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In Your Face, George!

Discovering Columbus

By Eric R. Columbus

Mr. May. The man who couldn't hit when it counted. The choker.

The hero.

With one mighty swing, Dave Winfield exorcized his demons and wrought revenge upon his foremost tormentor, slugging an 11th-inning, two-run double Saturday night to lift the Toronto Blue Jays to their first World Series title.

In the process, he sent a very powerful message to his most prominent detractor, a man responsible for Winfield's northern exposure--George Steinbrenner.

Everybody knows George: the twice-suspended, twice-reinstated owner of the New York Yankees.

And everybody hates him. The Benito Mussolini of baseball. The Roy Cohn of sports. Choose your metaphor. (Cohn and Steinbrenner were actually buddies; the Boss' links with Il Duce are more shadowy.) If men are defined by their enemies, Winfield stacks up quite well.

Steinbrenner ran Winfield out of New York by harassing him, vilifying him in the press, and paying an indicted gambler, Howard Spiro, to dig up dirt on the Yankee rightfielder. As a staff editorial on the opinion page commented about Mike Beys' Spin Doctors fiasco with the Undergraduate Council, this was both stupid and sleazy.

Winnie and Don Mattingly were the most consistent performers during a decade of disappointments for the Bronx Bombers. While Mattingly is still around (although he's not too fond of George, and has had to endure inane criticism from General Manager Gene Michael about, of all things, his hair length), Winfield was traded to California in 1990 for injury-prone pitcher Mike Witt.

Witt, like most injury-prone pitchers, immediately proceeded to injure himself, and has yet to win a game for the Yankees. He probably never will.

Yet Winfield still shines. At the age of 41, the oldest Blue Jay still slugged over 20 homers (hack that I am, I don't have his 1992 stats in front of me) and provided leadership to a motley crew of mercenaries culled from points south to capture the flag.

But when the postseason rolled around, Winfield carried a huge monkey on his back, a veritable gorilla. In 1981, his first season with the Yankees, his stellar play brought the American League championship back to the Big Apple. He hit a patch of ice in the World Series, however, eeking out only one hit in 22 at bats. This prompted the first of Steinbrenner's many diatribes against his star, in which he coined the epithet Mr. May, a contrast with the high priest of pressure and Yankee immortal, Reggie Jackson, a.k.a. Mr. October.

But Winfield never gave in.

Throughout his decade in New York, Winfield patrolled the green pastures of Yankee Stadium with ineffable grace, ran the bases with speed and skill, and at the plate hit for both power and average. Yet all the while he was enduring torrents of abuse from his Grand Inquisitor, the Yankee owner. Winfield's role as the Yankee martyr struggling in the face of unbearable persecution reached epic proportions. He became Odysseus to Steinbrenner's Poseidon. Or perhaps you might call him Job DiMaggio.

During the Series, I was rooting for the Braves due to some vestige of national pride, even though Toronto is a few hundred miles closer than Atlanta to my home base of Manhattan. But whenever Winnie strode to the plate, all 6 feet 6 inches of him, I started cheering for the Canucks.

And while the Yankees finished the season mired in the second division, Winfield's triumph brings some redemption to the otherwise sorry 1992 season. It will, for me, be a long winter, as I dread the spectre of the Boss defiling Yankee Stadium once more. The revitalized Knicks will probably provide some diversion, and maybe even ideas for a piece or two. But storm clouds loom large on the horizon.

And, yet, I still smile.

I only have one midterm, my super hasn't found the tape on my walls, and Dave Winfield is a hero. Perhaps, just perhaps, his triumph means that we'll see a kinder, gentler George in the spring. The starting pitcher for the Blue Jays in the final game, David Cone, is a prized free agent considering digging his cleats into the pitching mound in the Bronx. Maybe we'll sign him, and maybe a shamed Boss will treat him with the dignity he deserves. Hope springs eternal.

Eric R. Columbus '93 is a Crimson staff writer. Eric's mother graduated from

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