WATERVILLE — For two and half hours, they told stories. Had they spent another two and a half hours, and two and a half hours more after that, the stories would have kept coming.

“These are all true stories,” Stump Merrill, who worked as an assistant baseball coach at the University of Maine in the mid-1970s, said.

If you met John Winkin, you inevitably had a story or two to tell about the man longtime Colby College basketball coach Dick Whitmore called “the greatest coach in the history of the state of Maine.”

“He was by far the smartest man I ever came in contact with in my life,” Whitmore said.

For more than 50 years, Winkin coached college baseball in Maine, first at Colby, then the University of Maine, and finally at Husson University, until he suffered a stroke in December 2007. Winkin died on July 19. He was 94. On Sunday afternoon, family, friends and many who were coached by him memorialized Winkin at Colby’s Lorimer Chapel.

The common thread that ran through most stories was Winkin’s discipline and commitment to hard work. Mike Bordick played for Winkin at Maine in the mid-1980s before enjoying a 14-year career in the major leagues. Whenever he was asked why he was a fundamentally sound player, Bordick would credit Winkin. His coach exhibited such passion and energy, Bordick said, it rubbed off.


“He gave me the opportunity to play at the next level,” Bordick said.

Merrill was an assistant coach at Maine when Winkin took over the Black Bears baseball program in the mid-1970s. Merrill went on to work for the New York Yankees, managing the team in 1990 and 1991.

“Without John Winkin, I question whether this would have happened,” Merrill said. “John Winkin was a winner in everything he did. In everything he did, he had a passion.”

So many stories. There was the time Merrill tried to sneak late into a hotel room he shared with Winkin after a night out, only to wake Winkin up. In the morning, Merrill woke to a steady thump thump thump. It was Winkin doing jumping jacks at the foot of his bed.

There was the time when Winkin was coaching Husson on the team’s spring trip to Florida. The Eagles went to see the Cleveland Indians play a spring training game, and Winkin was paged by the public address announcer to come meet with Bob Feller, Cleveland’s Hall of Fame pitcher.

Bill Kane played for Winkin at Husson before working as an assistant coach with him. Kane recalled a team dinner to celebrate Winkin’s 1,000th career win. It was a rare time he saw his mentor completely relaxed, Kane said.


Winkin served on the USS McCall, a destroyer ship in the Pacific, which was at sea when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Winkin played bridge with Vince Lombardi when each coached high school sports in New Jersey. He helped found Sport Magazine, and he hosted the New York Yankees pregame show with Mel Allen.

From all the stories told on Sunday afternoon, Winkin’s biggest legacy is teaching generations of baseball players to play hard and believe in their ability.

“John Winkin taught us your aspirations are what you want them to be,” said Waterville native Joe Jabar, who played for Winkin at Colby and with Waterville’s American Legion team.

Even after the stroke, Winkin continued to believe in hard work. Whitmore told of watching his friend undergo six month of rigorous physical therapy in order to walk down a hall.

“He did not lose his never quit attitude,” David Winkin, John’s son, said.

Jim Stevens never played baseball for Winkin, but he met the coach while he was a student at the University of Maine. When he suffered a spinal injury last year and nearly drowned, Stevens thought of Winkin for inspiration during his recovery.


“I never played for him, but I learned the lessons,” Stevens said.

As Merrill finished telling stories of his decades-long friendship with Winkin, he pulled on a Yankees jersey and cap. Merrill held up a baseball, a symbol of Winkin’s accomplishments and legacy.

“You pitched your last game,” Merrill said, “and a perfect game it was.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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