San Diego had a lot going for it in 1973. Elvis Presley played there in April. Led Zeplin played there in May. Wilt Chamberlin was coaching the San Diego Conquistadors professional basketball team (ABA). And David Mark Winfield made his Major League debut.
On June 19, 1973, under the San Diego sun, Winfield waited until the ninth inning to make his mark on history. He led off the ninth inning with the Padres losing 7-2. He singled for his first Major League hit, and he eventually came around to score for his first Major League run. There would be plenty more of both to come in a career that would eventually land Winfield in Cooperstown as the Padres first Hall of Famer.
Dave Winfield played college ball at the University of Minnesota, but during the summers of 1971 and 1972, he played even farther north. Northwest actually. He played for the Alaska Goldpanners. The Goldpanners were a collegiate summer team. Players had to live with host families and did not receive any monetary compensation so that they could remain NCAA eligible. Dave Winfield got his first real taste of nightly, traveling baseball there.
Winfield was projected as a pitcher and was recruited by the Goldpanners as such. According to a Goldpanners “Yearbook,” after cracking 3 home runs in 12 at-bats, the Goldpanners manager said, “we’ve known all along what Winfield’s capable of doing with the bat, and that’s why we’ve tried to work him into the lineup occasionally. He’ll play more and more in the outfield as the season progresses, but whether he’ll ever become a full-time outfielder, it’s hard to say at this time.”
That quote belongs at the base of Winfield’s Cooperstown plaque. But it also raises the interesting question of just how good could Winfield have been as a pitcher. At the University of Minnesota, where Winfield played baseball, football, and basketball, he compiled a 19-4 record as a pitcher. In 1970, Winfield led the Big-Ten with a 1.43 ERA. If it weren’t for damaged tendons in his pitching elbow, there’s no telling what Winfield may have done on the mound. However, it’s clear Winfield’s contributions at the plate, on the basepaths, and in the outfield would have eventually outweighed anything he could have done on the mound.
After Winfield’s short career with the Goldpanners, one that saw him rack up a career total of .308/18 home runs/72 RBI alongside a pitching record of 13-4 with 143 strikeouts and a 3.71 ERA, he finished up his time in Minnesota – with a College World Series MVP Trophy no less – and was drafted fourth overall by the San Diego Padres.
Once he cracked the Major League lineup, in his first year with the organization, Winfield never looked back. On June 21, 1973, Winfield hit his first Major League home run. Ken Forsch would be the unlucky pitcher to be immortalized as the one to give up the first of Winfield’s 465 home runs. Padres fans may not have known it then, but they were witnessing a special player. Even just for the 56 games he played in 1973.
During the 1973 season, Winfield posted a .277/.331/.383 line with 3 home runs and an OPS+ of 103. He did not steal a base in 1973, but he would in the coming years, and he would do so with authority. Winfield’s contributions in 1973 landed him a starting job in the Padres outfield.
Winfield would not relinquish that role until he left San Diego after the 1980 season and headed east to the Yankees. During his 8 seasons with the Padres, Winfield hit .284/.357/.464 with 1,134 hits and 154 home runs. He helped the Padres to the tune of 30.4 Wins Above Replacement.
It was quite the career, and it all started on a sunny day in San Diego on June 19, 1973 in front of a crowd of just 5,338.