Winkles Thrives on Radio After Surviving the Angels' 'Great Experiment'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For a self-described "hillbilly from Arkansas," Bobby Winkles has gone far, even though he admits he made a mistake in accepting the Angels' managerial job in 1972. Winkles, 60, is currently in his fourth season as a part-time analyst on the Montreal Expos' English-language radio broadcasts after coaching with four major league teams and managing two.

In 1972, he was the guinea pig for what was billed as "The Great Experiment," a successful college coach (winning three NCAA championships at Arizona State and producing such future major leaguers as Reggie Jackson, Rick Monday and Sal Bando) going to the major leagues as a coach. At the end of the season, then-Texas Ranger owner Bob Short sought permission from the Angels to talk with Winkles about becoming his team's manager.

Instead, the Angels fired Manager Del Rice and replaced him with Winkles, making him the first major league manager to have coached on the collegiate level.

"I got the feeling the reason they offered me that job after only one year of coaching in the big leagues was because they felt Short might hire me," said Winkles, who termed his tenure with the Angels as "a wonderful time." "(Agreeing to manage then) was a real mistake I made career-wise.

"You don't learn about 10-man pitching staffs and bullpens all in one year. You look at most young managers who come into the game from playing, and if you look at their weaknesses, it's handling the pitching staff. I took it about two years before I should have."

Bringing a hustling style of play to the team, Winkles guided the 1973 Angels to a 79-83 record and a fourth-place finish in the American League West, four more victories and one place higher in the standings than the previous season. (The Angels would not surpass that victory total until 1978, after three more managers had been fired.) The improvement earned Winkles a salary increase from $28,000 to $40,000.

The 1973 Angels brought Winkles one of his greatest thrills in his 21-season, on-field career in professional baseball; he had a front-row seat as Nolan Ryan pitched two no-hitters and struck out a major league record 383 batters.

"He was a wonderful guy to work with," Winkles said this week before a Dodgers-Expos doubleheader at Dodger Stadium. "I remember one time Nolan was kind of moping around and I called him in the office. I said, 'Nolan, if you're going to mope around like this, if you're going to act like it's a big problem to play baseball, you better go back to Alvin, Tex., and the farm. The next day we played Kansas City and he pitched a no-hitter.

"He came into my office afterward and said, 'Winks, you better get on me a little more like that.' "

Winkles had another of his best moments the next season, but it would not be with the Angels. With the dissension-ridden Angels mired in last place with a 30-44 record, and Winkles feuding with future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson and disagreeing with General Manager Harry Dalton over personnel matters, Winkles was fired June 27, 1974.

On July 9, Winkles was hired by the Oakland Athletics as their third-base coach. The team would go on to defeat the Dodgers in the World Series.

After another season with the Athletics, Winkles joined the San Francisco Giants as a coach. In the midst of the 1977 season, he returned to the Athletics, this time as manager. In 1978, with a young team destined to finish last but leading the American League West, he resigned because of philosophical differences with owner Charles O. Finley.

"Charlie Finley was a tough guy to work for," Winkles said. "But let's not forget that he put that team together practically by himself. He was a brilliant man."

Winkles' next stop was the Chicago White Sox, where he spent three years as a coach and four seasons as director of the minor league system. He became the Expos' hitting coach in 1986, a position he retired from after the 1988 season.

"I had 38 years of putting on that uniform," Winkles said. "1988 was one of the first years I was making good money as a coach. I was a guy who said that when I'd had enough, I'd hang them up. I was still enjoying it, but not to the extent I was."

So Winkles and his wife, Ellie, retired to La Quinta. Rather than completely separate himself from baseball, he got a job as a fill-in on the Expos' English-language radio broadcasts when the regular announcers work TV games. He is scheduled to do 49 games this season.

"It's a wonderful job," Winkles said. "It's a chance to look at the game without beating your head into the walls after your team has a bad game. As a broadcaster, you want your team to win, but it's not as personal a thing as when you're a coach or manager."

Another advantage is the hours.

"As a coach, you go to the park at 2 o'clock and get home at midnight," Winkles said. "When you're an announcer, you go to the park at 5 o'clock and get home at midnight. You save three hours a day."

As an announcer, the easy-going Winkles admits to a prejudice toward the Expos.

"If a mistake is made by one of our players, I point that out," Winkles said. "But if its a borderline mistake, I give the other side and what the player could have been thinking."

Elliott Price, who handles the play-by-play alongside Winkles, said it is difficult to get Winkles to be critical.

"You can't meet a nicer guy," Price said. "He tends not to be overly critical because he is such a nice man. He says very few bad things about anybody. I have to squeeze it out of him."

There is one thing that raises Winkles' ire--some of the changes for the worse by some of today's players compared to when he managed the Angels.

"It was pretty much cut and dried that guys were going to play then when they were hurt," Winkles said. "We ran more balls out than most guys do now. Some guys now take six seconds to get to first base after getting a base hit.

"We play a lot of cat-and-mouse games now with the pitcher and hitter. If the pitcher takes a little longer, the hitter steps out. Now the pitcher is upset, so he steps off the rubber. The next thing you know, 40 seconds are gone and a pitch hasn't been thrown.

"I'm from the old school, I believe you play hard, run everything out and run in and out to your position. We did it with the Angels. We averaged 2 hours 18 minutes a game. Now we're averaging 2 hours 55 minutes a game.

"To me, the fan doesn't like that. The fan with the family that goes to the ball game and gets home at midnight, that makes the kids cross. We have to do something that speeds up the game."

Winkles often employs homespun Arkansas expressions on the air, like calling a slow curveball a "slop drop," a line drive is, "like a stream of milk going to the outfield," and an aggressive hitter, "jumped on the ball like a hungry dog on a bone."

At the start of Winkles' broadcasting career, the Expos hired a tutor to try to get him to change some of his language. But comments from one of the game's most legendary announcers made him stay with his natural expressiveness.

"I sent a tape to Vin Scully and asked him to check out a few innings to see what he thought," Winkles said. "He called me back and said, 'Bob, just keep those slop drops coming and you'll be all right.' "

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