March 19, 2012
Coming out of Highland High School in Albuquerque, N.M., in 1959, Bob McCorkle faced a difficult decision. He could either attend the University of New Mexico to play football for future Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy, or he could sign with the Milwaukee Braves, and play with future Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, and Eddie Matthews.
“They had just won the World Series (in 1957),” McCorkle said, “and they invited me out there to work out with them. They offered a $20,000 bonus, and Sandy Koufax had signed for $17,000, so it was quite a bit of money. But Levy wanted me to play football.”
So McCorkle, who was named All-State in both baseball and football in 1958 and 1959, decided to stay close to home and play football for the Lobos. His football career was brief, however. After only one season, Levy left to become head coach at the University of California-Berkeley, so McCorkle transferred his athletic scholarship to baseball.
“I had a couple of bad injuries (from football), he said. “But I switched mainly because Levy left.”
While UNM might have missed Levy on the sidelines, it was happy to have McCorkle playing baseball. He was named an honorable mention Eastern Division All-Star in the Skyline Conference in each of his first two seasons. During his second season he helped the Lobos win the Skyline Conference and make the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program’s history. It was the only time the Lobos had reached the postseason until making it in consecutive years from 2010-2011.
McCorkle said making the postseason was a great accomplishment, but it wasn’t his most memorable experience at UNM. But that’s because he had yet another brush with a future Hall of Famer.
“We played an exhibition game and I batted against Don Drysdale, “ he said. “He hit the kid right in front of me.”
“I can still close my eyes and hear the sound of him hitting the guy in front of me.”
During his senior year, the Lobos switched leagues and played in the Western Athletic Conference. Despite the new conference, the Lobos finished above .500 for the third straight season. Plus, they had some success against one of the best teams in the country.
“We beat the University of Arizona two out of three in our final home games and they finished 2nd in the College World Series that year,” he said. “That’s a very proud moment and good memory.”
McCorkle finished his career recording at least a .300 batting average in each season, including a .389 clip in conference play the year the Lobos won the Skyline Conference. He has continued to keep tabs on the UNM baseball program, and is, to put it simply, impressed with the direction it is heading.
“I’m really impressed with this program,” he said. “I’m really impressed with the turnaround of the program. It’s phenomenal what they do against these big-time teams. It’s fantastic. I’m very impressed with (head coach) Ray Birmingham. UNM is very, very fortunate to have him.
“I’ll try not to sound too corny, but I was always proud and happy to be involved in Lobo sports.”
He is also thrilled with the renovations taking place at Lobo Field.
“It’s getting to be a big-time program with a big-time ballpark,” he said.
He paused briefly before laughing.
“Even though I think playing at Isotopes Park is fantastic because I played in a cow pasture. Things are really different.”
After finishing his career and graduating with a degree in accounting, McCorkle found even more success off the diamond. He attended Stanford Law School and was a trial lawyer for 40 years. Before he retired two years ago, he was listed as one of the best lawyers in the country. With that in mind, he offered one piece of advice to the young Lobos currently on the team.
“Enjoy how much fun it is to play a college sport,” he said. “But, understand that making good grades and doing well in school is even more important. It’s pretty hard for a guy like me from New Mexico to get into Stanford, but getting good grades and a good education is important as you live out your adult life.”