Jackie Fellows wouldn't have been able to see over the hulking linemen that collegiate teams have now, but he was the toast of Fresno and was chosen to Bill Stern's 1942 All-America first team, the only Fresno State player ever so honored. The 5'6", 155-pounder was the kingpin in the Phantom Four" backfield along with running backs, Jack Kelley and Lou Futrell and fullback Mickey Masini. Operating as the tailback in coach Jimmy "Rabbit" Bradshaw's double wing formation, Fellows could pass or run. He was recruited after a stellar two years with Los Angeles City College. Los Angeles writers tabbed Fellows as the greatest junior college player to emerge from the Southern California ranks since Jackie Robinson, who played at Pasadena City College before moving on to UCLA. Fellows passed for twenty-one touchdowns, an NCAA record at the time, and the Bulldogs out-scored their ten opponents 363-45 with seven games as shutouts. Their only loss was to the University of San Francisco. In that game, Fresno scored first, but the Dons' heavy pass rush kept Fellows running for his life. The following week, Fresno beat San Jose State 6-0 and then traveled to Loyola and won a decisive 27-6 victory over a team that had beaten the Dons.
Football was cancelled the following year due to World War II and Fellows returned to Fresno State in 1946, but the magic was gone. Fellows had some good performing games, yet the Bulldogs finished the season at 8-4. Fellows played a season with the New York Yankees in the old American Football League and a season for Ottawa in the Canadian League before quitting football. Fellows returned to Los Angeles, where he was an usher at various race tracks and the Coliseum.
Howard Holman, a native of San Mateo, had a tough act to follow when he succeeded Raymond Quigley as the Director of the Fresno Recreation and Parks in 1950. Quigley was responsible for the large number of city playgrounds where many of Fresno's top athletes were developed.
Holman, who had a laid-back personality, served for twenty-four years, managing to fill Quigley's shoes and then some. When he arrived, there were seven public recreation centers along with nine elementary school playgrounds. When he retired in 1974, there were fourteen recreation centers and fifty-three school playgrounds. Some of the expansion was due to the growing population in Fresno, but Holman was involved in helping start Little League Baseball, Spartan Football, Youth Soccer, floodlighting tennis courts, and upgrading Riverside and Airways golf courses.
He was a graduate of Fremont High School and the University of California, where he played on the basketball team. Holman served three years in the U.S. Navy where he was involved in recreation activities. In the 1940s, he won the National Veterans Badminton Championship.
Long before he became a Hall of Fame pitcher, Tom Seaver envied the swift, strike-throwing skill of Dick Selma when they played together at Fresno High School. Selma was a senior member of the varsity squad in 1961 when Seaver, one year behind him, was playing for the junior varsity. That was the same year that Wade Blasingame was pitching for cross-town rival, Roosevelt. They were the guys," Seaver would later recall, "Striking out eighteen or nineteen guys a game. I didn't make the varsity until my senior year." Blasingame would later sign with the Milwaukee Braves, but his career would not turn out to be as noteworthy either Selma's or Seaver's, who both signed to play for by New York Mets.Prior to Selma and Seaver's varsity performances for Fresno High, the Warriors had fielded a remarkable team that included pitchers Dick Ellsworth, Jim Maloney, and Lynn Rube, and catcher Pat Corrales during the 1958 season.
Selma, the 5'11" and 160-pound right-hander pitched one season for Salinas of the Class 'C' California League before he was signed by the Mets in 1963. During his ten-year big league career, Selma would take the mound for the Mets, Cubs, Padres, Phillies, Angels, and Brewers. Selma, who compiled a 42-54 record during his major league career, distinguished himself by winning the first two games that he pitched as a rookie with the Mets in 1965, he was the pitcher of record for the expansion San Diego Padres' first game of their first season in 1969, and struck out 153 batters for a National League record as a relief hurler for the Phillies in 1970. Among Selma's best career performances was his second game in a Met uniform when he hurled a ten-inning, 1-0 shutout, striking out ten opposing Braves. The thirteen strikeouts stood as a franchise record at that time. He would then toil as a relief pitcher for the next two seasons.
Selma was back on the hill as a starter during the 1968 season when he was 9-10 in twenty-three starts with a 2.76 ERA and 117 strikeouts. San Diego drafted Selma as their fifth choice in the 1968 league expansion draft and that led to his historic first-in-franchise-history start for the Padres to open the 1969 season. An exceptionally hard thrower, Selma's deliveries were executed without a conventional windup; he was one of the earliest big leaguers to deviate from going into a full windup. During 840 innings through 307 major league games, Selma struck out 681 batters and walked 381 to compile a 3.62 ERA. He also picked up thirty-one saves and collected thirty-five hits, including five doubles in 203 times at bat for a .172 batting average. It was a brief stop in San Diego for Selma because he only worked four games before he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1969. He was 10-8 with the Cubs, following a brilliant 7-1 start, and then was swapped to the Phillies in 1970 for East Bakersfield's Johnny Callison and a player to be named later (Larry Colton). Working as a "closer" for the Phillies, Selma notched twenty-two saves in seventy-three games. He then finished out his career with the Cards where he didn't make a start, the Angels for eighteen games, the Brewers for two games, and the Angels again with no starts. Selma's final association with baseball after he retired was as an assistant coach at Fresno High and as a pitching coach for Clovis High. Selma passed away after a battle with liver cancer in 2001.
Had it not been for a tendon injury, track and field followers might have known the name Paul Starr in a different light. The University of Oregon sprint standout won a place on the 1932 United States Olympic team in the 100-meter, but sustained the injury prior to the Los Angeles-hosted Games and missed it. One year later, the tendon had healed and Starr placed second in the 100-meter and third in the 220-meter at the NCAA championships. Starr was also the 200-meter winner in the 1993 National Amateur Athletic Union championships. His best time in the 100 was 9.5 seconds when the world record was 9.4 seconds. Starr's best in the 220 was 20.8 seconds.
After completing graduate work at USC and Fresno State, Starr began his coaching career at Sierra High School in Auberry in 1937. He had moved to Tulare High School in 1940 and, when World War II started, Starr joined the U.S. Navy. Starr became the coach and athletic director at Edison High School following his discharge and moved on to Fresno City College in 1948 where he coached basketball and became the athletic director. Starr served for twenty years as a starter at the highly recognized Fresno West Coast Relays. Paul Starr died in 1975.
As a boy, Gus Zernial and his pals would excitedly watch baseball games through knotholes in an outfield fence in Beaumont, Texas. He daydreamed of becoming a major league player and he did. No one could have envisioned that Zernial would be instrumental in bringing minor league baseball back to Fresno after he finished an eleven-year big league career from 1987 to 2002 with the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, and Detroit Tigers.
When the handsome, non-smoking, non-drinking Zernial was a major league outfielder, baseball was huge. An all-round athlete, he played end, forward, and first base respectively for his high school football, basketball, and baseball teams. The physically impressive teenager grew to be a rock-muscled, 6'3" and 220 pounds with power at the plate, a strong throwing arm, and good speed. The right-handed Gus swung for the fences and home runs were his calling card. Zernial's deceptive .265 major league career batting average during 1,234 games included 237 home runs and 776 RBIs.
He led the American League with thirty-three home runs and 129 RBls in 1951 after the Chicago White Sox traded him to the Philadelphia Athletics. Big league fans were delighted with Zernial's power hitting-four homers once during a doubleheader. Zernial is in the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame, even though he never played an inning in Fresno, but old timers still remember when he headlined for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. Zernial earned his spot in the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame due to his fundraising effort in promoting the return of baseball in Fresno.
After he retired, Zernial became a play-by-play radio and television broadcaster for Fresno State games from 1972 to 1976. It was a good life and local devoted sports fans were soon familiar with Zernial's trademark exclamation, "Folks, it's going to be a barn-burner!" But something happened in 1987 that just "stuck in Gus's craw." The Li'l Giants, Fresno's Class 'A' California League baseball team, moved to San Jose. That was not acceptable to Zernial who felt that Fresno deserved to be a Triple-A Class city. The Tucson Grizzlies moved to Fresno, but the team played to sparse crowds at Fresno State's on-campus ballpark. Gus lobbied for the construction of a new baseball facility that would increase interest in the game. Gus finally won the attention of city council, who approved the building of a downtown stadium in 1998. Construction began in 2001, and in 2002, the Grizzlies drew 563,097 fans, averaging 8,000 in attendance per game, the ninth highest head count in the nation's minor leagues.
Zernial quit broadcasting in 1993 and was in charge of the marketing and community fundraising development for the Grizzlies until 2003 when he retired again. As for his own professional baseball career, Zernial began in 1942 with Waycross of the Georgia-Florida League. He hit .286 in ninety-five games before being released. He joined the U.S. Navy, serving as a radio operator for three years aboard five battleships, and was discharged in 1945. In 1946, Zernial resumed his ball playing career with Burlington of the Class 'C' Carolina League, hitting .333 including forty-one homers and 111 RBls plus a .649 slugging percentage and ten stolen bases. In 1947, Zernial only went to bat four times for Baltimore of the International League before being traded to Hollywood of the PCL. He batted a career high .344 in 1947, then led the league in 1948 with 237 hits and 156 RBIs.
During one stretch, he hit home runs in four successive at-bats during two games against the San Diego Padres. For the season, Zernial batted .322 with forty home runs and forty-seven doubles. It was during his stint with the Twinks that announcer Fred Haney nicknamed Zernial "Ozark Ike," a mountain boy comic strip character. Gus was flattered by the comparison and didn't object. Gus moved up to the big leagues in 1949 with the Chicago White Sox, hitting.318 in seventy-three games after missing the first two months with a broken collar bone which he fractured again in 1954. That was the way he played, diving for rocketing fly balls. He led the American League with eighteen put-out assists in 1951 and was among the assist leaders in 1952 with seventeen. His best major league year was 1953 when he batted .284, hammered forty-two homers, and was selected to the All-Star Game in Cincinnati.
In 1953, Gus led the AL in homers until the final day of the season when Cleveland's AI Rosen hit his 43rd round-tripper. During his career, Zernial hoisted multiple home runs in thirty-two games, nine of them with the bases loaded, and two of his 237 career homers were inside-the-park shots with ten more as a pinch-hitter. Zernial was selected to the Philadelphia Athletics All-Century Team in 2000 and played on the same field as Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio and that was good enough for the boy with big dreams from Beaumont.