The Greatest Summer Ever: Dave Winfield

Throughout the 2015 season, Did the Tribe Win Last Night will take a look back at the 1995 Cleveland Indians for the 20th anniversary of their fourth pennant winning season. Included will be historic game recaps, headlining stories and a ranking of the team’s most influential players that truly made 1995 The Greatest Summer Ever. Today looks back at player #26 Dave Winfield.

The 1994 season will forever be remembered as the season of “what ifs?”  A player’s strike started on August 12 and would last for the rest of the season as labor issues between the players and owners turned ugly enough to cancel the post season and World Series officially on September 14.  This was especially devastating for the fans of the Indians, as their team was young and exciting, had a 66-47 record, and was only one game behind the division leading Chicago White Sox.  During the strike, however, teams were still allowed to make roster moves and the Indians and Twins pulled off one of baseball history’s most bizarre trades.

The Indians acquired 43-year old outfielder/designated hitter Dave Winfield from Minnesota for a player to be named later.  However, when the season was cancelled and Winfield had never stepped onto the playing surface at Jacobs Field, legend has it that the Twins and Indians executives settled the score by going out to dinner and having the Indians pick up the bill.  This makes Winfield the only player in Major League history to be traded for a dinner.  On October 17, Winfield was granted free agency having never played a game for the Indians.

When the 37-year old Eddie Murray signed with the Cleveland Indians prior to the 1994 season, it was hoped that he could add veteran leadership and a solid fifth hitter in a young, talented Indians lineup.  The Indians got more than they could have possibly expected from the future Hall of Famer.  Murray supplied the veteran leadership that the Indians had planned on, but he also seemed to find the fountain of youth and chipped in 17 homeruns and 76 RBI in the strike shortened season in which “Steady Eddie” played only 108 games.

He taught the Indians how to win, and he played an important role in turning around a franchise that had very few competitive seasons for the prior 40 years.  When the player’s strike ended just before the start of the “replacement players” season in 1995, the Indians tried to catch lightning in a bottle for the second season in a row.  On April 5, they finally got their man when Winfield signed with the club as a free agent.  When compared to Murray, the results that Winfield provided were far less productive.

The numbers for the 1995 season were not pretty for the man who had already smashed 464 homeruns and amassed over 3,000 hits.  Winfield batted only .191 for the ’95 season, hitting two homeruns and driving in a mere 4 runs.  It was obvious from the beginning that Winfield was not going to provide the thunder that Murray had provided the year before, but one of those two homeruns that was hit proved to be a huge momentum swing for the Indians in an important early season game.

It was obvious on May 29 that the Indians were the team to beat in the American League Central.  The Tribe stood at 18-9 and were 7 games ahead of the Chicago White Sox, a preseason favorite to win the division.  The White Sox were visiting Jacobs Field and were trying desperately to stay in the race with the upstart Indians.  The Sox had a 6-0 lead that Memorial Day going into the bottom of the 6th inning and had their ace Wilson Alvarez on the mound.

The Tribe had a rather pedestrian start to the inning; Omar Vizquel flew out to left, a Carlos Baerga singled and an Albert Belle pop fly to the second basemen had to have Alvarez feeling comfortable.  The next batter, Murray, drew a walk, and Manny Ramirez followed by lacing a single to left field scoring Baerga from second.  This made the score 6-1 and brought up Winfield.  Dave Winfield had been struggling for the Indians up to that point, without a moment that gave Indians fans something to cling to.

That all changed when Winfield launched a first pitch bomb into the left field bleachers off of Alvarez and brought the Tribe back to only a 6-4 deficit.  The titanic blast let all of the wind out of the White Sox sails, as the Tribe rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh inning and took the lead in the bottom of the eighth when Tony Pena laced a double into the right-centerfield gap to score Wayne KirbyJose Mesa worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning for the save.

One game does not make a successful season.  Winfield went 1-4 that game, raising his batting average to a meager .205.  The homerun that Winfield hit that game did not give his team the lead, but it gave them important life in a game that was a turning point in the 1995 season.  That game only set the White Sox eight games back in the standings to start June, but mentally the White Sox called it a season that day.

Dave Winfield had a Hall of Fame career.  In 22 seasons he batted .283 with 465 homeruns and 1,833 RBI.  He stole 233 bases and was a 12-time All-Star.  He played in two World Series, winning it all in 1992 with the Toronto Blue Jays.  In 1995, however, he was only a shadow of himself.  He was an old man on a young team and did not play regularly.  On Memorial Day, however, Winfield was able to pull his best Eddie Murray impression and turn back into a young man.  He got his biggest hit as an Indian and sparked a huge comeback in a season where comebacks became commonplace.

Dave Winfield retired following the 1995 season and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.

Next: Mark Clark

Previous Entries:

#28 Bud Black

#27 Ruben Amaro


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