The 2011 University of California baseball team was the stuff of legend: the team told that the sport was going to be dropped, a massive fund-raising effort by alums and families, a season of uncertainty about the team's fate with players not knowing whether they needed to transfer or not, an eleventh-hour announcement that baseball would be saved at Cal, and a near-miraculous post-season run including a spectacular 4-run ninth inning comeback from the brink of elimination, capped off by a trip to the College World Series for the first time in nearly two decades. But the Bears are hardly strangers to the College World Series. In fact, it was Cal's long-time coach, Clint Evans, who was primarily responsible for the creation of the College World Series, and it was the Golden Bears who won the very first championship. The feats of the 2011 Bears have inspired this remembrance of their great predecessors: the College World Series Champion, 1947 University of California Golden Bears.
The 1947 Golden Bears. BACK ROW: Ken Gustafson, George Yamor, Ralph McIntire, Red Finney, Jim Anderson, Jackie Jensen, Virgil Butler, John Enos, Russ Bruzzone, George Sproul. MIDDLE ROW: Coach Clint Evans, Nino Barnise, Bob Anderson, LaVerne Horton, Ernest Mane, William Lotter, Sam Rosenthal, John Ramos, Bob Peterson. FRONT ROW: Robert O'Dell, Douglas Clayton, Cliff McClain, Lyle Palmer, John Fiscalini, Tim Cronin, Ed Sanclemente, James Brown, Glen Dufour, Jr.
By 1947, baseball was already an old and storied sport at Cal. The names of the members of inter-mural baseball teams representing each class, and the results of their games, were listed in the Blue and Gold yearbook as early as 1874. And by 1885, the Bears were playing against outside opponents. The 1886 Blue and Gold lists a "University Nine" representing the entire campus, and records what may have been the Bears' first intercollegiate game, played against the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco on October 31, 1886. The final score, a 36-28 Cal win, indicates that both schools could have used some pitching.
The 1888 California "University Nine" (plus student manager) took on opponents such as St. Mary's and the College of the Pacific, compiling a 3-1-1 record.
Perhaps most famously, it was California baseball that first brought The Axe to Berkeley. On April 15, 1899, Stanford supporters brought The Axe to a baseball game against the Bears in San Francisco, and used it to chop up pieces of blue and gold ribbon whenever Stanford had a good play. After a stirring comeback win by the Bears, Cal baseball fans liberated The Axe and spirited it back to Berkeley, where it became the most treasured icon in Cal sports history. And prior to 1947, Golden Bears baseball had also produced some notable major leaguers, including Chicago Cubs pitcher Orval Overall and Philadelphia Athletics outfielder Sam Chapman. And the Bears had won numerous conference championships.
A national championship tournament had been instituted for college basketball in 1939, but as of 1946 there was still no national championship for college baseball. In 1945, a group of college coaches had formed the American Association of College Baseball Coaches, and the following year Clint Evans, a 1912 graduate of the University of California and the Bears' head baseball coach, proposed the establishment of a championship baseball tournament. Due to the nature of the sport, he proposed not a single-elimination tournament like that used in basketball, but rather a format involving a two-out-of-three series. Evans was one of the most successful and respected college baseball coaches in the country, and his proposal caught on immediately. After some tinkering by the Coaches Association, it was formally approved on February 7, 1947, with the first College World Series scheduled to be played just four months later.
Cal baseball coach Clint Evans (right) with the Cal basketball head coach (and former football head coach), Nibs Price. Price's team made the basketball Final Four in 1946, while Evans' team won the College World Series in 1947. (For more on Nibs Price, click here.)
The Cal Bears had long been one of the most successful baseball programs in the nation. In 1947, the Bears played in the California Intercollegiate Baseball Association with Stanford, UCLA, USC, St. Mary's and Santa Clara. The 1947 conference season came down to the wire. At the season's end, USC was 11-4 in the conference, and California was 10-4. Due to an earlier rain-out, the Bears had to play a make up game against Stanford to try to tie USC and force a playoff. The Bears pulled off the win over the Indians, and went on to beat the Trojans in a one-game playoff to win the conference title. That, and the Bears' overall record of 29-10, was enough to earn them a spot as one of the eight teams selected for the first college baseball playoffs.
The playoff format consisted of two regional, single elimination playoffs. The eastern regional was played at Yale, and the first college playoff game ever was played on June 20, 1947 between Yale and Clemson. Yale won, and then faced NYU, which had beaten Illinois. Yale beat NYU 6-4 to gain a spot in the College World Series.
The western regional was played at a minor league ball park in Denver. In the first game, Texas beat Oklahoma 10-9. Then California beat Denver University 3-2, setting up a showdown between Cal and Texas for the second spot in the College World Series. However, that game was delayed by two solid days of rain. When the rain finally stopped, the field was soaked. In an effort to make the field playable, the officials decided to spread gasoline on the field and burn it, and then spread new topsoil on the ground. According to Cal outfielder Lyle Palmer, "Coach Clint Evans was in the outfield spreading gasoline when someone lit it." Somehow Evans managed to avoid being burned, and the game was able to be played. The game was a thriller, with Cal scoring the winning run in the bottom of the ninth to defeat Texas 8-7 and earn a trip to the College World Series.
The first College World Series was played in Kalamazoo, Michigan, at Hyames Field, on the campus of Western Michigan University. It was probably not a coincidence that Judson Hyames of Western Michigan was the chairman of the Coaches Association committee in charge of organizing the playoffs. The format for the World Series was best two-out-of-three, with one game to be played on Friday, June 27, and a doubleheader (if necessary) to be played on Saturday, June 28.
The program cover for the first College World Series between California and Yale.
Cal's Coach Evans was ecstatic to be playing in the series whose creation he had worked for. Cal center fielder Lyle Palmer recalled, "This was Clint's baby. It had finally reached fruition. That we were playing in it was just frosting on the cake for him. He was like a kid, he was so happy." The event also caught the attention of Major League Baseball. The American League sent two umpires to call the games, and baseball Commissioner A.B. "Happy" Chandler was on hand to throw out the first pitch. But despite all the attention, the Cal players did not feel much pressure. They were not typical college athletes, since many of them were World War II veterans. As Lyle Palmer explained, "We were a much more mature group of guys than kids just coming out of high school. We weren't bothered by pressure. Some of us were in combat in the war, so we had gone through things a lot more worrisome than baseball games."
Cal center fielder Lyle Palmer, who went 5-for-7 in the first College World Series.
The start of the first game was delayed 45 minutes by rain. Yale's pitcher, Jim Duffus, may have been affected by the delay. When the game finally got underway, Cal promptly scored two runs in the first, on a walk, an error, and a triple by the Bears' Jim Brown. But the Cal starter, Nino Barnise, also seemed to have been affected by the delay. In the bottom of the first, he gave up three runs on two walks, an error, and a double, giving Yale a 3-2 lead. Coach Evans wasted no time in pulling Barnise, putting in pitcher Dick Larner in the first inning to get the final out. But Larner gave up another run in the second, and Yale's lead was 4-2.
Yale reliever Frank Quinn was strong for the next five innings, keeping the Yale lead at 4-2 into the seventh. Quinn was Yale's best pitcher. He would later become one of the first "bonus babies" in baseball history, receiving a then-astronomical signing bonus of $75,000. With a two-run lead and Quinn on the mound, the Yale team was confident. "Once we got ahead with Quinn, it seemed like it would be easy," said Yale catcher Norm Felske. But in the seventh inning, Quinn hit Cal's John Fiscalini. Then a throwing error allowed Ed Sanclemente to reach second, while Fiscalini advanced to third. After Fiscalini scored on an infield out by Bob O'Dell, Coach Evans sent in freshman Jackie Jensen to pinch hit.
Jensen would shortly become well-known as one of the greatest running backs in California football history, and would lead the Bears to the 1949 Rose Bowl. He would also have an impressive major league career with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, including being named the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1957. But in 1947, he was still a relatively obscure freshman. Even so, he made believers out of the Yale players. Red Mathews, the Yale third baseman, said, "He was strong and fast and big. I was very impressed with him." In his first at-bat in the College World Series, Jensen came through with a pinch-hit single to drive in the tying run.
In the eighth, Ed Sanclemente gave the Bears a 6-4 lead with a two-run single. As a result, in the bottom of the eighth, the Yale coach pulled pitcher Quinn for a pinch hitter. It was to no avail, as Yale did not score. And then, with Quinn out of the game, the wheels came off for Yale in the top of the ninth. Yale reliever Sid Rosner walked the first batter he faced, hit the next batter, and was then replaced by Phil Kemp, who couldn't get an out. The Bears proceeded to score 11 runs in the top of the ninth. "The 11 runs sort of shocked us," said Yale catcher Felske. The final score of game one: California 17, Yale 4.
But the series was far from over. Yale could still win the championship by sweeping the double header the following day. Yale's team leader was its captain and first baseman, George H.W. Bush. Like Cal's Lyle Palmer, he was a decorated World War II combat veteran. But unlike Palmer, who went 5-for-7 in the series, Bush was not much of a hitter. Although Bush was well-liked by his teammates, his friend, catcher Felske, was sometimes moved to tell him, "For chrissakes, Bush, get a damn hit" -- something the Bears' pitchers were able to prevent him from doing during the series.
The Cal pitching staff kept future President George H. W. Bush hitless during the first College World Series. He was 0-for-7.
California's freshman pitcher, Jackie Jensen, started the first game of the scheduled Saturday doubleheader. Yale scored a run in the first, but in the second Yale made the mistake of intentionally walking Cal's number eight batter. Sixty years later, Yale first baseman George Bush recalled, "We walked the eighth hitter to get to the pitcher, and it was Jackie Jensen. He hit one that's still rolling out there in Kalamazoo." Jensen's double gave the Bears a 2-1 lead. By the fourth inning, Cal's lead was 7-3. But in the fourth, the 17-year-old Jensen had a bout of wildness. Jensen was not a control pitcher. He pretty much just threw fastballs as hard as he could. And while some of his teammates told him that he could not expect to just blow fastballs past batters at the college level, he often did. Cal right fielder Cliff McClain said, "Some guys got on him, telling him he couldn't just fire it past guys in college. But as far as his fastball, you could tell he was special." But when the freshman Jensen lost control of his fastball, he did not have anything to fall back on. By the time the fourth inning ended, Yale had tied the game 7-7.
Freshman pitcher -- and future American League MVP -- Jackie Jensen.
Clint Evans brought one of his starters, Virgil Butler, on in relief, and Butler ended the Yale rally. In the bottom of the seventh, Cal had runners on first and third, when Lyle Palmer tried to steal second. The Yale catcher threw the ball into center field, allowing Cal's John Ramos to score from third, and giving the Bears the lead. Butler shut down the Yale hitters for the rest of the game. With two out in the bottom of the ninth, George Bush came to bat. Butler later remembered, "On the last pitch, I struck out George Bush on a curveball. I got my 15 minutes of glory!" Final score: California 8, Yale 7. It was a sweep, and the University of California Golden Bears were the first-ever College World Series Champions. Fifty years later, Cal's Lyle Palmer, who led his team to the championship, said that his best memory of the series was not any of his own heroics, but the sheer joy of California Coach Clint Evans, who had worked so hard to establish the College World Series, and then led his team to victory. "Clint was always talking about how, 'We've got to have a World Series for college baseball.' My fondest memory is that he was the happiest man I ever saw when we won, and he never forgot it until the end of his life."
California would win a second College World Series championship in 1957. The Bears also appeared in the College World Series in 1980, 1988, and 1992. And, most recently, the 2011 Golden Bears continued the great tradition of Cal baseball glory, and made every Old Blue proud, by their extraordinary run from the brink of extinction to the College World Series.
Anonymous, 1947 Blue and Gold, Volume 74, Associated Students of the University of California, Berkeley, CA (1947)
Anonymous, "Bush Sr. Recalls His Days at First College World Series," Associated Press, June 14, 2007.
Kroichick, Ron, "It's Come a Long Way / 49 Years Ago, the Cal Bears Beat Yale and a Future President," The San Francisco Chronicle, May 28, 1996.
Lawes, Rick, "Inaugural Year Competitors Remember the Way It Was," USA Today Baseball Weekly, June 6, 1996.
Madden, W.C. and Stewart, Patrick J., The College World Series, A Baseball History 1947-2003, McFarland & Co., Jefferson, NC (2004).
Martin, George I. The Golden Boy: A Biography of Jackie Jensen, Peter E. Randall Publisher, Portsmouth, NH (2000).