1987 BASEBALL INDUCTEE
Being in the right place at the right time with the right team usually trumps being a big star. Truman “Tex” Clevenger is a case in point. The former Fresno State All-American pitcher from Ivanhoe has two World Series rings with the New York Yankees and never threw a pitch in either post-season Classic. The fabled pin-stripers beat the Cincinnati Reds in 1961 and San Francisco in 1962, but Clevenger never left the bullpen. “That season and a half with the Yankees was a great way to finish my major league career,” Clevenger said. “Watching Mickey [Mantle] play virtually on one leg and still produce was something I’ll never forget.” In Clevenger’s first major league game with the Boston Red Sox in 1954, he sustained a rotator cuff injury. He was able to recover with therapy and become an effective starter and reliever for the Washington Senators for five seasons and to pitch as a reliever for the Yankees. Nine seasons in the major leagues is quite an accomplishment for a man once deemed too small by a coach to play baseball in high school. Clevenger said as a freshman at Visalia High School, he was 4’11”, weighed eighty-six pounds, and wore size twelve shoes, but he still went out for the team. “The coach [Bob Witcher] took one look at me and said I was too small to come out for baseball,” Clevenger said. “The following year, Hank Beiden (Pete’s older brother) became coach and said anyone who wants to play baseball could play baseball. I still wasn’t much bigger. When the paper came around, I put outfielder as my position. A couple fr days later, Beiden came to me and said he needed pitchers and said I would give it a try. That was the start of the whole thing.”That included two solid seasons at Visalia High, three seasons at Fresno State with a 21-4 record, and a 16-2 mark as a Boston Red Sox rookie in San Jose in the California League where he was named Rookie of the Year. Clevenger then followed up with nine major league seasons with four different teams plus stops with Louisville in the AAA American Association. As the oldest son on a small farm, Clevenger didn’t know anything about professional baseball, but knew that he loved the game.
His father strongly supported Truman and his younger brother, Bill and their mother attended every game they played. The Clevenger farm was north of Ivanhoe and Jack Hannah, another Fresno Hall of Famer, lived close by. “Jack and I went to the same schools, the same church, and Lon Hannah (Jack’s father) was like another father. I always said I had three fathers, my own, Lon, and Pete Beiden. I was fortunate.” In his senior year at Visalia High, the Pioneers played Sanger for the Valley Championship. Joe Hannah was the catcher while Clevenger and Joe’s younger brother, Jack Hannah, were the star pitchers. Before the title game, Clevenger fell on the corner of a wagon and hurt his shoulder. Jack was also sidelined by an injury. Sanger jumped on Visalia’s third pitcher for a 10-9 victory.
Clevenger and Joe Hannah were set to go to UCLA together. “Joe came to me after graduation and said he had signed with the Chicago Cubs that afternoon.” Clevenger said. “Well, that knocked him out of UCLA and I asked Hank to ask Pete if he needed another pitcher. That’s how I came to Fresno State. It was the best decision I ever made. I had a lot of fun, made lifetime friendships and learned so much from Pete. I was 5’11” by that time and about 145 pounds.”Clevenger joined a roster with Don Barnett, Jake Abbott, and Larry Bolger, but saw limited action. By the following season, he and Bolger were the aces and Clevenger was the top in 1953 when he was 11-3 with a 1.97 ERA highlighted by a no-hitter where he batted 5-5 with two triples and struck out twenty batters.
He signed with the Boston Red Sox before his senior year. In two months, Clevenger was a sensation for San Jose. Along with the 16-2 record, he had a 1.51 ERA with 157 strikeouts in 156 innings. He was named Rookie of the Year in the California League. By the following spring, he was with the Red Sox, but hurt his arm in the first inning of his first game against the Philadelphia A’s. He was still recovering in 1955 and never started a game for the Red Sox. Clevenger was traded to Washington in 1956 as a reliever. During the next four seasons, he divided his time between being a starter and relief pitcher for the Senators under Charley Dressen and Cookie Lavagetto. Playing on a team that finished eighth in four straight years and fifth in 1960, Clevenger was 29-31.
In 1956 when he was 9-9, he led the league in games pitched with fifty-five. He had six saves that year, eight each in 1957 and 1959, and seven in 1960. In 1961, he signed with the Los Angeles Angels, so he could stay in California. He pitched twelve games with a 2-1 record and was traded to New York. In 1962, his record was 2-0 in twenty-one games. Clevenger was a witness to the historic 196l home run battle between Yankee teammates, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Clevenger said the media tried to make it look like Mantle and Maris didn’t like each other. “That was not true,”Clevenger said. “Heck, they lived together. They were both very competitive and Maris finally broke Babe Ruth’s record with sixty-one homers, but they were still friends.”After Clevenger’s retirement in 1963, he dabbled in the insurance business, then went to work in Porterville as an automobile salesman in 1974. He purchased the business in 1993. Clevenger is still in good physical shape, plays golf at least twice a week, and is heavily involved in helping the Fresno State baseball program. In 2007, his Fresno State number was retired and his name was emblazoned on the left field wall of Pete Beiden Field, only the eighth Bulldog to receive this honor. Clevenger played a role in the establishment of the River Island Golf Club as one of the premier golf courses in Central California. He and his wife, Donna, live next to the golf course on the Kaweah River.