Angles in the Outfield

Fame is not the name of the game in controversy over ASU baseball field

A long-simmering bitterness surrounding one of the nation's most successful college baseball programs at Arizona State University is erupting into full-scale warfare as the university prepares to name its baseball field on March 3 after legendary coach Bobby Winkles.

No one is saying Winkles is not worthy of the honor; he won 524 games and three national championships in 12 years as head coach of the Sun Devils beginning in 1959. But many supporters of Winkles' successor -- the late Jim Brock -- believe Brock is unfairly being snubbed.

Brock, who died of cancer in June 1994 just days after accompanying the team to the College World Series in Omaha, coached the Sun Devils for 23 years, won 1,100 games and took the team to the CWS 13 times -- winning two national championships.

Patsy Brock
Casey McKee
Patsy Brock

Brock's wife, Patsy, suggested naming the field at ASU's Packard Stadium after both coaches. That proposal has been coldly received by Winkles supporters and Bobby Winkles himself. The affair has left Patsy Brock angry and bitter. Late last month, she resigned her position on the ASU alumni board of directors.

"It's over for me. I will no longer support them through my service, through my money, through my attendance at any of the activities. It's over. I have to take a stand and that's it," she says.

At the center of the controversy is a $1 million donation to the ASU athletic department from Tempe homebuilder Greg Hancock, who played at ASU for Winkles in 1967 and 1968. Hancock did everything but stipulate that his donation was contingent on naming the field after Bobby Winkles.

"I have been asked that before, if there was a stipulation, and the answer to that is no," Hancock says. "Was it a strong request on my part? You bet."

Starved for alumni financial support, ASU athletic department officials under former athletic director Kevin White eagerly solicited contributions from wealthy alumni such as Hancock.

Once Hancock's commitment was secured, the athletic department, led by associate lead athletic director Vic Ceglas, quietly sidestepped university regulations governing the naming of publicly owned facilities.

The Board of Regents regulations require that a university committee recommendation be approved by ASU president Lattie Coor before publicly naming a facility. But the athletic department announced in January that the field would be named after Winkles -- more than a month before the committee forwarded its recommendation to the president's office on February 23. Coor signed off on the plan on February 26.

The Winkles Field dedication is scheduled to take place before Saturday's game against defending national champion Louisiana State University. The Winkles fete is reopening old wounds that linger from 1972 when Winkles left ASU to join the professional ranks as a coach for the California Angels.

Winkles recommended someone else as his replacement, but former ASU athletic director Fred Miller hired Brock, who had won two consecutive national junior college championships at Mesa Community College.

Since then, the rift between the two factions has kept some former players, such as Hancock, from attending ASU baseball games for more than two decades.

"I'm trying to think if I ever went to a game during the Brock era, and I don't think I ever did," Hancock says.

Brock took steps to heal the wounds, including supporting a lengthy fund-raising drive in the 1980s to raise money to pay for College World Series commemorative rings for players who won national championships under Winkles in the 1960s. At that time, ASU didn't have the cash to buy the rings.

"He could have said, 'No, I want this to be a fund raiser for my program,'" says Mike Parkinson, a former ASU player who worked as the marketing director for the Sun Devil athletic department in the 1980s. "But he didn't. He gave us 100 percent support and said that's a great idea."

Brock also was generous with his personal financial contributions to ASU baseball, including forwarding to the team all funds he received from shoe contracts. Despite his stature as the seventh winningest college baseball coach in history, he pulled down a yeoman's salary, topping out at $75,000 a year. Ironically, his legacy now is being overlooked by ASU officials, whose primary mission is to raise money.

ASU fund raisers -- led by Ceglas in the athletic department and Lonnie Ostrum, president of the ASU Foundation -- had been soliciting funds from Hancock for some time. Hancock finally agreed in July 1999 to donate $1 million to the Campaign of Leadership in Athletics following a luncheon with Ostrum. The money -- which will be paid over 10 years -- is to be used to enhance the baseball facilities at Packard Stadium.

In exchange for Hancock's donation, ASU athletic department records show that the university is prepared to name a new baseball clubhouse after Hancock -- at whatever future date Hancock believes is appropriate.

But that was not enough for Hancock. He understood his money could buy far more from ASU.

"I mean, who's kidding who?" he says. "The university needs donors. They need people and alumni to be actively involved in that university to help get some of these projects done."

Six months after agreeing to make the donation and securing the clubhouse naming rights, Hancock had lunch with Kevin White to discuss another matter.

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