Bobby Brooks Winkles (1930–2020)
Bobby Winkles’s career in baseball spanned over four decades. While he never played in the major leagues, he served an often pivotal role in the development of many who did. His influence was felt in the college ranks, where he turned Arizona State University (ASU) into a national powerhouse, as well as in all levels of the professional game, where he served as a coach, manager, front office executive, and broadcaster.
Bobby Brooks Winkles was born on March 11, 1930, in Tuckerman (Jackson County) to Clifford Winkles and Devona Brooks Winkles. When he was nine years old, the family moved to Swifton (Jackson County), where he got his early education, graduating from Swifton High School before heading off to college. It was in Swifton that Winkles got his introduction to big-time baseball when he had future Hall of Famer and Swifton native George Kell as his seventh-grade teacher. Kell was an important influence on Winkles, teaching him valuable lessons about concentration and practice. He also steered him toward playing the infield, and Winkles would spend most of his playing days at second base.
After starring at Swifton High School, Winkles headed to Illinois Wesleyan University. He graduated in 1952, having majored in philosophy. His baseball performances during those years were strong enough that the Chicago White Sox signed him in 1951 and paid him a $10,000 bonus, while he was still a student. The White Sox initially sent him to their Colorado Springs affiliate in the Class A Western League, but he missed the whole of the 1953 season when he spent a year in the U.S. Army. That year, Winkles married Ellie Hoeman; they had two daughters.
Returning to baseball for the 1954 season, he began a minor league career that would include stops in Colorado Springs, Colorado; Memphis, Tennessee; Charleston, West Virginia; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Indianapolis, Indiana. He was also preparing for his post-playing career, earning a master’s degree in physical education from the University of Colorado.
After seven years in the minors, having compiled a respectable record that included a .270 batting average, and having reached Triple A, Winkles was forced to confront the prospects of his professional future when his Triple A Indianapolis Indians manager Walker Cooper told him, “There is just one thing keeping you out of the major leagues. Ability.” With a family to support, Winkles took the candid assessment to heart, but he found another way to stay involved with the game he loved.
In September 1958, Winkles left his stagnant baseball career behind and accepted an offer to resurrect the ASU baseball program, which only two years before had been stripped of virtually all its school-supplied financial support. He soon learned that he was to build not just the program but also arrange for the construction of the university’s first baseball field.
Winkles built an impressive program, transforming it from one that at its beginnings did not even have a field into a national champion that had few peers. His ASU Sun Devils won the College World Series in 1965, 1967, and 1969, with the 1969 team winning a then record fifty-six games, with only eleven defeats. The program also produced a string of major leaguers, including Rick Monday, the first player selected in the inaugural Major League Baseball Amateur Draft in 1965, as well as Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando, two of the central cogs of the World Series champion Oakland Athletics of the early 1970s.
After thirteen seasons in Arizona, Winkles was open to a new challenge. Following the 1971 college season, the California Angels offered him a job as a coach, working under their new manager Del Rice, a longtime acquaintance. Winkles served under Rice for half of the 1971 season as well as the 1972 campaign until Rice was fired. The Angels named Winkles as manager, and while it was not the first time that a former college coach was put in charge of a major league squad, it did represent a departure from the norm. After achieving an almost .500 record the first season, the Angels struggled in the second campaign, and when Winkles clashed with aging superstar Frank Robinson, he was fired by Angels management. However, he was soon hired as a coach by the Oakland A’s, a move that united him with his former ASU stars Sal Bando and Reggie Jackson. The team finished that 1974 season with a World Series, giving Winkles a Major League championship to go with his three NCAA crowns.
On January 26, 1975, Winkles’s daughter, eleven-year-old Kristi, died of a blocked vein in her brain. Despite the tragedy, Winkles again coached the A’s, who repeated as the American League’s Western Division champions, only to lose in the league championship series to the Boston Red Sox.
Following the 1975 season, there were reports that Winkles, an avid golfer, was considering retiring to open a restaurant and lounge at the San Clemente Municipal Golf Course. But he returned to baseball as a coach for the San Francisco Giants. After a little over a season with the Giants, in June 1977, he was named manager of the Oakland A’s. While he was unable to overcome the team’s slow start that year, they started off strong in 1978. Despite the success, in May, Winkles suddenly resigned over interference from the team’s mercurial owner, Charlie O. Finley. From 1979 to 1981, Winkles was a coach for the Chicago White Sox, being promoted to director of player personnel. Winkles held that post until 1983, when he crossed the border into Canada, joining the Montreal Expos as their batting coach, a job he held for two seasons until he served as a first-base coach in 1988. From 1989 to 1993, Winkles brought his many years of experience to the broadcast booth doing part-time work as one of the teams’ analysts. Following the 1993 season, he retired to California.
Winkles’s college accomplishments have been recognized in a number of ways. In 2001, Arizona State University named their field after Winkles. And in 2006, he was a member of the inaugural class of the College Baseball Hall of Fame. He made his home in retirement in LaQuinta, California. He died on April 17, 2020.
For additional information:
Bobby Winkles. http://bobbywinkles.com/ (accessed July 30, 2020).
Chan, Morgan. “Winkles Put ASU Baseball on Map, Nurtured Talents Such as Reggie Jackson.” Cronkite News, December. 9, 2014. http://cronkitenewsonline.com/2014/12/winkles-put-asu-baseball-on-map-nurtured-talents-such-as-reggie-jackson/ (accessed July 30, 2020).
King, Norm. “Bobby Winkles” Society for Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/e2afb910 (accessed July 30, 2020).
William H. Pruden III
Last Updated: 07/30/2020