The final vote of the weekend to decide who the 4th member of the CGB Hall of Fame 2013 class is upon us! Recent softball star Valerie Arioto takes on basketball and Cal legend Pete Newell in the, ahem, Pete Newell Region. Valerie got here by taking out Nnamdi Asomugha while Pete upset Jahvid Best. So now, the question is can Pete duplicate Joe Kapp's feat of winning his own region or will Valerie take him down like a hanging curveball over the middle of the plate? We'll take a closer look at both of them and then you can cast your vote to decide who moves on. You can take a look at the whole bracket here and voting will end Friday at noon. GO BEARS!
NorCalNick: College softball is a sport dominated by amazing pitchers. Top ERAs routinely hover in the 1.00-2.00 range. Often, games feel like a frustrating game of chicken, while you wait for one team to make a mistake that allows a solitary run to cross to break a 0-0 deadlock.
Which only makes what Valerie Arioto did even more amazing. She destroyed college softball pitching in a way I didn’t think was possible, and in the process received the Barry Bonds treatment from opposing pitchers despite being surrounded with players good enough to start for the #1 team in the country. Her senior year numbers still seem unfathomable:
137 at bats
23 home runs
94 walks (17 intentional)
On Base Percentage: .474
Almost half of her hits were home runs. About 17% of her plate appearances ended in home runs. If pitchers had challenged her, she could have approached 40 home runs on the season. And these numbers are for an entire season in the Pac-12, perennially the toughest conference in the country, and the playoffs, where offense goes to die.
The fences at softball fields are much closer than the fences at baseball fields, for obvious reasons. The pitching is tougher to hit, the heavy balls don’t fly as far, female hitters aren’t as strong as male hitters, etc. Arioto made Levine-Fricke field look like a little league diamond. Her home runs were no-doubters, moon shots sailing well over the fences erected to protect cars in the parking lot of the Strawberry Canyon Recreation Area, or laser beams that exited the field almost before you could react.
I know for every non-Giants fan, the name Barry Bonds is near-verboten. But for about five years or so, I watched the most dominating individual athlete I can ever recall. Bonds toyed with a sport renowned because you fail most of the time. And when it was over, and he retired, I thought that I would never see another athlete stand at the plate and control the game the way I saw him do it. And then a leftie came along who crowded the plate, but could turn on any ball with her bat speed. She wasn’t afraid to take a walk, but never let those walks take her out of her rhythm the next time a pitcher actually decided to challenge her.
Oh yeah, and she could pitch. Vote for Val!
NorCalNick gives up the scoop on Coach Newell:
What I know about Pete Newell is likely very similar to what you know about him. He’s a legendary head coach, universally regarded as one of the great innovators. Bob Knight thinks he’s the greatest. John Wooden couldn’t take over the conference until he left. He won a national title and his team took down Oscar Robertson. He won an Olympic medal with Oscar Roberson. He became known as a big man guru and introduced the reverse action offense. Perhaps most importantly, the iconic picture of him nervously chewing a towel doubles as an iconic visual metaphor for Cal fans.
Unfortunately, that picture hints at a problem: Newell retired from coaching at the age of 45 due to stress, leading to a gigantic ‘what-if.’ It’s hardly unusual for respected coaches to keep going well into their 60s or 70s. If Newell had stayed active, would Cal basketball have fallen into a 50 year wilderness of only occasional relevancy? Would John Wooden be the same Wooden? Perhaps Cal would be the west coast blue blood.
In any case, Newell compiled a record of 119-44 while at Cal, then became Cal’s athletic director until 1968. I can’t begin to vouch for his abilities as an administrator, although I doubt anybody would look back at the 60s as a golden era for Cal sports. Considering the climate on campus at the time, perhaps there wasn’t much anybody could do.
If the CGB hall of fame were identical to the Cal hall of fame, Pete Newell would be a charter member as perhaps the best (and most influential) coach in school history, in any sport. Alas, few if any of us were able to witness Newell’s teams in action. Will his legendary reputation be enough to earn him your vote?
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