Thomas J. Carothers-"Soup" as he was known to his large circle of friends-did not reach Fresno until 1941 when he opened the Mid-Valley Sports store. The native of Franklin, Tennessee was a center in football and he played for the U.S. Navy team in Honolulu for four years. His next stop was the powerful San Francisco Olympic Club in 1925. That team was undefeated and among its victims were the mighty University of California "Wonder Team" and Stanford University. Not finished with football, he enrolled and played for three years at St. Ignatius College which later became the University of San Francisco. He was team captain in 1928 which was the year that the school changed names. A year later, he entered the sporting goods business. During his time in Fresno, he was involved in several civic organizations that sponsored sporting events for city youth. He was the first president of the Greater Fresno Youth Foundation. For years, he hosted the Fresno State football coaching staffs for pre-training meetings at his large Huntington Lake cabin.
The Central Valley has long been known as a major source of exciting automobile racing. Many sons of the San Joaquin got their racing starts here, winning both locally and on the national scene. A trio of native Fresno drivers soared to fame around the country and into the record books of the biggest tracks, including the Brickyard. Bill Vukovich, Duane Carter, and Johnny Boyd were friends and competitors as racing became a major sport in the eyes of Americans from coast to coast. Together, they competed in more than twenty-five Indianapolis 500s. All three earned their journeymen papers in midget and sprint racing and all three were prominent in the grand era of racing in the 1950s. Carter and Boyd were in the tragic race in Indianapolis in 1955 when Bill Vukovich was killed as he was leading the race after winning the last two years.
Duane Carter had begun his racing career on the dirt tracks of Fresno's west side while he was a student at Fresno State College. In the summer of 1937, he was one of six drivers who qualified to race in a midget series in Auckland, New Zealand. Two years later, Duane teamed with his friend and acting crew chief Chris Economaki, who would later go on to become perhaps the best known radio and television racing commentator and journalist. With Duane driving, the team won consistently around the country with their outboard midget car. In 1940, Duane won the Detroit Motor Speedway title and followed it up with the 1942 championship at Sportsman's Park in Chicago. In 1947, Duane took his midget car and won the Los Angeles Coliseum Motordome race. After that win, he moved on to sprint cars, and won the 1950 Midwest championship.
Between 1948 and 1963, Duane drove eleven Indianapolis 500 races, logging over 4,300 miles on the legendary Brickyard track. He finished three times in the top five and five times in the top ten. He also drove in the AAA and USAC Championship Car series over those years with forty-seven starts, finishing in the top ten twenty-three times. After his retirement from driving, Duane still had a long way to go in racing. He was a founder, administrator, and competition director for the United State Auto Club (USAC) and served the sport for many years. While with the USAC, he instituted a driver's insurance plan and a benevolent fund that paid for injuries and had the organization pay for funeral bills for drivers killed in racing. In 1989, Duane Carter was inducted in the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame and he received the same honor in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1991. Duane's son, Pancho, a racing driver, was named the Rookie of the Year at the Indy 500 in 1974.
Dr. Sammy Lee was born in Fresno on August 1, 1920 to Korean-American parents. In 1932, the Olympic Games impressed him so much, he told his father that one day he would win an Olympic gold medal. His father said, "In what?" to which young Sammy replied, "I don't know yet, but I will find it." By the time he was a teenager, Sammy had found the sporting event in which he would accomplish his Olympic dream. Diving was his life's work and he excelled despite encountering prejudice. There were occasions when it wore him down and he almost felt ashamed of his heritage. "My father set me straight when he could see what was bothering me," says Sammy. "He said, 'Son, if you are not proud of the shape of your eyes or the color of your skin, how can your classmates respect you?'" Sammy says he has kept those words close to his heart throughout his life. He felt that no goal would be impossible.
In a short amount of time, Sammy was working his way to winning many championships in California. Because of the World War II military effort, the Olympics were suspended in 1940 and 1944, so Sammy had to wait until the 1948 Games in London to realize his dream. While a student at Occidental College, Sammy won the National AAU championships in the platform and springboard diving events. By the time the 1948 Olympics came around, Sammy had secured his pre-medical degree from Occidental and was a recent graduate of the University of Southern California Medical School. At twenty-eight, Dr. Sammy Lee was ready to come back and stake his claim. Due to a promise that he made to his father to complete medical school, Lee had not competed in more than three years in a diving competition. This fact made it even more amazing that he not only qualified for the 1948 Games, but he went onto the world stage in London, winning the gold medal in platform diving and a bronze medal in the springboard event. He became the first Asian-American to win a gold medal for the United States.
Sammy Lee went back to the Olympics in 1952 in Helsinki, Finland at the age of thirty-two and won another gold medal, becoming the first athlete ever to win back-to-back gold medals in diving. In later years, he was a coach to the U.S. Olympic stars as Pat McCormick, Bob Webster, and Greg Louganis as they made their way to the gold medal stand. Sammy also served on the President's Council of Physical Fitness, working under five U.S. presidents. Standing five feet, one inch tall with his degree in medicine, his three Olympic medals, many national and international championships, a truckload of awards including induction into the Olympic Hall of Fame, the International Swimming Hall of Fame, and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, Dr. Sammy Lee calmly says that he just always believed in the positive. "Don't get to thinking, I can't," he tells young people today. "No goal is impossible. Remember, the last two words in American are, I can. Never let anyone diminish your dreams."
The World Series has always been the showcase of baseball. Few stars shined brighter in the fall classic than Monte "Hoot" Pearson, an Oakland native who moved to Fresno as a child. Pearson received his baseball baptism in the Fresno Twilight League. After attending Fresno High School and the University of California, Pearson was signed by the Cleveland Indians at twenty-one. He spent a year with Bakersfield in the California League in 1929, pitching the following year for Phoenix in the Arizona State League. Pearson spent two years with the Oakland Oaks in the PCL and another with Toledo before being called up to the big club. At the tail end of the 1932 season, he threw eight innings in eight games and his ERA was 10.l3. In his first full season in 1933, he was 10-5 with a 2.33 ERA. The following year, he was 18-13. In 1935, Pearson's numbers shrunk to 8-13 and he was shipped to the Yankees by Cleveland. The timing couldn't have been better. In 1936, the Yankees started their remarkable four-year World Champion dominance.
In four appearances from 1936 to 1939 in the fall classic for the World Champion New York Yankees the 6', 175-pound right-hander Pearson with his pitching arm did what Reggie Jackson did with a bat so many decades later. He started and won in all four of his world Series appearances including a 4-0, two-hit shutout of Cincinnati in 1939. Pearson no-hit the Reds for seven and a third innings. That tied a series record set by Herb Pennock in 1927. Pearson faced only twenty-nine batters. He allowed one walk and fanned eight. It was the first world series shutout by a Yankee pitcher since Wayte Hoyt against the Giants in 1921. It was regarded by sports scribes as one of the best pitching performances in world series history. Three of Pearson's four games were a complete nine-innings and he went 8 2/3 in the other. He gave a combined total of nineteen hits and five runs for a 1.01 ERA.
He struck out twenty-eight and walked seven. The fourth game of 1936 World Series attracted the largest crowd for the time of 66,669 at Yankee Stadium. Pearson dueled with the great New York Giants left-hander Carl Hubbell who had won the Series opener against Ruffing. This time Pearson prevailed 5-2. It was his first series game and he handled it like a veteran. He gave up seven hits, walked two, and fanned seven. One of the big Yankee hits was a three-run homer by the legendary Lou Gehrig. Pearson even tagged "King Carl" for a single and a double. Pearson had a 19-7 record for the Yanks that year and had been tabbed to pitch the opening game when a mysterious back ailment-a combination of lumbago and pleurisy-threatened to eliminate his appearance. Pearson had a big role in his first year in New York, finishing 19-7 which was the best winning percentage in the American League and he was second in wins on the New York staff to Red Ruffing, who was 22-12.
After a sub-par 9-3 in 1937, he was back on track in 1938 with a 16-7 record which included a no-hitter against his old team Cleveland. Pearson's biggest problem that season was control; he struck out ninety-eight and walked 113. Aches and pains limited starts and innings during his final two seasons with the Yankees where he was 12-5 and 7-5. He was traded to Cincinnati where a sore arm allowed him to pitch only 24.1 innings with a 1.3 record and a 5.18 ERA in 1941. Pearson said his arm problems began in1939 while pitching against the great Bob Feller. "I tore a shoulder ligament while making a routine play on a ground ball in the fifth inning. I stayed in the game and actually won in fourteen innings, but my arm was never the same."
When Robert Perkins joined the cadets at Fresno High School in 1929, he learned to shoot. Two years later, he won the .30 Caliber California Championship. In 1946, he won his first of eleven consecutive California state championships. In 1952, the single point, hitting the center ring 3,187 times out of 3,200 shots.
Perkins told a reporter that he purchased a WinchesterModel 52 in a yard sale for sixty-five dollars and, when he finished making all the improvements including a 20-power scope, he had invested $350. He said he trusted the guns upkeep to another Fresno Hall of Fame shooter, Henry Wright. "The toughest things to learn were the effect of winds and mirage [or] heat waves, but once I conquered those I had no trouble,"Perkins told a Bee reporter prior to heading for the national championships. "I think the keys to shooting are confidence, coordination, practice, and a lot of sleep."
Perkins' first top five finish against top competition was a fourth place in the Western Small-bore Championship in 1936 held in Richmond, California. In 1942, he ranked 21st nationally against a field that included 15,000 to 20,000 shooters from each state. One of his titles was at the Fresno Rifle Club. He was 14-0 in Far Western competition. Perkins was the only shooter to make the United States Small-bore Team for twelve years in a row. He also finished second four times and once each at third and fourth national championships. Perkins was president of the Fresno Iron Foundry which was started by his father.