Herm Winningham’s professional career lasted 13 seasons. Yet only after the third time that he was a first-round draft pick did the speedy outfielder sign and turn pro. He played in the majors with four teams from 1984 through 1992. A skillful defender and bunter, Winningham got into 868 games at the top level, starting 402 of them. He won a World Series ring with the Cincinnati Reds in 1990.
Herman Son Winningham Jr. was born in Orangeburg, South Carolina, on December 1, 1961. “I got all my athleticism from my mom,” Winningham said in a February 2022 interview. “She played basketball when they were girls. Half-court.”1 Lucille Winningham was from Fort Motte, South Carolina, and had moved to Bowman, where she and Herman Sr. met.
The couple had four children – Faith Winningham Beavers, Veda White, Herman Jr., and, two years after Herm, Kevin Winningham. Faith became a doctor; Veda works in the financial department of Caterpillar, and Kevin followed in his father’s footsteps, working at the nuclear power plant known as the Savannah River Site.
Herman Sr. grew up in rural Bowman, leaving school after the sixth grade. He ended up in Orangeburg, working at odd jobs and then becoming an electrician by trade. When the Savannah River nuclear facility started up, he applied for work there and remained until he retired after some 33 or 34 years. Though he contracted thyroid cancer, it was treatable and “he had to take a little radiation pill, but he was as healthy as a horse. There were two or three big class action suits against DuPont. He received a substantial amount of money.”2 Herman Sr. was also a Baptist minister – “a preacher 24/7,” said Herm Jr. of Rev. Winningham. “Me, I’m just a ballplayer,” he added modestly.3
Winningham hit lefty but threw right-handed. He grew to become 5-feet-11 and was listed at 185 pounds. In June 1979, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the 39th round out of Wilkinson High School in Orangeburg. He had hit .484 in his senior year and was timed at 6.4 seconds in the 60-yard dash.4 He chose not to sign and enrolled in college instead.5 The Milwaukee Brewers made him a first-round pick in January 1980; once more, he elected not to sign. The Montreal Expos tried their luck in the June 1980 draft – again, a first-round pick. In January 1981, the New York Mets selected him in the first round, the ninth overall pick. This time, Winningham signed. Each of the latter three draft selections came in the secondary phase.
Why hadn’t Winningham signed the first three times he was drafted? He explained, “I made a promise to my mom that I would finish two years of college. I went to a junior college in Atlanta – DeKalb South. I could have signed, but I needed the independence first – away from home. It was the best thing I could have ever done. [After he finished the two years] I came home. I signed a letter of intent to go to Florida State, but I thought, ‘I’ve got to try this professional thing.’”
Longtime baseball man Julian Morgan was the signing scout for the Mets. “Julian [Morgan] came and we sat down at the breakfast table and talked a little bit. Dad said what he was going to say and Mom – you know how moms are…. I just wanted the opportunity. I didn’t care what they gave me. I got $25,000.”
That summer, Winningham was placed with the Kingsport (Tennessee) Mets in the rookie-level Appalachian League. He hit .255 but drew 33 bases on balls for a .364 on-base percentage. He drove in 14 runs but scored 44.
In his first full season – 120 games – he hit .295 for the 1982 Single-A Carolina League Lynchburg Mets, with 61 RBIs. He stole 50 stolen bases, which proved a career high.
In 1983, Winningham played 78 games, batting .354 for the Double-A Texas League’s Jackson (Mississippi) Mets. This earned him a promotion to Triple-A Tidewater on July 11. He landed on the disabled list near the end of the season – hamstrings were a problem more than once in his career. In the month before that, he appeared in 29 games for the Tides, hitting .266. He was presented the Doubleday Award by Jackson as the team’s outstanding player.6 The Mets added him to their 40-man roster.
He played the full season with Tidewater in 1984, batting .281. On September 1, he was called up to New York. The Mets activated him in time to play in both games of that day’s doubleheader against the visiting San Diego Padres. In the top of the seventh in the first game, with the Mets leading, 7-2, he took over for Mookie Wilson in center field. He got his first big-league at-bat in the bottom of the eighth and flied out to left field. He started the second game, in center, and got his first major-league base hits – two of them. The first was a fourth-inning RBI double. Three batters later, he scored on a double by Hubie Brooks. The Mets converted a 5-1 deficit into a 6-5 lead. With the Mets still ahead, 8-6, Winningham singled to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Two batters later, he scored on Darryl Strawberry’s home run.
Winningham appeared in 14 games for the Mets before season’s end, four of them as a starter. In 28 plate appearances, he hit .407 with five RBIs.
In mid-December, the Mets traded with the Montreal Expos to acquire veteran catcher Gary Carter. The Expos shed Carter’s $1.8 million salary, and added four players – infielder Hubie Brooks, catcher Mike Fitzgerald, and two “obscure minor leaguers” –- pitcher Floyd Youmans and Herm Winningham.7 When Winningham got the news, he was playing winter ball in Venezuela. He hit 275 in 26 games for Leones de Caracas.
The trade provided Winningham a real opportunity. For three and a half seasons, Winningham was in the Expos system, mostly at the top level. He played in 399 games for the Expos, batting .233 overall with a .300 on-base percentage.
In 1985, he made the team as center fielder in spring training and got into 125 games, starting 79 of them, most of anyone on the club at that position. That was despite an 11-game rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis, following a knee injury. With the Expos in 1985, he hit the first three of his 19 career home runs.
In 1986, he was with Montreal most of the season, but spent July 2 to August 22 with Indianapolis. It was a year in which he struggled more at the plate, batting .216 for the Expos.
His 1987 season was entirely in the majors, and he played in 137 games as the team’s center fielder, with a career-high 82 starts. He hit .239 (.304 OBP). His 29 stolen bases were also the most in any of his major-league years. Four of his 41 runs batted in came in one game, in San Francisco on September 2, when he homered and doubled in a 7-3 win.
In 1988, Winningham spent one week with Indianapolis in the second half of June. He was recalled when Tim Raines pulled a hamstring. He was with Montreal (hitting .233 with just six RBIs) when he became part of a five-player deal at the All-Star break. The Cincinnati Reds got Winningham, Jeff Reed, and Randy St. Claire. The Expos got Tracy Jones and Pat Pacillo. Winningham hit .230 in 53 games for the Reds.
He played all of 1989 and 1990 with Cincinnati, 115 games (hitting .251) in 1989 and 84 games (hitting .256) in 1990, platooning much of the season with Billy Hatcher in center field. One notable game from 1989 came early – the fourth game of the season, a 16-inning affair at home against San Francisco. Winningham, the last position player to take part, pinch-hit and led off the 16th with a bunt single. He stole second, advanced on a sacrifice, and scored the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly. Another highlight came on May 15. Capping a three-run comeback, his two-run single in the bottom of the ninth beat the Pirates, 6-5.
During spring training 1990, there was a bit of controversy as both the National and American Leagues decided to enforce existing rules on glove size. They were supposed to measure no more than 12 inches from the top of the web to the palm. Larger gloves were not unusual. Starting center fielder Eric Davis’s glove measured 13 inches; Winningham’s measured 14. “He hits it and I catch it,” Winningham said. “That’s the name of the game. I don’t care if I have a bushel basket out there.”8 He blustered that he’d rather be ejected than switch, saying it took more than 2½ weeks to break in a new glove.
Winningham got into 84 regular-season games with the Reds in 1990, and again there were some notable moments. Against the Giants at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium on June 26, he led off the bottom of the 12th with a single. Mariano Duncan singled him to second, and Winningham scored from second on an error when third baseman Matt Williams threw wildly to first fielding Jeff Reed’s bunt. In St. Louis on August 15, he tripled three times, the third one driving in the winning run in a 3-1 victory over the Cardinals. The three triples in one game tied a modern National League record. “It just happened,” he said afterwards, “I hit the ball where they weren’t, and I can run a little bit.”9
It was in 1990 that Winningham got his only taste of postseason play. The Lou Piniella-led Reds finished first in the National League West, five games ahead of the second-place Dodgers. Cincinnati went all the way, winning the NLCS four games to two over Pittsburgh and then sweeping the World Series against the Oakland Athletics.
Davis got the lion’s share of the work, but Winningham played in Games One, Two, and Five of the NLCS. He scored the winning run in the Game Two 2-1 win. He reached first after grounding into a force play in the bottom of the fifth, the score tied, 1-1. He stole second, then scored on a double by Paul O’Neill. His first-inning sacrifice fly gave the Reds an early 1-0 lead, but they lost Game Five, 3-2.
In the World Series, he pinch-hit unsuccessfully in Game Two. In Game Four, he replaced Billy Hatcher in the middle of the second inning. Hatcher had been hit by a pitch in the first inning and had to leave the game. The Athletics had taken a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Winningham grounded out to first base unassisted his first time up, in the third. He singled in the sixth but was left on base. In the top of the eighth, Barry Larkin led off with a single into shallow center field. Winningham laid down a bunt (despite having two strikes) to try to move him to second and reached first base safely. “They took the bunt off, but I said, ‘I’m going to bunt anyway. I was going for the sacrifice.”10 He sprinted to first fast enough to beat catcher Jamie Quirk’s throw. Paul O’Neill then laid down a bunt of his own, and pitcher Dave Stewart erred on the play. The bases were loaded with nobody out. Glenn Braggs grounded into a force play at second, Larkin scoring and Winningham going to third. DH Hal Morris hit a fly ball to deep right field and Winningham easily tagged and ran home with the go-ahead run – the run that won Game Four and the World Series after relievers Jose Rijo and Randy Myers combined to keep the Athletics from scoring.11 Winningham had hit .364 in the postseason.
Winningham appeared in 98 games for the Reds in 1991, often in a pinch-hitting role or as a later-inning defensive replacement. In only 35 games did he get more than two plate appearances. He hit .225 with only four RBIs and 17 runs. He did excel as a pinch-hitter, with 13 hits in 33 at-bats for a .394 mark, second in the National League in that role.12 There was another notable extra-inning game on June 1. At Dodger Stadium, Winningham pinch-hit for Myers and singled to lead off the top of the 10th. A sacrifice and a pair of walks put him at third base; he then scored the first of two go-ahead runs for the Reds on O’Neill’s single.
During 1991, crusty Reds owner Marge Schott feuded at times with writers covering the team. At one point, she barred seven of them from the press room cafeteria. “In a mild show of rebellion, [Eric] Davis and Winningham sent the reporters pizzas in the press box during the last two home stands.”13 At the end of the season, he became a free agent.
In late January 1992, Winningham signed a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox for what became his final year in the big leagues. As a reserve outfielder, it was largely his defense that had kept him in the majors for this long. The Red Sox wanted him as a backup for Ellis Burks.14 On April 12, he drove in the first run in a 3-0 win in Cleveland. On May 3, playing in Fenway Park for injured left fielder Mike Greenwell, he logged two outfield assists, cutting down one runner at third and one at home plate. On July 27, his only home run of the year gave Boston its fifth and sixth runs in a 7-5 win against the visiting Texas Rangers. When he had hit two homers in an exhibition game in early April, he said, “I call them accidents, because I’m not a home run hitter. I’m a line-drive, base-hit kind of guy.”15 He drove in 14 and scored 27, batting .235.
The Red Sox let Winningham go to free agency over the winter, which prevented them from re-signing him before May 1. He signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A club in Buffalo, but they let him go in early April and, after he passed through waivers, he was able to join the Pawtucket Red Sox. Boston, however, had a full roster and no real need for him; his request for a release was granted in mid-June. He’d hit .257 in 59 PawSox games.
He returned to the Mets organization, playing where he had in 1983 and 1984: in Norfolk, Virginia for the Tides. In 36 games, he hit .250. They were his last regular-season games as a player.
In the spring of 1994, Winningham tried to make the Colorado Rockies but fell just short – he was the last player cut. For his major-league career, he had a .980 fielding percentage, with 24 errors in 1,185 chances. As a base stealer, he logged 105 stolen bases and was caught 53 times. He had hit .239 (.296 on-base percentage), with 10 homers and 147 runs batted in.
Winningham signed with the Mets as a replacement player in 1995, but the player strike was resolved before any games with replacements were held. He pointed out he hadn’t been in the union since 1993, noting that when Gene Orza of the Players Association talked to him about the integrity of the union, “I told him about the integrity of my family.”16 After the strike was resolved, the Mets signed him as a coach with the Single-A Southern League’s Capital City Bombers. That club was back home in South Carolina; its home city of Columbia is less than an hour’s drive north of Orangeburg.
Winningham says he retains a place in his heart for the Mets. After he’d retired as a player, he cited general manager Frank Cashen, as well as Joe McIlvaine and Lou Gorman (who’d worked under Cashen in the early ’80s), for giving him an opportunity.
He started working with United Parcel Service loading trucks, moving on to the UPS air hub in Columbia working nights loading cubicles for the airplanes. He ended up working as a supervisor, putting in 10 years of service time.
In the meantime, he explained, “there was a historically Black college here that hired me. Claflin University. Claflin didn’t have baseball, but they wanted to bring it back. They asked me if I would coach their first team back. That was in December . They already had the schedule, and the first game was in February, but I had not one player, not one ball, not one uniform. No field. Nothing. I would get off UPS and then go to campus and do everything. I had to get guys. They had basketball games, so I went in and made announcements. I had a team. I started their program.
“Right around then, that’s when John Hart called me and asked me to come down to Florida. I got Claflin started and then went down to Florida and coached for the Charleston River Dogs in 1998.” He was hitting coach for the Huntsville Stars in 1999. In 2000, the Milwaukee Brewers hired him as their minor-league outfield and base running instructor, working throughout the Brewers system. “I was what we call a rover. I did that for two years.”
But family called. “My son Kevin (born in 1991) was getting to the point where Dad needed to be home. I was kind of tired of flying around. And Dad needed to be home.” Herm’s wife Jane has taught mathematics at public schools at Columbia and in the Orangeburg area for 20-plus years.
Winningham started coaching high school baseball at Orangeburg’s Wilkinson High, the school from which he had graduated. After seven years there, he now coaches at Calhoun County High School, about 12 miles away.
This man’s real passion for the game has never died. “If a guy has to be motivated to have enthusiasm, something’s wrong,” he once said. “How many people in the world want to be where we are? I know every day is not a bed of roses, but, man, I’m just so happy to be around, to be out playing baseball…I’m still happy to get here every day. And I’m not even playing.”17
Winningham says he also coaches an American Legion team in Columbia. “Pokey [Reese] is not too far from me. He’ll have a clinic or something and we’ll do little things.”
Last revised: June 26, 2022
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Dan Schoenholz.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, Pelotabinaria.com.ve (Venezuelan statistics), and SABR.org.
1 Author interview with Herm Winningham on February 20, 2022. Unless otherwise indicated, all unattributed quotations derive from this interview.
2 February 2022 interview. See also “Father is ill,” Huntsville Times, May 25, 1999: 29.
3 Nick Cafardo, “Winningham joins the fold,” Boston Globe, January 30, 1992: 38.
4 Stan Awtrey, “3 More Prospects Inked,” Atlanta Journal, June 20, 1979: 6-ND.
5 DeKalb South was the South Campus of DeKalb College. In 1997, the college changed its name to Georgia Perimeter College. In 2015, it merged into Georgia State University.
6 Dan Castellano, “Howard cites basics as Bucs jar Mets,” Newark Star-Ledger, September 30, 1983: 56.
7 Jerome Holtzman, “Mets catch: Gary Carter,” Chicago Tribune, December 11, 1984: C1.
8 Associated Press, “Majors will enforce oversized-glove rule,” Knoxville News-Sentinel, March 27, 1990: C3.
9 “Winningham triples sparks Reds in 12th,” Commercial Appeal (Memphis), August 16, 1990: D4.
10 Helene Elliott, “Reds Put Athletics to Sweep,” Los Angeles Times, October 2, 1990: C1.
11 “It was everything I’d dreamed about as a kid. It was the highlight of my career.” Cafardo, “Winningham joins the fold.”
12 Associated Press, “Red Sox find reserve outfielder,” Hartford Courant, January 20, 1992: C2F.
13 Alison Muscatine, “In Cincinnati, Deepest Red this Summer is in the Faces,” Washington Post, August 12, 1991: C3.
14 Nick Cafardo, “Winningham is the winner,” Boston Globe, January 22, 1992: 59.
15 He said it was the first time since Little League that he’d homered twice in a game. Robert Fachet, “Winningham Enjoys stop of RFK,” Washington Post, April 6, 1992: C5.
16 “Negotiations to resume,” Hartford Courant, February 21, 1995: C2H.
17 Mark McCarter, “Stars coach runs hard every day,” Huntsville Times, March 20, 1999: F1, F5.
Herman Son Winningham
December 1, 1961 at Orangeburg, SC (USA)
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