There were no radar guns when Don Barnett was throwing heat for the 1951 Fresno State baseball team, but no collegiate pitcher could get the ball to the plate any faster. "Don most certainly threw in the mid-90s," said teammate Jake Abbott. "He was just wild an enough that batters were not going to crowd the plate." Fresno State's late Hall of Fame coach Pete Beiden said Barnett threw the "heaviest" ball he ever caught. Few batters could even get a foul ball off his high hard one.
Barnett was Fresno State's initial baseball First Team All-American with a 11-0 record for a team that went 36-4. He averaged thirteen strikeouts a game. Ten of the twelve wins were complete games and six were shutouts. Don Barnett now lives in Citrus Heights and spends a lot of time with his second loves hunting and fishing. Barnett 's professional career was short and frustrating. At the end of the regular 1951 season, Fresno State could not beat the politics of collegiate baseball's big schools and was not allowed to participate in the NCAA playoffs. The Bulldogs went to Hawaii where they played fifteen games against club and military teams, winning most of them.
In a telephone interview from his home, Barnett said that after a starring career at Washington Union High School in Easton, he never planned to go to college. "I was just planning on getting a job and work for a living," Barnett said. "We [Washington] were beaten out for the league title by San Joaquin Memorial...Our American Legion 509 coach, Roy Taylor, talked Jake and I into going to the Fresno Bee-KMJ Baseball School. The school which ran for a week was really good. That's where I first met Pete, who was an instructor. I knew nothing about Pete or Fresno State, but several of the Baseball School All-Stars were talking about going to Fresno State and Pete took a group of us to Canada to play for Brick Sweagle's AIl-Stars. "Those players made up most of the lineup for the Bulldog freshmen team in 1949 that was unbeaten. In 1950, Barnett was 10-1, so his junior year numbers were no surprise. About two weeks after the trip to Hawaii, veteran Boston Red Sox scout Tom Downey arranged for Barnett to fly to Boston. Barnett pitched batting practice and a few innings in exhibition game. His most memorable time was meeting Ted Williams and having a long talk about hunting and fishing along with baseball. "Ted hated the press, but he was real friendly to rookies and teammates," Barnett recalled. "It was an experience meeting Johnny Pesky, Vince DiMaggio, and Bobby Doerr. At the time, Boston owner Tom Yawkey knew I would be drafted into the Marines, so I had a contract contingent on whether I could play. I was sent to Portland, Maine in a rookie league and I injured my index fingernail. I pitched a game in the fog despite pain and won it when I hit a home run."
The following spring, Barnett was in Sarasota, Florida for spring training with the big club. He pitched in two intra-squad games and didn't allow a run, but in the second game, Jim Piersol dropped a drag bunt on the third base line. Barnett tried to scoop and throw and suffered a muscle pull in the back of his shoulder. He was shipped to the BoSox AAA Birmingham team, but was there only a week when he received greetings from President Harry S. Truman to welcome him into the Marines. Barnett got no treatment for his sore shoulder while in the Marines. The Korean War ended in 1954, so he got a February discharge. The rest of his professional career was frustrating.
He reported with 150 players for the San Jose team, a Red Sox farm club. He was told to throw hard and then was released. Tony Robello signed him to a New York Yankee contract. Went to the Modesto California League team, threw hard batting practice, and again was released. That was the end of baseball for Barnett. He worked in aviation for a short time and then for Long's Drugs for eighteen years. He and his wife, who celebrated their 51st anniversary, spend time with a son and daughter and their families. Barnett loves his location which is close to his favorite fishing hole, Folsom Reservoir.
The old adage of "Jack of all trades, but master of none" is debunked when you are talking about the late Harold J. "Hal" Beatty. He was born in Los Angeles, but raised in Oakland where he competed in football and track at Roosevelt High School, Beatty is one of the most beloved Fresno State employees in school history. He was a track, football, and basketball athlete, head coach of varsity basketball, golf, tennis, boxing, and wrestling as well as an assistant coach for football. Beatty was the athletic director from 1956 to 1963 and dean of men from 1947 until 1963.
Beatty first hit the spotlight-something he avoided with a passion-in 1931 when he combined with Hamilton Knott, Paul Bailey, and Jess Markle to set a college division two-mile West Coast Relays record. Beatty was elected captain of the Bulldog track team in 1932. When he graduated from Fresno State in 1933, he coached football at Albany High School in 1934 and led the football and track programs at Napa High School from 1935 through 1936. In 1937, he was hired to head freshmen football and thus began thirty-three years of service to his alma mater.
When Fresno State had a job opening in either athletics or academics, they plugged in Beatty. He was appointed head basketball coach in 1939. He wore a pork pie hat which he slammed to the floor and jumped up and down on when an official made a bad call. Beatty entered the armed forces in 1942 and was a lieutenant commander in the Navy. Discharged in 1946, he coached basketball for two more seasons. Beatty was a favorite of retired Bulldog track coach Red Estes. "You meet a lot of smart people at universities, but it is rare to meet someone with real wisdom and there is a big difference," Estes said. "Hal had wisdom, great insight. He had done it all: coach, teacher, administrator, athletic director, and even dean of men and he did everything well, cheerfully and never sought any glory or recognition. Whenever the school had a need, they called Beatty and he handled any job they gave him. He was a pleasure to be around. For years, he played Santa Claus for Children's Hospital when it was still in Fresno. I know the people in the athletic department really liked and respected him. He was an excellent educator.
When I came, he served as a clerk with Bess Lewis at the West Coast Relays and he worked hard. He was always an encouragement to his staff and to the students."
As athletic director he hired football coach Cecil Coleman and basketball coach Harry Miller as well as elevated Dutch Wamerdam to head track and field coach. Beatty began a love affair with the Zeta Mu in 1928 and was very active when that fraternity became Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Beatty's favorite pastime was golf. He was a longtime member of the Fort Washington Country Club and once had a single digit handicap. He never turned down a job with the Rotary Club. After leaving Fresno State, he served two terms as president of the Bulldog Foundation.
Monte Clark was an outstanding football player and earned fourteen athletic letters at Kingsburg High School. He was a three-year starter at tackle for USC and Trojan co-captain in his senior year. Clark was a three-year defensive tackle for San Francisco, a year as an offensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, and seven years as offensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns when they went 69-27-2 and won five division titles and a world championship. Clark spent one year as head coach of the 49ers and seven years as head man of the Detroit Lions. With all those achievements, experts like the late 49ers coach Bill Walsh stated Clark will be remembered best as the six-year offensive line coach of Don Shula's Miami Dolphins.
Powered by one of the top running attacks in NFL history, the Dolphins won sixty-seven games and lost Sixteen games in that span, won six division titles, and were back-to-back Super Bowl Champions. With the defeat of the New England Patriots, the 1972 Dolphins at 17-0 remain the only single season unbeaten team in NFL history. In a conversation between late coach Bob Walsh and former Detroit Lions coach Ric Forzano, Walsh made this unsolicited comment: "Monte is one of the best line coaches I know...Actually, he is the best line coach I have ever known." Forzano told Monte "that is a tremendous compliment from one of the greatest coaches of all time." The Dolphins offensive line, nicknamed by Clark as The Mushrooms," were composed of five free agents, all of whom went all-pro during Monte's tenure. Three were nominated for the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton and two-Larry Litle and Jim Langer-made it. Bob Kuechenberg has been nominated three times. Clark gained a reputation as an outstanding motivator and teacher.
Clark was born in Filmore near Kingsburg and lived in Bloomfield, Michigan where he served as a consultant for the Lions. He married a Kingsburg girl, Charlotte, and had three children and eight grandchildren. In a telephone interview, Clark singled out highlights of a remarkable career. In high school, he was one of the top discus throwers in the state. Clark was a junior when Rafer Johnson was a sophomore. Monte said, "Rafer was a world class athlete and a world class person." In Clark's senior year, Kingsburg lost to Lindsay 3-0 in the football opener, tied Dinuba 6-6 in the fog, and won the rest including a 53-0 payback to Lindsay in the 100 Monte Clark playoffs. Clark was the MVP defensive player in the first annual Fresno County/City All-Star game. Being from a small school didn't detract recruiters, especially since he was 6'5" and 255 pounds.
More highlights followed at USC, Clark arrived a little overwhelmed by the size and the credentials of Trojan recruits. "We didn't have any CIF All-Star teams at that time just valley selections, but all the southern California recruits were all this or that in the top bracket. The first time I drove to USC on the Harbor Freeway, I got lost in Chinatown and when I finally found Marks Hall, I sat in the car for a time and contemplated whether I should get out or drive back to Kingsburg if I could find it. I soon became comfortable and made some great lifelong friends in football. He played for coaches Jess Hill and Don Clark. John McKay had just taken over after Monte completed his eligibility and he formed "The No Name Seniors" basketball team which won the University Intramural League.
A highlight from his time in the NFL included being drafted in the fourth round by San Francisco in 1959. He was the starting defensive tackle and also played some offensive tackle in three seasons. He suffered a neck injury which he feared might end his playing days and was traded to Dallas. He switched to offense and his injury held up. After one season, Clark was traded to the Cleveland Browns for All-Pro guard Jim Ray Smith. Clark was the starting offensive tackle for the next seven years and played with the great Jim Brown. Those were glory days in Cleveland when the Browns were 69-27-2, winning several division titles and one World Championship in 1964. "Brown was a fabulous back: big, fast, and strong."Clark retired in 1970 after eleven years as a player and joined Shula, who was the winningest coach in NFL history, at Miami. The Dolphins broke the NFL all-time rushing record, had two 1,000 yard backs in a single season, Mercury Morris and Larry Csonka, and won back-to-back Super Bowls. Clark was hired by San Francisco as head coach and director of football operations for a team that was 4-8 the previous season. Clark only served one year of a four-year contract. He moved to the Detroit Lions and his 1983 team won the first division title in twenty-six years. Up until the time that he took the Lions job, he had played on or coached on NFL teams that had won 220 games and lost seventy-three with three ties. Clark spent a few more years with Shula's Dolphins in the front office and as an assistant coach for Walsh at Stanford and Doug Cosbie at California before heading back to Michigan.
Shortly after attending the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame's 50th anniversary dinner, Clark died in September 2009 at the age of seventy-two.
Leo A. Harris enjoyed success in any athletic endeavor that he tried, highlighted by a twenty- year tenure as athletic director at the University of Oregon, Eugene. The Santa Cruz-born and raised Harris starred in football, basketball, baseball, and swimming at Santa Cruz High School. He was recruited by Stanford and played two seasons for Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner.
Harris was the starting left tackle for unbeaten Stanford, who outplayed yet were tied 7-7 with the University of Alabama in the 1927 Rose Bowl. Harris came to Fresno after his graduation from Stanford and was hired to coach the Fresno High School football, basketball, and baseball teams. Longtime Fresno Bee sports editor Ed Orman described his first meeting with Harris. "The black-thatched, trim athlete was bubbling with enthusiasm, aggressiveness, enterprise or whatever over his first job. He was made head coach of football, basketball, and baseball. Football was his specialty and he not only turned out winning teams on the gridiron, but also in basketball. Baseball was not his dish and he admits it to this day." His Warrior football teams won 39-94 and captured one valley championship while his basketball teams took two.
Harris left Fresno High in 1932 and became the freshmen football coach at Fresno State. In 1935, he replaced Stan Borleske as head coach of the Bulldogs. In three seasons, Fresno was 18-5-1, won one Far Western Conference championship outright and tied for another. Harris gave up the Fresno State job in 1936 to go into school administration. He was vice principal at Fresno Tech, principal at Fresno High and superintendent of the Carmel schools. Harris returned to the athletic scene in 1947 as director of athletics at the University of Oregon, Eugene. His tenure brought golden years for Ducks' athletic teams.
When Harris stepped down as AD, Oregon Journal sports editor George Pasero summed up the Harris reign in his column. "Twenty years ago, Leo took over an operation that was laboring and uncertain of the future. Leo began putting it in the black and never failed to make a financial profit as high as $200,000.. Under his stewardship, the Ducks began to excel in almost all sports and the victories were accomplished always within the rules. Leo never condoned anything by his coaches except what the rules allowed...Leo wasn't always popular, either. To overzealous alumni, he responded with a blunt 'no'...and he withstood their pressures..Harris ran his operation and to heck with winning popularity contests...Leo never flinches either when it became necessary for his school as a Pacific Coast Conference orphan to go it alone. Like Leo or not, people began saying "the guy's a great businessman'...Funny thing, though, a lot of people began to like the guy."
If you ever met Harris, he was a real gentleman, easy to talk to, and very confident. He loved life and one of his favorite pastimes was fishing. He hired good people such as football coach, Len Casanova, and track coach, Bill Bowerman. Casanova succeeded him as athletic director. Harris' Oregon legacy includes the new two million dollar Autzen Stadium, in part paid by a one million dollar surplus from the Oregon athletic budget. That money purchased a ninety-acre tract across the Willamette River from the campus. The stadium was christened in 1967 with a seating capacity of 41,000. Harris also directed renovation of McArthur Court and Howe Baseball Field.
In 1930, Charlie Kaster capped a great career as a hurdler when he competed in the British Empire Games as a member of the U.S. shuttle hurdle relay team. In his leg, Kaster held off the British champion, David Burleigh, to help the U.S. team to victory in the World record time of 59.1 seconds.
Kaster competed for Fresno State from 1926-1929. His greatest day in collegiate ranks came against the University of Nevada Wolfpack in 1927 when he won the low hurdles in Far Western Conference record time of 25.0, the high hurdles in the conference record-tying time of 15.8, broad jump at 22-10 and high jump at 5-10, for a total of 20 points. In West Coast Relays competition in the college class, he won in 1927 and 1928. In 1929, he won his class in the good time of 14.6. Later, he set a college class WCR record at 14.5.
During his college career, Kaster dominated the Far Western in the hurdle events and was the top point winner for the FSC Bulldogs as he competed in four or five events a meet.
Dink Templeton, one of the early track greats of the nation, called Kaster “the greatest form hurdler in history.” Kaster was born in Missouri and came to Fresno in 1922. A veteran of World War II, he spent the latter part of his life at the California Veterans Home in Yountville where he passed away in 1966.
Lloyd Merriman graduated from Clovis High School in 1942 when Daryle Lamonica was only a year old. Two of the most famous Clovis High athletes have stadiums named after them. There is the Lloyd Merriman Field for baseball and the Lamonica Stadium for football. Lamonica's collegiate and professional achievements far outranked Merriman's, but Merriman had one statistic that Lamonica didn't have. He was in the Marine Air Corps for three years during World War II and flew eighty-seven combat missions in a two-year stay during the Korean War. Merriman was born in Clovis on August 2, 1924, years before little leagues. His parents were Carl and Bessie Merriman, who both graduated from Clovis High in 1911. Carl was an outstanding athlete at Clovis and his son followed in his footsteps. Like most boys of that Clovis era, he learned to pass and kick a football as well as ride horses. He was a star in football and baseball and his speed enabled him to shine as an outfielder and a hitter.
Merriman graduated from Clovis in 1942 and enrolled at Stanford University where he was a football walk-on. He hadn't even planned to go out for football that year because he felt it was only a matter of time until he would get his military draft papers. He said he and a group of fraternity friends were playing touch football and they were going to go out for the Stanford team, so at eighteen, he followed suit. In November 1942, he joined the Marines and they let him finish the school year. He put in for and was accepted into the V-5 Naval Flight program. In June 1943, he was called up. He resigned from the Marines and joined the Navy. He graduated from flight training in 1945 at Corpus Christi, Texas and rejoined the Marines. He played football in 1944 during pre-flight training at Norman, Oklahoma. Merriman said it was a "fun team" with young and old players. One was halfback Emil Sitko, later an All-American at Notre Dame. Another was LenEshmont, who after the war played for the 49ers. Merriman was discharged in 1945 and went back to Stanford for the winter quarter. He played baseball for the Indians (now Cardinals) in the spring of 1946 and football that fall.