One player, four drafts: The remarkable tale of Dave Winfield's draft history (2023)

Imagine what would happen if a guy like Dave Winfield — a phenomenal athlete drafted by four (!) different pro leagues — showed up in 2019.

Zion Williamson and Kyler Murray would be afterthoughts. NBA Twitter would establish churches in his honor. NFL draft tape-eaters would look for the slightest sign he wasn’t Serious About Football. Baseball fans would praise him as the game-saving messiah. Knicks, Mets and Giants fans would tear New York apart. Sports talk radio and daytime talk shows would fire off takes hot enough to be seen from orbit. It’d be glorious anarchy.

Dave Winfield isn’t walking through that door, even though he’d probably still get drafted if he did. He remains one of the few athletes in American sports history to get drafted by more than one pro league, and as Thursday’s NFL draft tipoff nears, it’s worth considering just how far we’ve come … and just what a remarkable cat Winfield was.

“It was a completely different world,” Winfield told Yahoo Sports recently. “[The draft] wasn’t a big business. There was not nearly as much media.”

One player, four drafts: The remarkable tale of Dave Winfield's draft history (1)

A legend in the making

These days, Winfield would have been on three sports’ radars before he hit age 8. As a kid growing up in 1960s Minnesota, there wasn’t even a radar for him to fly under. Standing 6-foot-6 even as a high schooler, he played four years at the University of Minnesota, leading the Golden Gophers to a Big Ten basketball championship and winning the College World Series MVP his senior year as a pitcher. His greatest challenge was keeping both sports’ coaches happy while he shuttled from court to field.

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“Come from indoor baseball practice after two or three hours of hitting, throwing, running, sprint through the tunnel to the gym, get my ankles taped, then fun and games with [coach] Bill Musselman and his madmen in their weighted vests, fighting … for rebounds, and developing wrist strength chucking around super-heavy basketballs,” Winfield wrote in his 1988 autobiography “Winfield: A Player’s Life.” “But it’s worth it.”

The hype today around Winfield would have been thermonuclear, but back then he was still unknown enough — and the sporting world not yet progressive enough — that a scouting report noted, “This boy is colored.” Times do change.

Padres scout Cobby Saatzer pegged Winfield with a definitive draft-if-available designation: “Have seen him hit balls a country mile,” Saatzer’s report read. “As a last resort I would put him on the mound, but he has too much power, and prefer him as a [sic] every day player. … Can play in the big leagues in a couple of years.”

Obviously, it’s worth noting that there were many more rounds of the draft back then, but there were also fewer teams, meaning the teams that were picking were casting some wide nets to see what they could land from an unproven pool of talent. Even so, check out this 1973 draft record:

Baseball: San Diego Padres, first round (fourth overall)

Basketball: Atlanta Hawks (NBA), fifth round; Utah Stars (ABA), fourth round

Football: Minnesota Vikings, 17th round

Winfield was one of only four players in history to be drafted in three different sports. Mickey McCarty, who played one year for the Chiefs in 1969; Noel Jenke, who played for several NFL teams in the early 1970s; and Dave Logan, who played for the Browns in the 1980s, were the others. While records for second-tier pro leagues are sketchy at best, it appears Winfield is the only player ever drafted by four different sports leagues.

One player, four drafts: The remarkable tale of Dave Winfield's draft history (2)

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MLB, NBA or NFL?

The NFL’s interest in Winfield was all but academic; he hadn’t played football since youth leagues. He grew up just a few miles from Metropolitan Stadium, the Vikings’ then-home, but had exactly zero interest in playing football.

“I was surprised at that, but they were looking at me for my athletic ability,” Winfield says. “The Vikings thought I could play tight end. I was six-foot-six, 230-232 pounds, I could run and I could catch.”

But did Winfield ever entertain the idea of football? “No,” he says without hesitation. “I didn’t want to get injured. I can honestly say I never thought about it … I have a lot of friends who played football, great players, and I can’t tell you how many told me they wished they’d kept playing baseball.”

(Asked why he hadn’t been drafted by the NHL for a clean sweep of the four major sports, Winfield laughs. “I played hockey as a kid! I knew how to skate!”)

Winfield devoted exactly one paragraph of his autobiography to his remarkable draft picture, a Wikipedia-esque rundown of who drafted him and at what position. (The book gets the NFL draft round wrong, calling it the 16th rather than the 17th.) No emotional connections, no sense of accomplishment — in this telling, at least, it was as unremarkable as anyone else getting a few decent job offers out of college.

“It was nice to have options,” Winfield says. “It came down to what I wanted to do for a living. And in my mind, since I was 12 years old, I’d wanted to be a pro baseball player.”

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The other sports tried to lay claim on Winfield, but baseball was always his first love, and there was little doubt that he’d end up with a major-league team over a basketball one. This was 1973, not 2019, so Winfield’s choice didn’t exactly get Kyler Murray baseball-vs.-football breaking-news treatment. Besides that, Winfield didn’t exactly make a secret of the fact that he wanted to play baseball.

“I used basketball to negotiate,” Winfield says. “I would have played [basketball] if that’s the way it turned out, but it meant I never had to go to the minors.”

Saatzer countered that Winfield “hasn’t enough bargaining power in basketball to demand a larger bonus.” Winfield apparently had enough bargaining power to get himself vaulted straight onto the San Diego Padres roster without even a day in the minor leagues, one of only a few in major league history — and the only Hall of Famer in the last 50 years — with that distinction.

The Padres at the time were a zero-history, zero-pedigree team, an organization so scattered that Winfield had to paint his old black college cleats white, because San Diego didn’t have any size 13s. Then-manager Don Zimmer wisely brought Winfield along slowly — again, a sharp distinction from the play-big-right-now mentality of today — and helped him build the foundation for a two-decade-long career.

Funny side note: At the same time Winfield was playing for the Padres, his old college coach, Bill Musselman, took over the reins of the San Diego Sails ABA team, and joked that Winfield should join the team. (The Sails could have used him; they lasted an AAF-style 11 games before folding.)

Dave Winfield, two-sport star?

Winfield dismissed the idea of becoming any sort of two-sport Bo/Deion-type athlete. “It took me four years before I could play the game [baseball] at the highest level. It was my fourth full season that I became an All-Star,” he says. “I would have had to step out [of baseball] and come back. I think you can step away from football and come back. But baseball, you have to stay in it.”

Once Winfield hit the ballpark, of course, he never looked back. He would go on to superstardom, becoming at one point the game’s highest-paid player (the Yankees gave him a 10-year, $23 million total deal, another sign of how times have changed). He played for half a dozen teams over the course of 20 years, winning a world championship in 1992 with Toronto, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001 in his first year of eligibility.

The Dave Winfield of today wouldn’t just show up on draft day; no, we’d have spotted him a decade beforehand. But the only way that happens, Winfield says, is if kids can play more than one sport at a time.

“I tell parents this all the time: let kids play multiple sports,” Winfield says. “Kids don’t know what they’re skilled in until they play everything.”

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And sometimes, if they’re like Dave Winfield, it turns out they’re skilled in everything.

____

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

An earlier version of the article misidentified the Vikings’ prior stadium.

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FAQs

Who all drafted Dave Winfield? ›

Who was drafted in 4 sports? ›

Dave Winfield was the first athlete in history to be drafted by four different leagues, but in the end he chose Major League Baseball over the NFL, the ABA and the NBA – and found a home in the National Pastime.

Who is one of the few athletes to have been drafted by NBA NFL and MLB? ›

Winfield was one of only four players in history to be drafted in three different sports. Mickey McCarty, who played one year for the Chiefs in 1969; Noel Jenke, who played for several NFL teams in the early 1970s; and Dave Logan, who played for the Browns in the 1980s, were the others.

Did Dave Winfield ever pitch in the major leagues? ›

But a half century ago, a two-way player in the major leagues was never a consideration, not even for the penurious Padres. Dave Winfield, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound two-way star, was more accomplished as a right-handed pitcher than a hitter when the Padres drafted him in 1973 out of the University of Minnesota.

Who was the first ever draft pick? ›

The first-ever Heisman Trophy winner, Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago, was the first player ever taken in an NFL draft. The Eagles selected the halfback but traded his rights to the Bears. Considering pro football wasn't a very lucrative career in 1936, Berwanger never played in the NFL.

Who was the 1st draft pick in 1978? ›

Mychal Thompson was selected 1st overall by the Portland Trail Blazers. Larry Bird was selected 6th overall by the Boston Celtics. Jack Givens was selected 16th overall by the Atlanta Hawks.

Who was drafted 4th overall? ›

Anthony Richardson was chosen by the Indianapolis Colts with the 4th overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft.

Who is the only NFL team in history to have four first round draft picks? ›

New York Jets | 2000

This marked the only time in NFL Draft history that a team has made four first-round picks.

Has anyone ever played in the NFL NBA and MLB? ›

Dave Winfield was drafted by the MLB, NFL, NBA, and the now-defunct ABA. Winfield is most famously a baseball player, and played for 22 years. He's also a 12-time MLB All-Star, a World Series Champion, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and was named the third-best all-around athlete in sports history by ESPN.

Who is the only athlete ever to be both an MLB All Star and an NFL Pro Bowler? ›

Bo Jackson

Jackson is one of the greatest all-around athletes of all time, smashing prodigious home runs and rushing for jaw-dropping touchdowns. Playing for the Royals, White Sox and Angels from 1986-94, and the NFL's Raiders from 1987-90, Bo is the only athlete ever to be both an MLB All-Star and an NFL Pro Bowler.

Who is an athlete for both NFL and MLB? ›

In 1987, Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson played for both the Los Angeles Raiders and the Kansas City Royals, becoming the first player to play in both MLB and the NFL since the 1960s. Jackson played eight years in Major League Baseball and four years in the NFL.

Who played both MLB and NBA? ›

Michael Jordan wasn't the only one, the 13 other NBA players who had a connection to the MLB
NameYears in NBAYears in MLB
Steve Hamilton1958-19601961-1972
Mark Hendrickson1996-19992002-2011
Cotton Nash1964-19651967 / 1969-1970
Ron Reed1965-19661966-1984
9 more rows
Aug 5, 2020

Who has the most hit by pitch in major league history? ›

Hughie Jennings 287

Who pitched the most games in MLB history? ›

List
RankPlayer (2023 Gs)Games as pitcher
MLB
1Jesse Orosco1,252
2Mike Stanton1,178
3John Franco1,119
72 more rows

Who has gotten hit by pitch the most? ›

Below is the list of Major League Baseball players who have been hit by a pitch at least 100 times in their MLB careers. Hughie Jennings holds the Major League record for most hit by pitches, getting hit 287 times in his career.

Who played all 3 professional sports? ›

Dave Winfield – drafted by four professional teams in three different sports – basketball, baseball and American football, before deciding to concentrate on his baseball career. Played baseball and basketball for the University of Minnesota.

Who from the 2003 draft class is still playing? ›

Only one player from this draft, Nick Collison, played his entire career for the team that drafted him. As of 2023, James is the only remaining active player from the 2003 draft class.

Who came out of 2005 draft? ›

Andrew Bogut was selected 1st overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. Deron Williams was selected 3rd overall by the Utah Jazz. Chris Paul was selected 4th overall by the New Orleans Hornets. Andrew Bynum was selected 10th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Who was drafted 5th overall? ›

Devon Witherspoon was chosen by the Seattle Seahawks with the 5th overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft.

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