Angles in the Outfield
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.
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.
"The major point of the lunch meeting centered on naming the field at Packard for Coach Bobby Winkles," White wrote in a November 2, 1999 memo to Ceglas.
Realizing that this would be a controversial move, White asked Ceglas to form "a small committee to look at naming opportunities for both Coach Winkles and Coach Jim Brock."
The unofficial committee, which would include Hancock, was to make recommendations to White, which he would then forward to the university's formal committee on naming buildings and facilities. The official group was chaired by Ostrum, who six months earlier had secured Hancock's $1 million commitment.
"Thanks in advance for pushing this very important matter to complete fruition," White stated in a memo to Ceglas.
Two months later, Ceglas convened the "Baseball Naming Committee," which included Hancock and several other prominent individuals, including baseball donor Harvey Jabara; former Sun Devil baseball player and Oakland A's standout Sal Bando; powerhouse Phoenix attorney Mike Gallagher, who was a pitcher under Winkles; and ASU stadium benefactor Guthrie Packard Jr.
The committee convened its only meeting on January 18, 2000, and, not surprisingly, recommended "that the field at Packard Stadium be named Bobby Winkles Field," according to ASU records.
The committee also recommended that "we appropriately recognize and acknowledge Coach Jim Brock by naming the planned 'Walk/Circle of Fame' (honoring our great baseball tradition) in his honor upon entry to Packard Stadium," ASU records state.
Ceglas requested that committee members "keep these tributes confidential until we can finalize our plans and inform the campus and baseball community."
A committee member who asked not to be named says the meeting was a sham, convened simply to rubber-stamp the desires of a large contributor. "This is just a former player donating a large sum of money and these are his wishes," the committee member says.
Nothing came of it for nearly a year. Last December, athletic director Gene Smith asked Patsy Brock to lunch at the University Club, where they were joined by Ceglas. They discussed Hancock's donation and planned renovations at Packard Stadium.
"Vic Ceglas told me that they had been trying to find a way to honor two coaches," Patsy Brock says. "They had been able to get a donor and they were going to be able to do some really nice renovations to the entrance to Packard Stadium. He said as a part of this they were going to name the field Bobby Winkles Field."
According to Patsy Brock, Ceglas told her that ASU planned to build a pavilion leading up to the entrance of the stadium and it would be named the Jim Brock walkway.
"When they stopped for reaction from me, I told them that I thought that it was terrible and that the Brock family could not support it," she says.
Patsy Brock says she was prepared for the proposal, having heard rumors that ASU was considering naming the field after Winkles.
"I felt the walkway was not sufficient recognition for his accomplishments," Patsy Brock says. "Whenever there is a game and it's on television, they say, 'Here we are at Packard Stadium and Bobby Winkles Field.' They don't throw in there is a little walkway out front named for my husband."
Brock says Smith seemed somewhat concerned about her statements, particularly after she presented a comparison of the accomplishments of the two coaches.
Winkles coached ASU when the team competed in the Western Athletic Conference, a much weaker slate of teams than the competition Brock faced during most of his tenure in the Pacific 10 Conference. Winkles' teams turned out 17 major league players and 15 All-Americans, compared with Brock's teams that churned out 55 major league players and 39 All-Americans.
Winkles also coached during a period of far less scrutiny by the media and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which monitors academic performance of players. Winkles had 28 full scholarships available for his teams. By Brock's final year, there were only 11 full scholarships allowed.
"Gene Smith acted concerned and very responsive to my plea and said [they] would like to revisit this situation," she says.
But on January 25, Smith called Patsy Brock and said the decision to name the field after Winkles was firm.
Smith says honoring Winkles by naming the field falls in line with ASU naming its football field after Frank Kush and basketball court after Ned Wulk. Both coaches were the first to bring national recognition to their respective programs. Smith says Winkles did the same thing for ASU baseball.
"The opportunity for all of us to enjoy baseball the way we are enjoying it today goes back to its roots and it goes back to Coach Winkles," Smith says.
Mike Gallagher, a power broker in the Valley's sports community through his close association with Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks general partner Jerry Colangelo, agrees with Smith's assessment of Winkles' pivotal role in the history of ASU baseball. At the same time, Gallagher implies that simply tossing a bone Brock's way is sufficient.
"I think Winkles Field is fine," Gallagher says. "I think there ought to be something named for Jim, too, for what he did."
"What's left? A pavilion. A clubhouse. I have no idea."
Naming the baseball field after Winkles also needed approval from the Packard family, which donated several hundred thousand dollars in the early 1970s to build Packard Stadium. Guthrie Packard Jr. is emphatic that Brock supporters are striking out by requesting the field be named after both coaches.
"It's a classless action. It takes away from the program," Packard says. "Nothing will be accomplished by stirring it up."
Former Sun Devil All-American Michael Colbern says he's talked to more than 40 former ASU players who later became major league players. They believe that Winkles and Brock should at least share equal billing, and some think the field should be named only after Brock.
Anthony C. Manahan, a former Brock player, is one of those who says the field should be named after Brock.
"Had myself and other players known of the donation by Mr. Hancock and Hancock Homes, we would have not only come forward earlier but would have easily raised as much or more money in protest, and to show our support for a different name (Brock Field comes to mind)," Manahan wrote in a February 20 letter to ASU president Lattie Coor.
Colbern is less strident, seeking to find a compromise.
"I think we have a simple solution to this problem," Colbern states in a letter to Coor that included a dozen quotes from other ASU former players and prominent college baseball coaches supporting Brock. "Just add Brock's [name] next to Winkles."
That solution appears very unlikely at this late date. Coor formally approved naming the field after Winkles on February 26. And Winkles doesn't appear to be ready to accept equal billing.
Reached at his home in La Quinta, California, Monday evening, Winkles laughed when told that Patsy Brock says she would have asked that the field be called Winkles-Brock if ASU was seeking to name the field solely after her late husband.
Pressed on whether he would support adding Brock's name to his, Winkles balked, and gave an odd statement that doesn't appear to recognize that Brock died nearly six years ago.
"I'm just going to go over there Saturday and have a good time," Winkles says. "I want to see my ex-players and the fans and come home Monday. I don't have anything against Jim Brock or Patsy Brock. They can do what they want to, or feel what they want to. That's their privilege. They live in America."
One person who won't be at the field dedication ceremony at Packard Stadium Saturday is Patsy Brock.
"I don't think I will ever walk through those gates again," she says.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.