Fresno State College has had many great athletes but none has ever equalled the record set by its first great all-around athlete-Bob Baxter.
In four years between 1922 and 1926, Baxter won 12 varsity letters in four sports. The record has never been equalled nor, in this day of specialization, is it likely to be.
Baxter’s rugged, six-foot, 196-pound frame him a standout in football and he was versatile enough to switch from guard position to fullback in his final year at FSC. He competed in track and baseball as well but his real dish was basketball and old-timers still rate him as one of the all-time Bulldog greats in that sport.
Basketball officials took a much more charitable view of body contact in those days and Baxter’s physique was ideally adapted to the heavy going. He also owned a deft shooting touch and set a school record of 26 points in one game when that figure was considered a good night’s production for an entire team.
Dick Ellsworth can't recall a time when he wasn't throwing something at a stationary object. Ellsworth said. "I was blessed with a good natural throwing motion, so it was always fun to throw something." The tall Ellsworth converted that smooth left-handed throwing motion into a thirteen-year major league career that spanned five teams. "I think it would be hard for peopleto argue that I didn't play in the greatest era of baseball. I honestly believe that the late 1950s and the 1960s marked the end of the complete ball player. You played defense, you played offense, you played team ball-hitting behind runners and getting a sacrifice bunt down. I learned the game of baseball. You played just as hard on defense as you did on offense. It was before the era of the specialist."Ellsworth said when the manager handed him the ball as a starter, he was expected to go nine innings. No middle reliever, set-up man. or closer and, he added, no designated hitter. "To me, Williams, Musial, Mantle, Aaron, Mays, Banks, Drysdale, Koufax, and I played either with or against those guys, gave the fans the best baseball. It was quite a privilege to have been part of it. I've been to two old timers games in Chicago and I probably won't go again...I am not pleased with where major league baseball is today. I'm a minor league fan now."
Ellsworth is also part of the ownership of the current AAA Pacific Coast League Fresno Grizzlies. I was involved in the city leagues and remained there until I was twelve. I attended Washington Junior High School and played baseball at school. I also became aware of the Babe Ruth program." Dick attended Fresno High School and it was a life-changing time. Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame baseball coach Ollie Bidwell was not at Fresno High when Ellsworth arrived, but Bidwell was transferred to Fresno High that fall to replace the late Toby Lawless as baseball coach. "For me to go to Fresno High and then for Ollie to come at the same time was a real blessing in my life," Ellsworth said. "I mean no disrespect to anyone, but I learned more baseball from Ollie Bidwell than anyone. He really prepared me for a career in professional baseball." Fresno High's pitching staff included Ellsworth, Lynn Rube, and Mike Urrizola with shortstop, Jim Maloney, as an occasional starter.
During his senior year with the Warriors, Ellsworth did not lose a game. In order to get this talented group ready for league play, Bidwell booked a fifty- to sixty- game schedule. "We played the freshmen teams from Fresno State and California, semi-pro teams, police and firemen teams, then the high school schedule, American Legion, and night games in the city league," Ellsworth said. "Overall, my record in three years including all those activities was 105-5. Lots of innings."
Ellsworth graduated from Fresno High and finalized a three- year major league contract with the Chicago Cubs in the same week. His world was changing rapidly and he treasured every minute. By the following Monday night, he was on the mound at Wrigley for an exhibition game billed as the Chicago Rivalry.
Ellsworth remained with the Cubs for another three weeks and then was shipped to Fort Worth in the AA Texas League where he pitched every fourth day for six weeks. He was called to the Cubs in September and got to start against Cincinnati late in the season. When Ellsworth was nineteen, he drove to Mesa, Arizona for his first spring training with the big club. After camp, Cubs manager Charlie Grimm sent him back to Fort Worth which now was AAA and in the American Association. He wanted Ellsworth to pitch every fourth day, throwing as many innings as he could. His record was 10-14 with several shutouts. He was optioned to AAA Houston. He pitched two games, gave up one run, allowed six hits total, and was called back to the Cubs. He was in the majors to stay. "I can honestly say I can't remember a day when I played professional baseball that I couldn't wait to get to the park. What a thrill to put on a major league uniform every day.
Ellsworth's best season was 1963 with the Cubs when he went 22-10 with a 2.60 ERA, having pitched 297 innings,tallied more than 200 strikeouts, and at least than eighteen complete games. His next best season was 1968 when he was 16-7 with the Boston Red Sox under manager Dick Williams. Two more trades-Cleveland and Milwaukee-and Ellsworth decided to "hang 'em up."
The first female to be inducted into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame, Fresno High graduate, Ruth Nurmi-Huffman competed at a high level in diving for three decades. Nurmi’s high point came in 1933 when she won the National AAU Junior Diving Championship. Two years later, she placed third in the senior platform division and continued to place third from 1933 to 1937 in that same event. She was a student at Fresno State, but blossomed as a top collegiate diver when she transferred to USC and began competing for the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
In 1934, she suffered a slight head injury while doing an exhibition at Del Monte and missed the Far Western Championships in Los Angeles where she was one of the favorites to win the platform event. Nurmi-Huffman won numerous regional and AAU titles. For Twenty years, she was a physical education teacher at Compton High School. She also appeared in several movies highlighted by being a stand-in for a top swimmer/actress, Esther Williams.
Jim Maloney's early influences in the world of sports were his dad and his Little League coach, Hal Bicknell. "I was ten years old and I was dreaming already about playing in the big leagues." He was a multi-sport athlete at Fresno High School, winning top honors as a power forward in basketball, quarterbacking the football team, as well as being the power hitter on the Warrior baseball team. "We had a lot of good coaches, especially in baseball under Ollie Bidwell." says Jim. "Ollie was very strong on fundamentals and I think that is a major reason why so many of us got to play professionally. Pitchers like Ellsworth, Lynn Rube, Mike Urrizola and Pat Corrales were the catcher and our defense and hitting was good because we were so fundamentally sound. In fact, when I got to the pros, I was amazed how many players didn't have much of a clue as to the fundamentals. We were lucky to have such good coaches."While Ellsworth, Corrales, and others Signed pro contracts out of high school, Jim accepted a baseball scholarship to Cal Berkley. Ironically, he wound up playing on the Bears basketball team instead. Playing baseball that year just didn't work out. With many big league scouts still on his trail, Jim came back to Fresno and enrolled at Fresno City College to play baseball under coach Len Bourdet. In early April 1959 while working with Bourdet, the Cincinnati Reds made him an offer that he couldn't refuse and he left town with his fast ball, curve ball, and change-up.
Jim's first stop was Topeka, Kansas. It was hot and humid in Topeka, but he won six games while losing Seven. "Again, I felt fortunate because my pitching coach in Topeka was the great Johnny Vander Meer and he helped me out a great deal," says Jim. "He helped me develop my fast ball and how to throw an overhand curveball. My change-up wasn't that great, but my curve ball was getting good." In 1960, Jim round his way to Nashville, Tennessee to play for the Red's AA Southern Association League team. "They were great to us there. we would play a lot of Saturday afternoon games and then go to the Ryman at night to hear and watch the Grand Ole Opry. We were doing well and I was winning a lot of games and they would have me walk out on stage and introduce me to the crowd. I met Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Eddie Arnold, and many others. I was nineteen years old and everyone was great to us," Maloney recalls. Much to the disappointment of Nashville fans, Jim was called up to the Reds as he had won fourteen games in two months. The parent team was in trouble as they were in sixth place in the National League.
Jim had gone from Fresno City College to Topeka to Nashville and on to the Cincinnati Reds in a year and a half. His first game in the big time was quite a shock as he was slated to pitch against Don Drysdale and the L.A. Dodgers in the Los Angeles Coliseum. He pitched well, but lost 2-0 on a Maury Wills single and a Wally Moon home run. It was the start of a very successful, twelve-year career that saw Jim win 134 of 218 games with a career ERA of 3.19, striking out over 1,600 batters, throwing two no-hitters, and losing a game to the N. Y. Mets in which he allowed no hits through ten innings before giving up a homer to Johnny Lewis in the eleventh, losing the game 1-0.
Recognized as one of baseball's best pitchers in the 1960s, Jim Maloney is a grateful man. "To play on the same team with guys like Tony Perez, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, who caught my last no-hitter versus the Astros and it was the only no-hitter he ever caught, John Edwards, who was another great catcher and the best man at Maloney's wedding, Joe Nuxhal, and many others." Jim also remembers the greats that he got to compete against like Sandy Koufax, Drysdale, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, and Joe Morgan. "I used to idolize some of these guys as a kid growing up in Fresno and then I got to play against them," says Jim.
One thrill in particular for Jim was pitching to the great Stan Musial on September 29, 1963 in the last game and at bat in Stan's storied career. "I met with him after the game and had a picture taken that day of us together and he signed it. It's a treasure." Living in Fresno with his wife, Lyn, and family, Jim Maloney is a happy man. "I know I was lucky," he says, "...my dad inspired me. He was a great athlete and back when he was known as "Hands" Maloney, he won seven varsity letters at Fresno State in football, basketbal1, track, and boxing and I had great coaches and teammates and friends around me." He still loves to play golf and he and Lyn enjoy watching the grandkids play ball. Their grandson, Jordan Ribera played and homered for Fresno State as the Bulldogs won the NCAA National Championship in Omaha and his brother, Jonah Ribera, played football at Clovis West.
Ancel Robinson set the Fresno State high hurdles record of 13.6 seconds in I958 and it wasn't broken until 1994. The CIF state champion in the highs and lows in his senior season at Selma High School didn't confine all his time to track and field. In the early 1970s, Robinson also was the national speed and dance champion in roller skating. Robinson was 5'11" whichwas short for high hurdlers, but just right for the 220-yard lows where he tied the world record of 22.2 seconds in the 1957 NCAA championships.
Robinson was different from some high hurdlers because he had 9.5 second, 100-yard speed. Robinson was born and raised in Selma and was an excellent athlete in high school. He played football and track, but hurdles were his favorite. Hugh Adams, another Selma product and a hurdler himself, was a few years ahead of Robinson in school, but recalls watching Robinson at practice. "Ancel would put Pepsi caps or coins on top of the hurdles, so he could learn to just skim them," Adams recalled. "He had good form and didn't have trouble adjusting to the collegiate hurdles. The low hurdles were made for him." Robinson was recruited by Fresno State coach J. Flint Hanner and began his collegiate career in 1952. He will never forget his first Fresno State meet. It was against Stanford University and the Tulare wonder boy. Bob Mathias. "I admit I did have some stomach butterflies before the meet, but they disappeared when the starter's gun cracked," Robinson said. "The higher hurdles didn't bother me, but Bob was a lot taller and stronger." Mathias edged Robinson in the highs in 14.5, but Ancel returned the favor in the lows in 23.7.
Robinson was called into military service after his freshman season and spent two years in Japan, Korea, and Iwo Jima. He put on fifteen pounds and gained an inch. Hanner and his assistant Dutch Warmerdam were anxious to see how he would do after returning from the Army. It only took one meet for them to find out that he hadn't lost either his speed or intensity. Robinson participated in the Central California AAU meet in Kingsburg. Running in competition for the first time in two years and with only four days of training, the muscular Robinson did the highs in 14.5 and the lows in 23.7. "It was a remarkable performance" Warmerdam stated. "I have no doubt that Ancel will be one of the best in the nation this year and has a good chance to make the Olympics." The Olympics was one goal that eluded Robinson, but after tying the world record in the lows in 1958, he took an AAU international tour through Germany, Amsterdam, and Finland. He then joined the main tour sponsored by a Philadelphia newspaper for meets in Russia, Poland, Hungary, and Greece. Robinson won the highs in the first-ever Russian-U.S. meet in Moscow. On this trip, he ran 13.6, 13.7, and 13.8. Robinson was always a favorite athlete at Fresno State. He was in the first group selected for the Fresno State Track Hall of Fame. With his son, Robinson has his own television repair shop in Fresno. Ancel Sr. likes motorcycles and enjoys the speed and open air. He has driven his motorcycle all over the country.
Although he was born in Montana, rugged Charles "Chuck" Stevenson wound up in Fresno where he graduated from driving street rods to steering hopped-up stock cars around dirt tracks to piloting precision-tuned Formula I machines at "The Brickyard" against some of the best drivers of the 1950s and 1960s. Chuck attended Sierra Union High School and Fresno State College. His racing took him and the other well-known Fresno-area drivers all over the map. In the tradition of most auto racers, Stevenson was hot-tempered, competing during a post-World War II period that pitted him against such princes of speed as Johnnie Parsons, Troy Ruttman, Duane Carter, Rodger Ward, Manuel Ayulo, and Fresno's own Billy Vukovich, "The Mad Russian."Tempers flared, Vukovich, Ayulo, Ward, Carter, Ruttman, and Parsons competed against each other with daredevil driving and fists often with Stevenson in the middle of the punching.
Stevenson started in nine Indy 500s between 1951 and 1965. He finished sixth in 1961, 12th in 1954, and 15th in 1960. His pal "Vukie" won his first Indy 500 in 1953 and his second speed classie in 1954. Although Troy Ruttman won the 1952 Indy 500, Stevenson won the USAC National Championship Rally that year. He also competed in five Formula I Grand Prix races, finishing 12th in 1954, 15th in 1960, and 18th in 1952. In addition to his USAC national title in 1952, Stevenson won the Milwaukee Mile Open Wheel Championship and the Rex Mays Memorial 100 both in 1954 in a car owned by one-time racer, car owner, and promoter J.C. Agajanian. Later that year, Stevenson was second in another Milwaukee 200-miler. Stevenson won the Touring Car Class in 1952 and annexed the 1953 Larger Passenger Car Class title in the 3,300-kilometer Carrera Pan-Americana in Mexico, driving in a 1953 Lincoln. Another of Stevenson' memorable races was the 1955 Grand National at Willow Springs, California.
He led during the first fifty-four laps of the eighty-lap race, clinching the win by holding off Marvin Panch in a 500-yard sprint to the checkered flag. As with many daring drivers, tragedy enters their lives either directly or indirectly and Stevenson experienced one of those nightmare incidents. He was driving the Kuzma-Offenhauser "Agajanian Special" in the Ted Horn Memorial at the DuQuion, Illinois State Fairgrounds on September 6, 1954 when he came up behind Rodger Ward. The two racers touched wheels and Ward spun into the pits, striking Clay Smith, the chief mechanic for "Aggie." Smith was killed instantly and eight other pit crew members were injured, but "Aggie" saved himself by diving over a pit area wall. Regrettably, Smith and Stevenson were buddies. Smith rode with Stevenson as a mechanic and co-pilot during Stevenson's two Carrera Pan-Americana wins in Mexico in 1952 and 1953. But he was closer to Ward, who credited Smith, a "Mechanic of the Year" award winner as being his mentor. Ward was so distraught he almost quit racing; however, the WW II fighter pilot stayed on course and won the 1959 and 1962 Indy 500s.