The Pride of Swifton, Arkansas: Bobby Winkles Remembers George, ‘Skeeter’ Kell

Bobby Winkles is still proud of the
company he keeps!

(Photo courtesy of Guy Lancaster and
the Encyclopedia of Arkansas website.)

It’s nice to get a second chance.

I wrote about Bobby Winkles twice in this blog. He sent me an epic letter, describing what it was like to coach Reggie Jackson in college. Later, he recounted the work ethic and sincere charm of pitcher Nolan Ryan while skippering the California Angels.

I asked about everyone but Winkles. He mentioned growing up near Swifton.

Swifton is the hometown of Hall of Famer George Kell and his brother Everett “Skeeter” Kell.

Both Kells made an impact in Winkles’ rise to success. He remembered…

“I was born in Tuckerman, Ark. Moved to Swifton when I was 9 years old.

Skeeter Kell was one year ahead of me at Swifton High School. We didn’t have baseball. Small school, 19 in my graduation class. Skeeter and I played on the Town team. We played each Sunday when our cotton was plowed for the last time. We played Thursday and Sunday.

Skeeter and I were like brothers.

George Kell was my idol. he was my teacher in the 7th grade. There’s a 10 by 15-foot sign on the highway honoring the three of us. The only city in Arkansas to have three major league participants at the major league level.

Swifton had a population of 520. We also have a three-star general, Billy Paul Bowden.

I lived 3-1/2 miles from Swifton on a cotton farm. We lived in a 2-story house. The upstairs windows were boarded up and we had no electricity or plumbing.”

Winkles will be 82 on March 11. I’ve always thought his humble roots would make a good book. He agrees.

“I have a book coming out around the first of the year. Those who have read the manuscript says it’s good reading. Tell your friends. Ha ha.”

Coming Monday: a holiday warning for autograph collectors.

Angels Skipper Winkles Describes Nolan Ryan As Hard-Working, Humble Hurler

This Topps Card Only
Hints at Winkles’
Storybook Life!

California manager Bobby Winkles arrived to witness Nolan Ryan’s skyrocketing success. What kind of personality did the fastballer sport in 1973?

Winkles replied:

“Nolan Ryan was the hardest working pitcher I ever saw in the major leagues. He was a gentlemen and modest. Nothing cocky about his demeanor.”

Winkles’ resume includes a managerial stint with Oakland, along with longer coaching assignments with the Giants, White Sox and Expos. Surprisingly, he filled in some of those earliest details, long before he was the toast of college coaching ranks.

“I was raised on an 80-acre farm. Biggest crop was cotton. We lived 3-1/2 miles from Swifton, Arkansas, population 526. We didn’t have electricity or plumbing — only pump water — 10 people in a three bedroom house.

I went to Illinois Wesleyan University. Graduated in 1952. Two years in the Army. Signed with the White Sox. Retired from 7 years in minors.

While playing went to Univ. of Colo. Got a master’s degree in two semesters.

Not a bad career for an Arkansas cotton farm boy.

Bob Winkles”

Winkles’ story challenged me. That name…

Swifton? Swifton, Arkansas? THAT Swifton, Arkansas!

Hometown of Hall of Famer George Kell. The Post Office is named after him. Seems like Swifton produced more than cotton.

Tomorrow: Retracing Kirby Puckett’s beginnings through autographs.


George Kell Believed in Fellow Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Branch Rickey

Back in 1997, I wrote to Hall of Famer George Kell to ask of two baseball personalities he befriended.

First, I wanted to know about his dealings with famed general manager Branch Rickey. I had read that Kell helped Rickey with the early formation of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. A few players who faced contract battles with Rickey complained how hard-nosed “The Mahatma” was in negotiations.

Secondly, I praised Kell for being a role model for fellow Arkansas native Brooks Robinson.

Kell replied:

“Thomas — Mr. Rickey got me involved in the FCA back in the early ’50s, and I found him to be just what he was advertised to be — a fine, outstanding Christian gentleman.

If I had anything to do with the formation of Brooks Robinson, I’m proud and flattered. He comes from a great background and is a fine role model.


George Kell”

Congress Honors George Kell’s Hall of Fame Autograph Signing Talents

Class of 1983!

George Kell was a superstar among autograph signers. This week, the U.S. Congress agreed.

On Thursday, Kell (who died in March, 2009) received an honor collectors can appreciate. The Post Office is now officially, legally named the George Kell Building.

I spoke with John Putt, Swifton’s Postmaster.

“Mister Kell was a very humble man, just another man in town,” Putt remembered. “He never wanted any special attention.”

Putt recalled that the Hall of Famer averaged 10 to 15 pieces of fan mail daily, sometimes more. “He’d pick up his mail every morning. He’d return by noon to mail everything back.” In other words, collectors always got same-day service from Kell and his post office.

Putt says that his post office did more than hold a ceremony to honor Kell. To commemorate the day, Swifton has offered a special cancellation showing a baseball and 10 stars (noting Kell’s 10 All-Star team appearances). To get the special cancellation, send to:

Post Office Dedication Cancellation
Attention: Postmaster
Swifton, AR 72471

The post office can offer the special cancellation for only 30 days, meaning all requests must be received by Friday, October 1.

I’d suggest sending Kell’s HOF postcard or a Tiger Stadium/Comerica Park postcard in a larger envelope with appropriate postage and a removable address label. Or, use a plain envelope. (More room for signatures!) Then, you’d have something that would be great to get autographed by “Skeeter” Kell, George’s younger brother. See my June 28 blog post, “Everett ‘Skeeter’ Kell Remembers George, One Hall of Fame Brother.”

In fact, you could get your Kell-cancelled collectible autographed by any diamond contemporary of his.

It’s too late to get George’s autograph. However, it’s never too late to remember that there’s still great signers out there. They do more than please hobbyists. Those autographers keep a grateful USPS in business!

What breed of humble hero was George Kell? Check out his 1983 Cooperstown induction speech here to find out.

Tomorrow: I share my 1997 correspondence with George Kell!

Everett "Skeeter" Kell Remembers George, One Hall Of Fame Brother

Everett “Skeeter” Kell might have been a Tiger.

The infielder with the 1952 Athletics explained in a moving letter why he wound up in Philadelphia, not Detroit — beside future Hall of Fame brother George.

“Skeeter” replied:

“We were very close. I spent six weeks living with him when I was 18 in Detroit. I worked out with the Tigers each day they were home. Mister (Connie) Mack of the A’s saw me practice and signed me.”

Kell reflected on his short career:

“I enjoyed most of my baseball and made lots of good friends, especially in Philadelphia, and to their homecomings as I was older.

I was not too great on being gone from my wife (now 62 years of marriage)and two sons so much.

This is why I retired, when I was sold to Havana, Cuba and could not take them with me.”

Thanks to artist Ronnie Joyner for sharing his swell creation. More info about Joyner’s artistry and the homecomings Kell mentioned can be found at the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society website.