(2) Valerie Arioto
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!
(7) Steve Bartkowski
Not much Cal footage (by not much I mean none) of Bartkowski on the internet, so we'll relive his most famous NFL play.
As for his time at Cal, Tightwad Hill recapped his storybook season.
There's no harder player to rate than #17 on our 50 Greatest countdown. Steve Bartkowski is, of course, the only Golden Bear to be picked #1 in the NFL draft. No quarterback in the school's history possessed the arm strength of #10, who was reported by assistant coach Paul Hackett to have thrown a football 100 yards in the air at practices. Few if any players matched his overall athletic ability; Bartkowski was also a magnificent baseball player who made All-America as a 1st baseman in 1973.
In his senior year of 1974, Bartkowski put it all together once he got to work with Hackett, a punchline of a head coach who was nevertheless a gifted tutor of quarterbacks. He convinced Bartkowski to trade velocity for accuracy, and the results were spectacular. Despite playing through the pain of a separated shoulder, Bart led the nation with 2,580 yards passing and earned consensus All-America honors for the 7-3-1 Bears. He topped the 300 yard mark four times (Washington, WSU, UCLA, Stanford); each of those efforts came after the shoulder injury, suffered in a 31-14 upset win over #14 Illinois in Champaign. Bartkowski finished 10th in voting for the Heisman that year, and would almost surely have ranked higher had he received even a modest amount of pre-season hype.