Steeled For The Steal The Devil Rays' Randy Winn is learning about larceny

April 18, 1999

Before a game last week at the Devil Rays' Tropicana Field,
Randy Winn, Tampa Bay's centerfielder, was asked to impersonate
Rickey Henderson. It was just for fun. After all, Henderson is
baseball's alltime stolen base king, and Winn--well, Winn is
merely a fast young guy who's 1,272 thefts in arrears. He took
the challenge seriously, however. He walked to the bat rack,
picked out a piece of lumber and struck the stance: He placed
his left foot straight out, crouched tight, lifted his right
elbow and gently twirled the bat. Instant Rickey.

"Growing up, I watched Henderson all the time," says Winn, 24.
"Him, Vince Coleman, Tim Raines. If I picked up anything from
those guys, I'd be lucky." Lucky or not, he's plenty fast. Last
season, in 109 games with Tampa Bay, Winn swiped 26 bases to
lead all rookies. More intriguingly, he represented something
rarely seen since Coleman started running wild in 1985--a
purebred baseball larcenist. "Oh, man, will Randy steal some
bases!" says Billy Hatcher, the Devil Rays' first base coach.
"When Coleman was at his best, taking the perfect lead with a
big jump, nobody could stop him. Randy's not there yet, but he
will be."

The soft-spoken Winn doesn't yet know how this theft thing works.
Sure, he can burn with the best of them, but his leads are still
too short, his jumps too late, his slides too soft and his
knowledge of opposing pitchers too limited. "I'm not even close
to being established," says Winn, who made his big league debut
last May after just two full minor league seasons. "Kenny Lofton,
Brian Hunter, Tony Womack--those guys have been around and have
been on top. Stealing is all trial and error. I'm still going
through the trials." And the errors: Last year Winn was caught
stealing 12 times.

So, he works--with Hatcher and manager Larry Rothschild--and
keeps a book on pitchers, scribbling notes on their pickoff
moves, deliveries and leg kicks. He watches tape. "In a way, we
hurt Randy," says Hatcher. "Last year we were just going to have
him pinch run, but then he played so well we kept him around. If
Randy was still in the minors, he could experiment, steal every
time on base and learn how to do it. Now he's learning
everything in the majors."

While growing up in Danville, Calif., Winn starred in baseball
and basketball--as well as in the classroom, where he was an
honor-roll student at San Ramon Valley High. At Santa Clara he
was a redshirt freshman on the Steve Nash-led basketball team
that, in 1993, shocked Arizona in the first round of the NCAA
tournament. "Probably my greatest sports moment," he says. Winn
played two full seasons of college baseball and basketball before
deciding to concentrate on a single sport. "My coach made me," he
says. "I love basketball, but I knew where my future was."

So did the Devil Rays, who selected him from the Marlins in the
expansion draft in November 1997. Winn hit .278 for Tampa Bay
last season and this season was batting .292 through Sunday. A
natural righthander, he has been switch-hitting for three years
with encouraging results. He's still as raw as fresh-caught
scrod, but that's fine with the Devil Rays. "Randy has everything
it takes to be a star," says Hatcher. "We just have to help him
get there."

--J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT ROGERS
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)