The dead seagull that caused a major-league headache for Dave Winfield

On Aug. 4, 1983, Dave Winfield, then a 31-year-old New York Yankees outfielder, threw a warm-up ball in the middle of the fifth inning that struck and killed a seagull.

In 1983, the Yankees outfielder ended up at a Toronto police station after his throw killed a bird

New York Yankee Dave Winfield is seen at Toronto's 14 Division police station after the game in which a ball he threw killed a gull in 1983. (Dale Brazao/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

Feathers were flying — and then a lot of bird puns — after an eventful Blue Jays fifth inning at Toronto's Exhibition Stadium on Aug. 4, 1983.

Dave Winfield, then a 31-year-old New York Yankees outfielder, threw a warm-up ball in the middle of the fifth inning that struck and killed a seagull.

But that was not the end of the story.

After the game ended, Winfield, an all-star athlete and future Blue Jay, was taken to a police station and charged with cruelty to animals.

"Never before has one bird caused such a flap," said the CBC's Vicki Russell, summarizing the situation in a report that aired on The National the following day.

'A full autopsy'

Seagull's death probed

40 years ago
Duration 0:13
The Toronto Humane Society was trying to determine the exact cause of the seagull's death.

The Toronto Humane Society was helping police with the investigation.

"We also accepted the bird from [police] and have submitted it to the University of Guelph for a full autopsy to give us a cause of death," said Michael O'Sullivan of the Toronto Humane Society.

Speaking to reporters, Winfield said he did not intend to harm the seagull.

"I turned and whipped and threw the ball, you know, to the batboy and a bird happened to be there and it's unfortunate," he said, as reporters could be heard laughing.

In the 1980s, Toronto had a lot of gulls flapping their wings around the city. (CBLT Newshour/CBC Archives)

The incident occurred at a time when Toronto's population of ring-billed gulls was on the rise. In 1985, a report by CBC's Jay-Dell Mah indicated the local population had grown from an estimated 10,000 birds to "nearly 200,000" within the span of a few years.

'A laughing farce'

Torontonians react to the seagull controversy

40 years ago
Duration 0:25
CBC News asks people in Toronto for their reaction to the seagull controversy involving Dave Winfield.

In August of 1983, the death of the seagull and the ensuing investigation had many Torontonians scoffing at the idea of charging Winfield.

"I think it's just making Toronto a laughing farce of the whole baseball league," said one man who spoke to CBC News.

Other Torontonians called the story "ridiculous" and "a joke," as well as "crazy" and "nuts."

As anchor Knowlton Nash had wryly noted in the intro to the piece on The National, Winfield had recorded three hits during the game.

"Two baseballs and a seagull," he said.

The following day, the people who would be tasked with taking the charge forward were having second thoughts.

"Late this afternoon, the Crown attorney said he'll ask the court next week to drop the criminal charges because he doesn't think Winfield flew afoul of the law," Russell reported.

'Invited or extradited?'

Dave Winfield on the seagull incident

39 years ago
Duration 1:14
At a charity event, Dave Winfield talks about the seagull incident about six months after it occurred.

Six months after the seagull incident, Winfield was back in Toronto to participate in an event benefiting the Easter Seals Society.

He spoke briefly about the moment that had sparked so much controversy.

"What happened to me, it was an accident," said Winfield.

The star ballplayer also told his audience about his family's reaction to him being invited to the charity event in Toronto.

"They said: "Invited or extradited'?" Winfield said, drawing laughs from the audience.

He also brought a painting to be auctioned off. It featured the image of a gull standing in front of a maple leaf like the one on the Canadian flag, as well as images of two other gulls in flight.

The Toronto Star reported in the next day's paper that the painting sold for $32,000 — with all of the proceeds benefiting the Easter Seals Society.

Years later, Winfield would join the Blue Jays as a free agent near the end of his career.

His one-year stint in 1992 saw him play a key role in Toronto, as the Blue Jays won their first World Series championship. It was the only World Series victory Winfield enjoyed during his long career as a major leaguer.

Dave Winfield won his only World Series ring when playing with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992. (Doug Mills/Associated Press)