Last week’s National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) national conference in Birmingham, Alabama was a very busy one for the members of MLBbro.com who attended.
Site founder Rob Parker was inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame and the staff was on hand for a press conference to cover and celebrate the announcement of the first MLB game at a Negro League Park at Rickwood Field
But it was a conversation in a MLB.com workshop that envisioned not only the current affairs for the declining numbers in Black representation in Major League Baseball, but conjured memories of an MLBbro Hall of Famer who bucked the trend that is rampant of African-American kids specializing in one sport in an effort to reach the professional ranks.
African-American ballplayers accounted for only 6.2 percent of MLB rosters on Opening Day, which was down from 7.2 percent the prior season, which raises a relevant question.
Even though the offices of MLB are championing diversity in baseball, is there also an awareness that kids are turning to other popular sports such as basketball (much cheaper to start) and football (more popular as the nation’s number one sport)?
With baseball salaries tearing the roof off the salary caps of professional sports, with social media becoming a quick and easy marketing tool, MLB and MLBbro Hall of Famer Dave Winfield faced a choice no other professional athlete before or since had to make.
Dave Winfield Drafted By Four Pro Leagues In 1973
In 1973, Dave Winfield was the epitome of the American athlete, being the only one drafted by the NBA (Atlanta Hawks), the ABA (Utah Stars), the MLB (San Diego Padres) and — even though Winfield never played in a college football game — the NFL (Minnesota Vikings). His decision to play baseball illustrated how times were back then.
Baseball was once “America’s Game.” The sport had plenty of MLBbro heroes at the time like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson providing a blueprint that kids could follow while creating their own pathway towards their MLB dreams.
MLBbro.com has discussed two-way athletes in the past with Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson and Brian Jordan providing excitement on the football field and baseball diamond respectively.
But Dave Winfield was decades before his time. What baseball is celebrating with Shohei Ohtani playing two-ways as a pitcher and DH today, pales in comparison to Winfield’s athletic potential.
Winfield was better known as a right-handed pitching ace for the University of Minnesota. Check out the magical run in the College World Series before he reported to the Padres…
Winfield Dominated In College As Two-Way Player
In a 1-0 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners, Winfield struck out 14 batters.
Facing the eventual national champion USC Trojans featuring four future major league players in Fred Lynn, Roy Smalley, Steve Kemp and Rich Dauer, Winfield gave up only one hit and struck out 15 in eight shutout innings!
Along with his pitching, our MLBbro added a .467 (7-15) explosion at the plate to win Most Outstanding Player of the series.
The chance to play baseball in the major leagues immediately was the decisive factor.
“That was part of the negotiations,” Winfield said. “I had my options with basketball and football, and I said, ‘If I choose baseball, I have to go right to the major leagues.’
“They granted that wish. … I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I certainly didn’t want to go to the minor leagues.”
Winfield Skips Minor Leagues Goes Straight To The Show
Since the draft era started in 1965, only 24 players have bypassed the minor leagues and went straight to the majors. Dave Winfield is the only one to make the Hall of Fame.
Over a 22-year career, this MLBbro icon had a .283 batting average with 465 home runs, 1,833 RBI with 223 stolen bases. With 12 All-Star appearances, seven Gold Gloves and six Silver Slugger awards, Dave Winfield might be the most underrated Hall of Famer in all sports based on his potential who wasn’t tapped into based on the times.
Winfield Working With MLB & Tony Clark
As a Special Assistant to the Executive Director Tony Clark of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Winfield is doing his part to share the love he felt for young MLBbros in training.
He is on the board of directors of the MLB-MLB Youth Developmental Foundation geared to introduce and inspire African-American kids to play baseball while supporting the ones who have already started their journey. Dave Winfield shared thoughts on the progress at the recently finished Hank Aaron Invitational.
“It’s a joint effort, one of the handful of joint efforts by the Players Association, MLBPA, Major League Baseball and the Youth Development Foundation is… It’s been in existence since 2015, where money has been put together to support youth baseball in a number of ways – baseball and softball, actually around the country.”
Dave Winfield was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
The New York Yankees didn’t pay the man, so instead Aaron Judge has made opposing pitchers pay all season.
Judge has played with a chip on his shoulder all season, and so far, the results have been staggering. As of Monday morning, Judge was hitting .294 with an MLB-best 37 home runs. He also leads the American League in both runs scored (80) and runs batted in (81) and ranks second in slugging (.650) and OPS (1.026).
ESPN projections have Judge on pace for arguably the greatest offensive season in Yankees history, with his current 60-homer pace hovering around the historic mark Roger Maris set in 1961.
With Judge on the verge of history, let’s take a look at five of the greatest individual seasons by Black Yankees players. Despite individual success on a major scale, none of these seasons ended with a championship parade down Broadway’s Canyon of Heroes. Only time will tell if Judge can break that trend.
Elston Howard – 1963 – .287/.342/.528, 28 HR, 85 RBI, 75 R
One of only two Black catchers, and the only Black Yankee to win the MVP, Elston Howard had his best season at the age of 34 as the driving force behind a New York lineup that won the AL pennant with 104 wins.
Howard set career highs in home runs and runs scored and won the Gold Glove behind the plate. The powerful Pinstripes met their match in the World Series as they were swept by Sandy Koufax and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Reggie Jackson – 1980 – .300/.398/.597, 41 HR, 111 RBI, 94 R, 154 H
An All-Star all five years he spent in the Bronx, Mr. October put on a show in 1980. The two-time MVP set a career high in home runs for the Yankees en route to his first Silver Slugger Award. Jackson was unstoppable all season, but unfortunately that wasn’t enough to bring a World Series to the Yanks, who were eventually swept by the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.
Dave Winfield – 1982 – .283/.345/.513, 32 HR, 116 RBI, 99 R, 169 H
Jeter’s documentary “The Captain” touched on the contentious relationship between “The Boss” George Steinbrenner and Winfield, but there wasn’t a soul who could discredit his contributions during the regular season, especially in 1982.
Winfield would finish top seven in MVP voting while collecting Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards that season. But like everyone else on the list, this great individual season didn’t result in a championship. The Yankees were swept by the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.
Rickey Henderson spent just under four seasons with the Yankees, but they were incredible seasons. Part of a lineup that featured Winfield and Don Mattingly, Henderson’s 1985 season, his first in pinstripes, may have been his best.
Rickey finished third in the MVP balloting to his teammate Mattingly, and won the Silver Slugger Award after leading the American League with a career-high 146 runs and finishing tops in stolen bases for the sixth consecutive season. His 282 total bases were the second-most of his career. New York won 97 regular season games, but failed to win their division and missed the postseason,
Derek Jeter, aka “The Captain”, could have made this list several times over, but 2006 was a special year. Jeter posted the second-highest batting average of his career while setting a career high in RBI during the phase of his career where most players begin to decline.
Jeter’s season was remarkable and earned him his highest finish in the MVP voting as he finished second to Justin Morneau. He also won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger as New York won an AL-best 97 games, but the Yankees went on to lose 3-1 in the ALDS to the Detroit Tigers.
The Hank Aaron Invitational is a two-week baseball extravaganza camp held from July 17- 30 at Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida. It’s operated by MLB, the MLBPA and USA Baseball. Approximately 250 Black and brown players (ages 13-18) from across the United States receive elite-level training from former Major League players and coaches.
Instructors include former Major League manager Jerry Manuel and former All-Stars such as Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., his dad Ken Griffey Sr, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, Tom “Flash” Gordon, Marquis Grissom, Reggie Smith, Luis Alicea, Willie Banks, Lou Collier, Eric Davis, Marvin Freeman, Charles Johnson, Pat Mahomes Sr, among others.
Bo Porter, a former MLB player, manager, coach, executive, and Washington Nationals announcer is also one of the instructors. Porter currently serves as MLB’s Director of Coaching Development.
In the spirit of the Hank Aaron Invitational and its commitment to leveling out the playing field for minority athletes, Porter has an academy that opened out of Texas in 2021 called Bo Porter’s Future All-Stars Sports Development Academy. Former Olympic gold medalist and 15-year minor league pro, John Cotton, is Director of Baseball Operations for the academy.
The goal of the facility is to inspire student-athletes and future MLBbros to achieve whole-person development, educating and advising parents, and empowering educators and coaches to become transformational leaders.
Da Gambler caught up with these baseball lifers as they evaluated talent at the Hank Aaron Invitational this past week.