On a June day in 1973, Dave Winfield and the Gophers were gearing up for baseball’s College World Series when the coaches announced the San Diego Padres had selected him fourth overall in the MLB Draft.
“That was my hope and dream” to play professional baseball, Winfield said. “But it wasn’t like everybody sitting at home and getting ready to watch the draft show.”
The Padres joined the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and the ABA’s Utah Stars in selecting the St. Paul native for a pro sports future.
All within six months.
Only five other athletes have been drafted in three sports. Winfield is the only one to be selected by four pro teams.
If someone in last week’s NFL Draft also had his name called in the MLB and NBA drafts, he would have instant rock-star status in today’s 24-hour news cycle.
Not in 1973.
“It was no big deal,” Winfield said in a recent phone interview. “We were in the College World Series, but there was no videotape of it. You can’t even see it now. You can say it happened. You can read about it. But you can’t even go back and watch it. There were no draft shows and all of that. It was a different era.”
Flashing back to January 1973, a few weeks after the Miami Dolphins went undefeated to win Super Bowl VII, the NFL Draft was held in New York City.
A relatively unknown Gophers baseball star, powerfully built at 6-6 and 220 pounds, Winfield was selected by the hometown Vikings in the 17th round, one of the last picks that year.
“They were just drafting an athlete,” Winfield said. “They saw me perform and said, ‘We could use a tight end for Fran Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters out there.’ I appreciated that.”
Winfield never played college football. If he had, he would’ve just missed future Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy, a U freshman in 1973. Winfield switched from a partial baseball scholarship to a full ride in basketball in 1971.
Gophers basketball coach Bill Musselman discovered Winfield’s hoops talent during intramurals. Winfield ended up starting at forward after the suspension of two players during Minnesota’s infamous brawl with Ohio State in 1972.
As a junior playing alongside heralded big man Jim Brewer that season, Winfield helped the Gophers win their first Big Ten championship in 35 years. After Winfield’s senior year, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks (fifth round) and ABA’s Utah Stars (fourth round) both selected him in their respective drafts.
In fact, basketball eventually helped Winfield leverage the Padres into letting him skip the minor leagues altogether, something that rarely happens in baseball.
In 1975, Winfield’s third year with the Padres, Musselman made his pro coaching debut in town with the ABA’s San Diego Sails. They discussed teaming up again, but the Sails folded.
“We talked in case things weren’t going to work out [with the Padres],” Winfield said. “If I would’ve been treated poorly and not given a chance, you keep your options open.”
Winfield eventually played 23 seasons in the major leagues, which included a game-winning double for the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 6 of the 1992 World Series. The 12-time all-star outfielder came home to play for the Twins in 1993, and he delivered his 3,000th-career hit at the Metrodome that year. He retired after playing for Cleveland in 1995 and was later enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Now, in an era of one-sport specialization, Winfield still encourages kids to play multiple sports because that helped him grow mentally and physically and kept him from burning out. It also led to him making draft history.
“The achievement. The recognition. The honor. The opportunity … it was unprecedented,” Winfield said. “And it won’t be duplicated again.”