Winfield, Puckett receive baseball’s highest honor, join game’s greats

Brian Hall

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Former Minnesota Gopher Dave Winfield summed it up best during the post-ceremony press conference yesterday.

Winfield had the longest speech during yesterday’s Hall of Fame induction ceremonies but wished he could have spoken longer.

“I would have elaborated on things, but my speech was too long as it was,” Winfield said. “But, hey, when you play for six teams during 22 seasons, you have a lot to talk about.”

Winfield was part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2001 along with former Twins teammate Kirby Puckett, Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski, and Negro League pitcher Hilton Smith.

Winfield and Puckett were elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America; Mazeroski and Smith were elected by the Veterans committee. Winfield and Puckett were each first-ballot Hall-of-Famers.

During his speech, Winfield spoke about the day he won his only World Series title, his life growing up, the people who most influenced him and a brief retrospect on his career in the game he loved.

Still, he felt he did not have the time to show his true appreciation to all the people who had given him so much.

As he made his way to the podium, a chorus of applause and screaming adoration greeted Winfield, the first inductee of the afternoon. Fans from Minnesota, San Diego and New York traveled to celebrate one more time with one of the most physically imposing hitters of his generation.

“It was beautiful,” Winfield said. “My path to the Hall of Fame went through six different cities. A lot of people showed up from a lot of places. Minnesota was great. San Diego was represented. I was really pleased that so many people came out.”

During his time at the University, Winfield was a two-sport star as a pitcher and outfielder for the Gophers baseball team and a power forward for the basketball team.

Winfield reflected recently on his time at the University and spoke of how he not only grew as a sports star, but as a person.

“Dick Siebert was my coach at the University,” Winfield said. “He was a professional and he knew the game. He was a tough guy, but I said to myself, `Let me listen to what he has to say.’ I appreciated everything he did for me.”

“Finishing college with four years’ experience, traveling around the country, a competitive academic environment – just meeting people and doing things helped me grow as a person. It gave me a foundation for life. When I left the University, I think I was as prepared as any young man going into a professional environment.”

Winfield showed the character that he has been become known for during the festivities Saturday. After the final game of his career, a young fan named Andrew Bunn of Darien, Conn., asked Winfield for an autograph.

Busy at the time, Winfield asked the boy to wait for a second. Bunn walked away dejected. Yet, soon after, Winfield returned and asked where the boy had gone. When Bunn returned, Winfield handed him the last bat he used in a major league game, then went about his business.

The boy was amazed. Although at the time, he did not understand the magnitude of what Winfield had done, he would soon come to understand.

“Winfield said, `Here, this is for you,’ as he handed Andrew the bat,” Jim Bunn, Andrew’s father, said. “As soon as I saw that, I had tears in my eyes.”

To Winfield, it was just another way to give back. To young Andrew Bunn, the impression will last a lifetime.

 

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