Born and raised in the Southside of Birmingham for his entire life, and having practiced law for almost 50 years in this city, my dad had always felt that he had been blessed beyond belief. Coming from a working class family, he achieved the first million dollar jury verdict in Alabama, and in a case we tried together, succeeded in obtaining the state’s first hundred million dollar jury verdict. We have been entrusted with the representation of thousands of people over these many years and have always worked hard and taken our obligations to our clients with the utmost of responsibility. I say that to preface the following thoughts. I have asked my dad to share a few of the things that have influenced him in his life, and molded his outlook on his love of sports and the New York Yankees and why he feels so passionately about them and the history of this city. Some of these passions began at very early age, but remained a lifelong passion, culminating with the commissioning of the beautiful mural on the south face of our building where we have practiced law for so long. We have been very fortunate to help so many people in this state. We consider it an honor to repay our city a small portion of what it has given to us.
Birmingham, Alabama is a special place. For a boy growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, playing sports was a wonderful way to learn about friendship, teamwork and competition. Living on 16th Street South, there were abundant places to play, whether in the streets or in one of the many public parks or other facilities available for use.
During elementary school, football practices and games were held at Glen Iris Grammar School and Ramsay High School on Birmingham’s Southside. When football season was over, there was a quick transition to basketball at the courts of the Five Points YMCA. When spring arrived, the sports season changed to baseball. We played at Jordan Park, the present location of Jerry D. Young Field where the University of Alabama at Birmingham now plays its home baseball games.
Living in Birmingham gave me so many opportunities to learn to play different sports and perhaps more importantly to learn about teamwork, dedication, sacrifice and sportsmanship. I’ve never forgotten the opportunities I had, though I suppose it would have been easy to simply take them for granted. I never did. The times and places I remember so fondly from my youth bring back wonderful memories.
I suppose that most kids have favorite teams in different sports that they follow closely or “pull for,” as we say in the South.
My team, though it might seem unusual, was and is the New York Yankees. During the years when I was ages 8 through 12, the New York Yankees won the World Series Championship each year; five years in a row, something that no team had ever done before, or since. That winning streak began my love of the New York Yankees. When asked, I always reply, “Who else could have been my favorite team but the team that won 5 straight when I was a kid?”
Also being an avid reader when I was young, I began reading books about the history of the team and some of the great players who had worn the New York Yankees pinstripes. The first sports biography I ever read was that of Lou Gehrig, the great Yankee first baseman who died while still in his 30s of the terrible disease which now bears his name. I was much impressed and moved. Later, I would read about almost all famous Yankees and came to conclusion that the greatest baseball player who ever lived was George Herman Ruth, known to Yankees fans as simply the “Babe.” One year Babe Ruth hit more homeruns than any other team in the American League. He was the best left handed pitcher in baseball before he was converted to a full time outfielder where he broke every slugging record in the books. On April 18, 1923, “The House that Ruth Built” was opened in the Bronx. Some people call it Yankee Stadium.
Around 25 years ago I thought how nice it would be to have a small collection of unusual, distinctive memorabilia from the New York Yankees and the players and managers who were a part of the team over the decades. I suppose I never realized exactly how many items I could acquire without really devoting much time to the process. Though I never planned to accumulate more than just a few pieces, our collection has been called the most extensive New York Yankees memorabilia collection in the Southeast.
Of the thousand or so items in the collection, I think that my favorites and the ones I cherish most are those that friends and colleagues have been kind enough to give me. Although the collection contains many older and more valuable pieces, I shall never forget the occasion when a friend gave me a collector’s plate from an original painting by Christopher Paluso. The plate was cast in 1984 and was numbered 275, and showed Babe Ruth’s face in the center with three additional images of Ruth surrounding the center image.
A pair of friends from my college days married in Greenville, Alabama around 1960. They knew of my great love for the Yankees and in the 70s, vacationed in East Tennessee near what is now Dollywood. Upon their return to Alabama, they came by the office and had in their back seat a huge print featuring Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford which commemorated their induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The print also featured likenesses of Casey Stengel, Roger Maris and Billy Martin from above as if they were heavenly creatures peering down upon numbers 7 and 16 at the time of the Hall of Fame induction. There were also likeness of Mantle swinging a bat and Ford throwing his left-handed magic. Of course, I was thrilled to receive this kind, thoughtful gift and immediately hung it in the office where it still enjoys a prominent place in our collection. We laid this friend, C. Norman Rice to rest in December, 2012. I am still very grateful for the kind gift they brought so long ago.
Another meaningful piece in the collection came to me by way of an Alabama Circuit Judge who gave me a framed composite photo of the 1932 New York Yankees. This was the team that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez, Bill Dickey, Frank Crosetti, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Sewell, and Ben Chapman. The Judge pointed out to me that Sewell and Chapman had played baseball at the University of Alabama before joining to the New York Yankees and also that Chapman had played at Phillips High School which is located only about a long home run from the office of the Wininger Law Firm. While this framed composite photo was hanging on the wall at the Wininger Law Firm, a friend glanced up at the photo during an office conference and stated, “My dad is in that picture.” It turns out that he was the son of Ben Chapman, of the 1932 Yankees.
For the first time in years, the New York Yankees went to the World Series in 1976. We had previously represented Bill Wrigley (owner of the Chicago Cubs, member of the Wrigley Gum family, and primary stockholder of the Wrigley Company). Knowing of our passion for the New York Yankees, Wrigley graciously offered us the Chicago Cubs allotment of World Series tickets for the games at Yankee Stadium that year. My father, D.B. Wininger, my son, DeLeal Wininger, and I traveled to New York for games 3 and 4 of the World Series. Unfortunately, the New York Yankees were swept by the Cincinnati Reds, led by Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose and several other future Hall of Fame players. We were heartbroken but proud to have been witness to World Series and New York Yankees history.
One ray of sunshine shown upon us during that 1976 trip, came before game 3. We ran into Joe DiMaggio in the lobby of our midtown hotel. We caught the elevator DiMaggio was on and exited on his floor where we somehow gained admission to a suite with many New York Yankees immortals. Although we knew we were not invited to this event we stayed for a minute and were given a New York Yankees leather-bound address book as a memento. Looking back, that was one of the first pieces of New York Yankee memorabilia we collected.
While on a trip to visit my youngest daughter in the Portland, Oregon area, we passed a beautiful mural depicting angels on the side of a 2-story building. It occurred us that cities that have large murals on walls and buildings just seemed more inviting than cities that do not. Thinking out loud, I said that Birmingham would be a more inviting place if we had murals in our downtown area. It was at that point that we began conceiving a plan to help beautify Birmingham, honor baseball, and create something that could be left to future generations and our building would be the perfect place for it. My wife, Peggy, has artistic talent and began to draw likenesses of several players. I selected several iconic players whom I felt should be honored. Over several years, we interviewed approximately 15 artists before selecting Stephen A. Smith, whom we felt had the perfect vision of our project. Finally in 2012, the project took shape and we scheduled an appearance before the city’s Design Review Committee, which has the authority to accept or reject proposed projects such as ours. We prepared the necessary documents for our appearance before the committee which voted unanimously to approve our project.
The result of the artist’s work is nothing short of astonishing. The mural features likenesses of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter, and Yogi Berra. The placement of the mural dominates the cityscape on Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard North, the primary northbound one-way street in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.
A lifetime devotion of the Wininger family to the New York Yankees, through attending games in New York and holding season tickets for the New York Yankees spring training games in Tampa for 15 years, combined with the deep emotional ties the family has with its home town of Birmingham created a perfect storm of opportunity to repay the city with a beautiful piece of work in an effort to beautify the downtown area for years to come.
Since 1964, the WLF has represented injury and wrongful death victims in the state of Alabama and adjoining states. We feel fortunate to have had great success in representing our clients and friends and, proudly, through diligence and hard work have achieved true justice for those who call us their lawyers. Please take a moment to peruse our website and learn more about our firm. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured we would be happy to talk with you about possibly representing your interests.