May 1, 2008

50 Years Ago: Best Team In State History?

Note: This story was written 10 years ago for Student Sports Magazine by founder Nelson Tennis, who died nearly four years ago. The theme of Nelson's story that the 1958 Fresno High baseball team being the best in California history (and quite possibly the nation) still applies, although an argument can now be made about Chatsworth's 35-0 squad from 2005. So on the 50th anniversary of this all-time great team, we salute the Warriors by reprinting Nelson's story......

It's always debatable as to what high school baseball team could go down as the nation's best ever, but a great argument can be made for the Fresno High Warriors of 1958. For its dominance over the competition, its phenomenal pitching and its place in the all-time California record book, Fresno had it all.

That squad's awesome pitching staff consisted of just three players, all seniors who eventually signed with major league teams for bonuses, which at the time were substantial. Amazingly, two of them-Dick Ellsworth and Jim Maloney-became major league 20-game winners in 1963, just five years out of high school. Ellsworth pitched for the Chicago Cubs, while Maloney hurled for the Cincinnati Reds.

Dick (The Whip) Ellsworth was the ace of that great 1958 Fresno team, compiling a 15-0 record. Maloney, the team's highly-regarded shortstop, was used sparingly as a pitcher but still went 3-0. The third pitcher, Lynn Rube, was 7-1.

Rube was a 6-2, 205-pound right hander who signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for a $25,000 bonus right after the high school season. Ellsworth, a 6-3 lefty, signed with the Cubs for $70,000. The 6-2 Maloney turned down a $60,000 bonus apparently to spend a year at the college level honing his right-handed pitching skills rather than becoming a shortstop. It could therefore be said that Fresno's 1958 team had a $155,000 pitching staff.

The catcher for this incredible corps of pitchers was yet another major-leaguer-to-be-6-0 junior Pat Corrales. He not only went on to play in nine major league seasons, but also managed in nine major league seasons.

With Corrales catching that trio of pitchers, Fresno's 1958 squad compiled a 25-1 record, including 18-0 against prep competition. The Warriors also had wins over the Cal Frosh, the Stanford Frosh and Fresno Junior College. The only team they lost to was the Fresno State Frosh, a squad they also beat three times. You've probably heard jokingly that a particularly dominant high school team could compete with the local junior college. That was not the case with Fresno High. The Warriors not only competed against collegians, but they soundly beat them.

Fresno's pitching also helped the team record 15 shutouts, which is still tied for the all-time record in California, a state noted for its baseball excellence. That mark is especially impressive when you consider that the games in 1958 were nine innings in length compared to the seven of today.

One of those shutouts was 8-0 over Mt. Whitney of Visalia as Maloney pitched a two-hitter and struck out 25, a season-high for the team. Ellsworth had a season-high 20 strikeouts in a three-hit, 14-0 shutout of Merced and also had a 16-strikeout, no-hitter against Roosevelt of Fresno in a 6-0 win.

Coach Ollie Bidwell's crew was equally awesome on offense with 288 runs scored, an average of over 11 runs per game.

Only one of the 19 games against prep teams was close and that was near the end of the season when Ellsworth started a game against Roosevelt (also of Fresno) even though he was ill. Surprisingly, Fresno trailed Roosevelt 11-10 going into the ninth. No problem. Fresno scored seven times to win 17-11 as Maloney picked up the win in relief. Maybe the Warriors were looking for a challenge?

Fresno's biggest sticks belonged to Maloney, Corrales and the late Blair Pollard at first base. Most of the players were big in stature, too, even at third base where 6-4 Tom Jacobsen ruled the roost.

The most illustrious individual opponent who could attest to the Warriors' prowess was a junior shortstop at Clovis: the future Mad Bomber" of Oakland Raider fame-Daryle Lamonica. Although Lamonica blasted a home run off Lynn Rube, Fresno won the game 20-4.

That 1958 dream season was preceded by a 22-2 year in 1957 that included a 22-1 record vs. other high schools and nine straight wins vs. prep opponents to end the year. Ellsworth was the No. 2 pitcher behind Mike Urrezola, a senior who went 15-1. Ellsworth had the other loss, 2-1, to the Fresno State Frosh.

With the 19-0 mark vs. preps in 1958 combined with the nine final wins in 1957 and nine more wins to start the season in 1959, Fresno was able to compile a state record 37-game win streak vs. prep teams. The official state records don't include Fresno due to the losses to the college teams, but if they did the Warriors would have had the state record for longest win streak until the 2005 season.

But Fresno High's baseball glory doesn't just begin and end in end there. It's one of the few high schools to have produced two Major League Baseball Hall of Famers-first baseman Frank Chance and pitcher Tom Seaver. Ironically, Chance didn't play high school baseball and he didn't develop into a star until after high school.

Up to 22 major league scouts were on hand to see any one of those 26 games the Warriors played in 1958. Included were the likes of Babe Herman, Dolph Camilli, Carl Hubbell, Jerry Coleman and Gene Handley, who signed Ellsworth for the Cubs.

Bidwell chimed in that it was "the finest team I ever coached." And Bidwell should know. His illustrious high school coaching career spanned 14 years at three Fresno schools (Roosevelt, Fresno and McLane). where he compiled a remarkable 227-80-3 record.

Although there were no state or section playoffs Fresno could enter in 1958, there was a big invitational tournament near the end of the season to which all the top teams in the area were invited. The title game of that tournament was the game in which Fresno came from behind to down league opponent Roosevelt 17-11. It also was the fourth time the Warriors got a win over the Roughriders.

Lynn Rube didn't make it to the major leagues, but Maloney and Ellsworth sure did.

After spending a semester at the University of California and a semester at Fresno Junior College where he had a streak of 19 consecutive scoreless innings pitched, Maloney signed with the Cincinnati Reds for $100,000. He had a very good Major League career, compiling a 134-84 pitching record with a 3.19 ERA and 1,605 strikeouts in 12 seasons, mostly with the Reds. Maloney also had two 20-win seasons, 23-7 in 1963 and 20-9 in 1965.

Just out of California for the first time in his life, the 18-year-old Ellswhorthbecame the toast of Chicago when he pitched a four-hitter in leading the Cubs over the Chicago White Sox 1-0 in an exhibition game at Cominsky Park before 21,800 fans. Shortly after that, however, Ellsworth was farmed out. He didn't fare as well professionally as Maloney did with a 115-137 career record over 13 seasons, mostly with the Cubs. His best season came in 1963 when he went 22-10.

It's been 50 years since Ellsworth, Maloney and the others were on the diamond at Fresno High. No team - in California, at least - has been their equal, before or since.

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