Farmersville calls for an ‘Overall’ sports park

Jermaine Johnson II

Farmersville considers naming sports park after city native Orval Overall, two-time World Series champion

FARMERSVILLE – Despite being a small town, there are some big names that have been born in Farmersville. Arguably the most popular person to grow up in the city is former Chicago Cubs pitcher Orval Overall, who may have the city’s new sports park named after him.

At their Dec. 14, 2020 meeting, the Farmersville city council discussed and considered naming their future Farmersville Sports Park to the Orval Overall Memorial Sports Park. The council has considered many different names and the item will be brought back at a later date to decide on the official name.

Orval Overall is one the most successful athletes to come out of the Central Valley. Most notably, he won two World Series titles with the Chicago Cubs as they were the first team to ever repeat as World Series champions in 1907 and 1908. He was also the last pitcher to throw a World Series clinching game for the Chicago Cubs in 1908, before the club ended their 108-year championship drought in 2016. That victory in 1908 occurred in front of an audience of 6,210, the smallest World Series crowd in the history of the event.

Nicknamed “Big Groundhog” due to his Feb. 2 birthday, Overall was born in 1881 which is approximately 30 years after Farmersville is believed to be established. He attended Visalia High School, now known as Redwood High School, where he was a pitcher and first baseman. His father, Daniel Overall, owned the old Palace Hotel in Visalia which was located at the northeast corner of Main and Court streets and is one of Visalia’s oldest commercial structures still in use.

At 19-years-old, Overall enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley in the fall of 1900. He was deemed an excellent student of agricultural science and was named the president of his freshman class. In addition to becoming a baseball star at Cal, he was also an All-American on the football field. He was senior captain of the team and played guard, fullback and punter. He went on to make history as the school’s first baseball player to advance to Major League Baseball (MLB).

His professional baseball career began in 1904 with the Tacoma Tigers, now known as the Rainers, of the Pacific Coast League. Notorious for his right-handed curveballs, Overall made an immediate impact as a pro. In his one season with the team, he helped them win the 1904 pennant with a 32-25 record and 2.78 earned run average (ERA). He was then drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in September of that year and became the ace of the pitching staff with a 18-23 record in his rookie season. His 42 appearances ranked fifth in the National League (NL).

In the following season, 1906, Overall was traded to the Cubs where he boasted a 12-3 record with a 1.88 ERA. The team went on to set a major league record for wins in a season but lost to the Chicago White Sox in the third World Series to ever take place.

Overall continued to improve and earned a 23-7 record in 1907 and was one of the best pitchers in the NL. He tied for the league lead in shutouts (8), had the fewest hits per game (6.74), ranked second in wins (23), third in winning percentage (.767), fourth in strikeouts per game (4.73) and base runners per game (9.42), and fifth in ERA (1.68). The Cubs went back to the World Series and Overall was the winning pitcher in game four before the club closed out the Detroit Tigers in five games for the first World Series title in team history.

The team carried that momentum right back to the World Series in 1908 where they again won in five games against the Tigers, with Overall earning victories in games two and five. In the series-clinching game, Overall shut out the Tigers on three hits and his 10 strikeouts set a club record in a World Series game by a single pitcher, a record that still stands today. He also became the first pitcher to strike out four hitters in one inning in a World Series game, a feat that wasn’t matched for the next 105 years. In 1909, his 1.42 ERA was a career-low and his 205 strikeouts led the NL.

In 1910, the Cubs made a fourth World Series appearance in five seasons but lost to the Philadelphia Athletics. Overall suffered from arm injuries throughout his career which ultimately led to his retirement following that season. In 1913 he tried to make a return but struggled statistically before calling it quits. He is next eligible for the Hall of Fame via the Early Baseball Era Committee in 2021.

In 1918, Overall ran for Congress but was not elected. He then became an appraiser and a director of the First National Bank of Visalia, which later merged into the Security-First National Bank of Los Angeles. He eventually rose to vice-president of the bank and manager of the Fresno branch before dying of a heart attack at age 66 on July 14, 1947 in Fresno. He is now buried at the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, Calif.

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