Next To Him, Patton Was A Wuss Bobby Moegle is the nation's winningest--and maybe toughest--coach

May 02, 1999

The relentless winds of West Texas blow away anything that isn't
deeply rooted. This is a land of crusty mesas shaped by Biblical
storms. It's the land of the lonely oil derrick extracting
energy from earth so barren that it seems hopeless. It's the
land of Bobby Moegle.

Moegle (pronounced MAY-gle), the 65-year-old baseball coach at
Monterey High in Lubbock, has won more ball games than any other
high school coach in history, and he's retiring this month after
40 seasons. But this story is not one of those mushy
greeting-card poems. In fact, at times it's as harsh as the West
Texas landscape. This is the tale of a man who arrived in
Lubbock four decades ago never suspecting that he'd stay for the
rest of the millennium and become the most renowned and
sometimes most reviled man in town.

What was Moegle thinking all those years ago as he headed up
Route 84 to Lubbock in his yellow '57 Plymouth? He looked down at
the map in his lap and saw towns named New Deal and Circle Back.
He also saw a place called Progress, but that was miles and miles
away. In the summer of 1959 Monterey High was a baseball
wasteland. The school had never won a district title, and now it
had a young coach who had never coached a game in his life.

Luckily, Monterey's opponents during most of the '60s were
managed by assistant football coaches moonlighting on the
diamond, so Moegle figured he could gain an edge in preparation.
Fresh from three seasons as a St. Louis Cardinals farmhand and
for two years before that as an Army infantryman, he ran his
club like a Double A boot camp. He was so meticulous that he
gave all his players a test consisting of 263 questions about
the fundamentals of baseball. His discipline was so draconian
that the players' war stories have become myth.

After one galling loss at rival Amarillo High in '66, Moegle
stopped his players before they boarded the team bus and made
them run the mile and a half back to the motel with their gear
slung over their shoulders as he barked at them from the bus
window. Then there was the time in '73 that jayvee pitcher
Robert Stewart was 15 seconds late for practice, and Moegle sent
him off to run. When practice ended three hours later, Stewart
was still jogging. Moegle did not tell him to stop. Instead, the
coach set up a lawn chair in the twilight and read a few
chapters of Gone with the Wind.

Two years earlier Monterey had split a doubleheader on a
scorching afternoon, and as punishment for losing once, Moegle
ordered the Plainsmen to run sprints immediately after the
second game. Catcher Jimmy Shankle, who had caught both games,
was not exempt. After several laps Shankle developed the dry
heaves and yelled, "Coach, I'm going to die!"

Moegle responded, "Naw, you'll pass out before you die. Keep
running."

The coach's infliction of physical hardship complemented his
psychological manipulation. In a '62 game, rightfielder Darnce
Ritchey misjudged a fly ball, which plunked him on the head.
Moegle made Ritchey wear a bright-red batting helmet in the
field during every practice and game for the rest of the season.

Such ploys have led Moegle's current players secretly to call
him the Phaser because he can dissolve a kid to dust. The coach
claims he has simply tried to accelerate his players'
maturation. Paraphrasing former Texas Longhorns football coach
Darrell Royal, Moegle says, "No use playing a kid unless he's
got hair on his belly."

Moegle hasn't always employed tough love. There was that moment
in the '72 state championship game when the Plainsmen led 2-1 in
the final inning, with two outs, a 3-2 count and an enemy runner
on third. Moegle's ace, Donnie Moore, beckoned him to the mound.
Moore whispered, "Coach, I'm nervous."

Moegle replied, "Hell, I'm nervous too. You just get back on
that rubber and cut it loose, and I like our chances." Moore
unleashed a blistering fastball for a strikeout to win the state
title.

Moore went on to play 13 major league seasons, ending up with
the California Angels. In 1986, in Game 5 of the American League
Championship Series, he allowed a game-tying home run to the
Boston Red Sox' Dave Henderson. Boston went on to win the game
and the series, and that incident would contribute to Moore's
suicide in '89.

That Moore is the only one of Moegle's 111 college scholarship
players to have reached the big leagues shows how much the
ornery coach has willed his players to overachieve. "Your lowest
of lows came at the end of Moegle's nose, but that's what
separated the fighters from the quitters," says Gary Ashby, a
Plainsman from '71 to '73. "The guys who survived the s.o.b.
bought into his mystique. We believed that Coach Moegle gave us
a 4-0 lead before batting practice."

Many of the former Plainsmen admit that they didn't like the
man, but they respected the coach. Under Moegle, Monterey has
won 33 district titles and four state championships ('72, '74,
'81 and '96). Three times Moegle has been voted Texas high
school coach of the year and once, in '72, national coach of the
year. Through Sunday his career record was 1,112-266.

There were times when Moegle had a chance to leave Monterey for
greener pastures, but his wife and two daughters liked Lubbock,
and he never put much stock in fame. His trophies are covered
with dust on his office shelves, and he has no idea exactly when
he became the nation's winningest coach.

"I'm just a company man who did my job for 40 years, and then
one day they start calling you a legend, and you don't even know
how you got there," he says. "Life starts running out, and you
get all these awards, and you start thinking, Gosh dang it, I
guess I did something special."

Moegle admits that his most gratifying moment came on the day in
'97 that Monterey's baseball stadium was renamed Moegle Field
and more than 50 former players showed up for the ceremony, many
of them dressed in business suits and still calling him Coach.
"When we were 16- or 17-year-old kids, we all hated his guts,"
says former Plainsman Jimmy Webster. "But by the time you turn
30, you're mailing him Christmas cards and thanking him for all
he's meant to you, and you can't really figure out why."

Indeed, Moegle's legacy in Lubbock is far more sweeping than his
record. His current second baseman, Jared Darnell, is the son of
Jim Darnell, who played for Moegle in the mid-'60s. So did Jim's
brother. And Jim's brother-in-law. Eight sons of former players
have played for Moegle, and several grandsons have participated
in his summer baseball camps. Jim Darnell, a judge in town, says
that four lawyers he works with are also Moegle alums. Three of
the four other high school coaches in Monterey's district are
Moegle disciples, one of whom might just have had enough guts
instilled in him by Moegle to succeed him.

"I wouldn't want to be the fellow who comes in behind him,
because around here it's like taking over for John Wooden," says
Ashby, now the vice president of a brokerage house. "He's one of
the rare preachers who could use the same sermon for 40 years
and never need to go looking for a new church. When Coach is
gone, there'll never be another like him."

Soon Bobby Moegle will be gone. Gone with the wind.

COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL

An infantryman in the Army, he ran his club like a Double A boot
camp.

"I just did my job for 40 years, and then one day they start
calling you a legend."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)