LOS ANGELES -- Dave Winfield was one of the first baseball stars to include charitable work into his contract. When he signed a free-agent deal with the New York Yankees in 1980, he negotiated a generous yearly donation be made to his David Winfield charitable foundation. Since retiring as a player in 1995, the Hall of Famer has kept on working with dozens of charities. On Saturday night he joined fellow Hall of Famer Vin Scully as two of the honorees at the 16th Annual Sports Legends Awards at The Omni Hotel in Los Angeles.
The awards ceremony is presented by the Paralysis Project of America to benefit spinal cord research. Other honorees at the ceremony include soccer star Cobi Jones, former long distance swimmer turned television reporter and producer Diana Nyad and jockey Ron Turcotte.
"I've had a wonderful career in baseball," said Winfield, who currently serves as vice president and senior advisor for the Padres. "I've done a lot of things and just giving back to the people, even though I haven't been playing for a while, I still contribute using my celebrity and accomplishments in the game to help bring attention to organizations like the Paralysis Project of America and to help them raise money.
"Over the last 16 years the project has continued to highlight and bring a focus to really finding some solutions and dealing with some of the urgent care needs of people who have been afflicted with paralysis. It's something we don't think of until someone who is close to us or someone in our family is affected. You see people who are here tonight in wheelchairs, but they are in good spirits and hopefully, the money raise and the focus we bring, will help bring about some relief for them as well."
"A lot of people don't realize what these ballplayers and athletes do after they retire," said Catherine Lepone, executive director of the Paralysis Project of America in speaking about Winfield and other retired athletes who help her organization. "I think they have the impression that they are just playing golf every day. These guys are incredibly busy, they're incredibly involved in their communities every day and they are committed to helping others. People like Mr. Winfield are not in it for the money, they are here because they want to help."
Sports Legends Awards honorees are selected annually for their contributions to sports by the Paralysis Project of America's Business and Sports Councils. Headed by chairman and former Olympic gold medalist Bob Seagren, the Sports Council includes former Sports Legends Award winners Pepper Davis, Jim Hill, Rafer Johnson, Jim Knaub, Jack Kramer, Ann Meyers-Drysdale, Joe Morgan, Don Newcombe, Bill Sharman, Gary Stevens, Al Unser, Rogie Vachon, Jamaal Wilkes and legendary college basketball coach John R. Wooden.
"Dave is a Hall of Famer in every possible way," said fellow honoree Scully, who received the John R. Wooden Lifetime award at the ceremony. "Dave was a magnificent athlete, when you realize, when he was coming out of college, he was drafted by three different teams, a baseball team, a football team and a basketball team. You can't get any better than that."
Winfield recently made a special trip to the Republic of Ghana to help promote baseball in Africa.
"It was a wonderful trip," said Winfield. "Omar Minaya, Dusty Baker, myself, Bob Watson, Al Jackson and others went over there, not only on a goodwill mission, but to see some of the kids play baseball.
"They are still in a nascent or early stage of playing the game, but they love it. You see these kids in old borrowed uniforms from Japanese teams, shoes that may not quite fit or work just right, but they are imitating American ballplayers and they love the game, there are smiles on their faces and we were impressed of the athletic ability of these kids. It was a high-level delegation -- we were there with ambassadors from the United States and they welcomed the Americans and the sport of baseball."
When the rest of the contingent returned to the U.S., Winfield and Padres owner John Moores stayed in Ghana to work with former President Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center to bring medical supplies to the area.
Winfield also has a new book coming out in March titled "Dropping the Ball."
"It talks about baseball," said Winfield. "We've kind of taken our eye off of it being our National Pastime and what it contributes to our society and I have a lot of suggestions and solutions where we can continue to go strong into the 21st century and I want our kids to continue be involved in this game. I have a lot to say."
One way or another Dave Winfield finds a way to give back.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.