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BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN : BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : Is Clock Striking 12 for Winfield?

October 17, 1995|ROSS NEWHAN

SEATTLE — He is wearing the uniform of the Cleveland Indians as he cradles a bat and sits in the dugout.

For Dave Winfield, it is a case of being all dressed up with nowhere to go.

With a left shoulder injury compounding his part-time status with the talented Indians, the future Hall of Fame outfielder was restricted to 115 at-bats during the regular season, is scheduled for winter surgery and, at 44, might have played his last game.

The active major league leader in hits and runs batted in, Winfield was not included on the Indians' postseason roster--a decision that continues to displease him in the way it was handled--and he is left to contribute to the club's pennant bid as a dugout cheerleader and clubhouse mentor.

"If I can't be on the field, my heart is still here," Winfield said. "I continue to act like I have all year with the guys, but I'm disappointed with the way my situation was handled."

Winfield strained his left rotator cuff running the bases in Milwaukee on June 10. He insists that more than once during the rest of the season, General Manager John Hart and Manager Mike Hargrove told him not to fret, that at some point he would get a full-scale playing opportunity to determine if he could help the club in the playoffs or, perhaps, have early surgery so that he could be ready by next spring, if he chooses to play.

Winfield said he never got that opportunity, and it was not until shortly before the division series against the Boston Red Sox that the Indians told him he would not be on the postseason roster.

"It's not a matter of pride," he said. "I don't feel like I have to be in there, or I have to participate. At the start of the year, the way the club was set up, I wasn't going to have that many opportunities anyway.

"I just didn't think it was fair or right to wait until the end and then make an arbitrary decision."

Winfield had spent the last two seasons in a part-time role with the Minnesota Twins. He signed with the Indians--his sixth team in a 22-year career--as a free agent, expecting occasional action as a pinch-hitter, designated hitter and outfielder. He batted .191 with two homers in his limited role.

At this point, he said, the shoulder injury doesn't inhibit his swing, but sudden movements make it difficult to play the outfield. With the switch-hitting Eddie Murray employed as the designated hitter, there's no spot for Winfield, who isn't sure what the surgery will disclose.

Is this his final season?

"I want to get healthy before I make a determination," he said. "I've had a storybook career. I can handle whatever decision I make or is made for me."

Winfield earned his World Series ring with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992. He could get another with the Indians, although he acknowledged that it's frustrating just holding the bat without being able to put it to use.

"I still feel like I'm making some intangible contributions," he said. "The guys wanted me here and that makes me feel good. It's a super group, as good I've ever been around."

Winfield will be offering support in the Cleveland dugout tonight when the Indians try to wrap up the American League pennant against Randy Johnson at the Kingdome. Winfield survived almost 10 years with George Steinbrenner, and he will survive the frustration of his current role.

"It's just a little disheartening being told you're going to get a chance and not get it, and believing now you could be doing a little more to help than slapping guys on the back," he said.

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