Baseball Hall of Famer and current ESPN analyst Dave Winfield watched the LeBron James spectacle Thursday night on the network that pays him. He really did not know how to feel about what he witnessed.
"Times are so much different. People have learned to utilize, or use, this vast array of media in a lot of different ways," Winfield said Friday. "This is something we haven't seen before, I don't know when we'll see again. It's 50-50 whether it was very good. Millions of people followed it, millions of people it turned off. I don't know the split on how many people think it was a great thing or how many thought it was distasteful.
'It raised his visibility, his brand. They made money off it, they gave money to charity. There's a lot of good and a lot of bad in it."
When he says "times are so much different," Winfield, of course, is referring to how they were before the 1980 season when he was that year's highly sought-after free agent superstar. We know he ended up signing a lucrative contract with the New York Yankees, where he spent eight productive, but often contentious seasons.
I had the opportunity to chat with Winfield for a few minutes Friday afternoon as part of Winfield's media tour aimed at raising awareness of, and money for, the battle against breast cancer. Winfield has personal experience with the disease since his mother, Arline, succumbed to it shortly after the 1988 All-Star Game -- the last one the 12-time All-Star participated in.
"I'm honored that Susan G. Komen and Ask.com asked me to be a spokesperson for the cure. My mother had breast cancer, she passed away years ago, so they knew my story. Because of the visibility I have, the people I've touched through baseball I can get the word out there.
I'm going to use all my efforts and energy to try to make a difference."
You can learn more or donate to the effort at Ask.com/Forthecure.
Of course, I had to talk more sports with Winfield. He reflected further on the choice James had to make Thursday, and compared it to how conflicted he was in 2001 when he had to choose which team would be represented on his Hall of Fame plaque.
"It was a difficult, gut-wrenching situation," Winfield said. "I think it was also with LeBron James, because no matter what you choose someone's gonna not like it."
"Difficult, gut-wrenching situation" is probably also a good way to describe Winfield's eight-year tenure with the Yankees. That tumultous time was, you might recall, famously marked by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner calling Winfield "Mr. May" during a 1985 tirade about Winfield's post-season struggles.
Winfield says he is on good terms with the Yankees -- and the 80-year-old Steinbrenner -- now.
"The relationship is fine. Since I retired he [Steinbrenner] apologized for a lot of things that happened -- we've communicated, had lunch, talked. I wish it would have been like that when I played, it would have made life a lot easier.
"I have a good relationship with the ballclub, with the players on the team. I'm in their fold in a lot of respects."
Winfield finished his 18-year career with 465 home runs, 3,110 hits, 1,833 RBI and seven Gold Glove awards. I could not let him off the phone without asking him about the Yankees' current great slugger, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod, as we know, is poised to become only the seventh player in baseball history to reach 600 home runs.
When I asked him how high on the ladder he thought Rodriguez could climb, Winfield paused momentarily. It was long enough for me to know this was the only topic we had broached that he really wasn't crazy about. He finally did answer, though.
"More power to him, he's a friend and a great athlete. Honestly, you know, Hank Aaron, these guys did it without any help," Winfield said, referring to A-Rod's admitted use of performance-enhancing drugs. "I still look at these guys as the real champions, but as far as the marks that could be broken he could definitely surpass the all-time mark depending on his health. He's still a great player."