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 halfback 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."