willing to spend the big bucks to keep their talent, and guys like Rollie Fingers, Gaylord Perry, and Winfield, walked away for greener pastures after enjoying success in Southern California.

In Winfield’s final season in San Diego, he hit .276, with 20 home runs and 87 runs driven in. It was a down year compared to his previous season in which he led the NL in RBI with 118 to go along with 34 long balls. The down season didn’t hurt his marker, and George Steinbrenner was waiting with open arms. It was on this day, 34 years ago that Steinbrenner and the Yankees brought Big Dave to the Bronx, signing him to what was at the time, the largest, most lucrative contract in big league history: a ten-year, $16 million dollar contract. It make Winfield the richest athlete in professional sports.

During his time in New York, Winfield would help the Yankees reach only one more World Series, and his lack of postseason production earned him the nickname “Mr. May” from Steinbrenner. He would however, be a mainstay in the cleanup spot after Reggie Jackson bolted for California, appearing in 7 All-Star Games, winning 5 Silver Slugger Awards, and winning 5 Gold Gloves in right field. He was Don Mattingly‘s protection throughout the 1980s, as the Yankees fielded one of the most dangerous 1-through-4 hitters in modern history: Rickey Henderson, Willie Randolph, Mattingly, and Winfield. For one season, Jack Clark was also added to the mix, but the Bombers simply couldn’t outhit their poor pitching.

Back issues, and constant bickering with Steinbrenner finally led to Winfield’s departure from the Bronx during the 1990 season, and after Steinbrenner paid gambler Howard Spira to dig up dirt on Winfield, the Boss was suspended from baseball. A part of the squabble between the two men was Steinbrenner feeling like he had been swindled into a “cost of living” clause in Winfield’s deal, which raised his contract value from $16 million to roughly $23 million. Lawsuits were threatened between the player and team for accusations of misuse of funds paid to the player’s foundation, while the player claimed the team wasn’t living up to the terms of his contract by making foundation payments.

The two men eventually put their differences aside, but it wasn’t enough to get Winfield into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of the Yankees. Winfield hit 51 more bombs in the Bronx, and played longer in New York than with any organization in the big leagues. It was one final spike between the two men, and the relationship was ugly from the start. Today’s Turn Back the Clock: December 15th, 1980, Dave Winfield became a member of the Yankees.