Why do Yanks hire someone at $1.5 million a year?

If you're wondering why the New York Yankees were willing to give free agent Dave Winfield a multi-year contract estimated at $1.5 million a season, it's because baseball owners today are really in the entertainment business.

The more big names in your lineup, the more customers you draw; the more parking revenue you generate; the more food, beverages, souvenirs, and club-related clothing you sell; and the more money you command for your radio and television rights.

It's a rare fan today, according to concessions owners, who doesn't spend at least $3 during a game to pacify his stomach.

Considering how many fans the 29-year-old Winfield will put in Yankee Stadium next summer -- and New York drew more than 2.6 million last season -- Dave may be worth the expenditure. His value, under special tax laws that benefit professional sports teams, can also be depreciated each year by owner George Steinbrenner -- just as though he were a building or a machine.

What nobody knows, of course, is how much better the addition of Dave Winfield will make the Yankees in 1981. While nearly everyone agrees that Winfield deserves the much broader rating of great athlete, rather than simply outstanding baseball talent, two of his teammates at San Diego last season (Gene Richards and Jerry Mumphrey) actually had higher batting averages.

Back in 1973 the Padres made Dave their No. 1 pick in baseball's free-agent draft and were so confident of his ability that he never spent even one day in the minor leagues. Instead they dropped him immediately into their starting lineup.

Winfield was also drafted that same year by the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League and the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association, and the Utah Stars of the now defunct American Basketball Association. The Hawks and Stars had visions of Dave as an intimidating rebounder; the Vikings, even though they knew he had played neither high school nor college football, saw him as a potential wide receiver.

At 6ft. 6 in. and 220 pounds of nonfat, Dave is physically imposing. However , his statistics over the past eight years with San Diego suggest that he has yet to reach the Hall of Fame heights that were predicted for him.

Certainly Winfield has had some outstanding season, batting over .300 in both 1978 and 1979, and always playing well in the field. But the Ruth, at age 39, hit for a higher average, delivered more homers, scored more runs, and drove in more runs than Winfield's average figures (.284; 19 HRs; 75 runs scoredz: 78 RBI) for the past eight years.

In fact, Dave, during much of his career, has not been a strong finisher. For example, in 1975, he hit .280 with 9 home runs in the first half of the reason and .225 and 6 home runs in the second half. In 1976, it was .296 and 21 ; then a falloff to .239 and 4.

Unfair to Winfield and probably brought about by his tremendous size, is the feeling that has grown up about him that anyone with his kind of power of a line-drive hitter who gets the home run only on those occasions when all balls he hits begin to climb.

The chief reason Winfield played out his option with San Diego and went the free-agent route is that he is tired or playing for a team that never seems to be going anywhere. Opposing managers have often ordered their hurlers to pitch around Winfield with men on base simply because the Padres had no hitters before or in back of him that they needed to worry about.

While San Diego finished as high as fourth in the National League West only twice during Winfield's eight-year stay there, the New York Yankees in the same period won 4 American League East titles, 3 pennants, and 2 World Series.

Freshly minted Yankee manager Gene Michael will play Winfield exactly where Steinbrenner tells him next season, and that will be left field when Reggie Jackson is playing right and right field when Jackson is the team's designated hitter.First base is also a possibility.

What a happy and contented Winfield might do over the rest of this career with the Yankees is only speculation at this point. Joe DiMaggio, another right-handed hitter, did OK in a home park that was build primarily for left-handed hitters. But the chances are that Dave might actually help the Yankees more on the road.

As for Winfield's staggering salary, which may include attendance bonuses and incentive clauses. Yankee fans can probably expect an increase at the box office.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.