In Mid-September, 2011, on the occasion of his 79th birthday, we put together a little salute for the little right-hander. Two weeks later he passed away.
Gene Graves was not just an All-Star pitching in Western Canada, a newspaper report in 1960 had some other awards :
Most Honest Workman -- Gene Graves (Calgary).
Pitcher Most Likely to Get Water - Graves (Pumps oftener and harder than any other in the league).
The little (5-9, 170) right-hander took a round-about route to Canadian baseball. The Arkansas native did a four-year hitch in the US Navy before beginning a college career at Sequoias Junior College in California, under mentor Roy Taylor. Taylor, who had been instrumental in bringing American kids to play in Canada and Canadian kids to play down at Sequoias, likely lined up Graves with his first Canadian stop in Saskatoon in 1957.
Graves not only brought talent but a good sense of humour and personality to the prairies. He rang up all kinds of outstanding performances - a no-hitter included. Over one eight day period he won four times.
In 1959 all he achieved was the ERA title and topped the league in strikeouts, with 145 in 148 innings pitched. Graves gave up just 119 hits as the workhorse of the Saskatoon Commodores staff.
All together he'd spend ten summers in Canada, in Saskatoon, Kindersley, Calgary and Biggar. And, he'd still be flinging them in leagues in California into the 1970s. The photo below is from his time in Kindersley (that's Gene on the right with Glen Bellegarde and Garnet Hannon.
In 1957 Graves was on the College of the Sequoias team which won the California Junior College Championship. In 2007, the school held a reunion to mark the 50th anniversary of the triumph. That's Gene below with son Tom and grandson Ryan (holding a team photo of the 1957 COS team).
Gene with coach Roy Taylor, such a major influence on semi-pro ball in Western Canada and in providing opportunities for Canadian kids to play at COS.
Yep, still has the old fastball !
After COS, Graves moved on to Fresno State University (after a brief fling at San Diego State). Success kept coming. He'd be rewarded with induction into the Fresno State Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 2007, Graves won a coveted spot in the Fresno Hall. That's son Tom with him at the ceremony.
Former team-mate and long time friend Len Tucker was selected to make Graves' introduction at the Fresno affair. And, that's Gene below, obviously having the last word, and, with that little twinkle in the eye, it might've been about the time he fanned the side on EIGHT pitches !
Happy 79th !
Graves passed away Monday, September 26th. The following appeared in the Fresno Bee, September 28th, 2011
Ex-Fresno State, COS pitching star dies
Gene Graves went 10-0 for 1961 Bulldogs.
By Andy Boogaard / The Fresno Bee
Wednesday, Sep. 28, 2011
Gene Graves, who packed entertainment and skill into a Wall of Fame season as a Fresno State pitcher 50 years ago, died Monday of cancer. He was 79.
Mr. Graves, with a herky-jerky delivery apparently not duplicated in Bulldogs history, went 10-0 with a 2.44 ERA and school-record four shutouts for a 36-9 team that finished No. 4 nationally in 1961 under the late coach Pete Beiden.
He also pitched for a College of Sequoias state-title team under Roy Taylor in 1957 and at San Diego State.
Tom Graves, one of four surviving children, recounts this story he's heard of his father in a showdown of top-10 teams involving the Bulldogs and Arizona in Tucson: "It's a packed house and he asks the umpire if he could pump [in his windup] as many times as his number, which was 13. He did, but the umpire then told him not to do it anymore, so he threw to first base 13 times. He took a no-hitter into the eighth or ninth and ended up getting a standing ovation."
Mr. Graves pitched 10 seasons of semipro baseball in Canada before returning to Fresno and teaching elementary school in the Fresno Unified District for 29 years, primarily at Manchester and Jefferson. He joined the Bulldogs baseball Wall of Fame in 2007.
Mr. Graves is survived by his former wife, Joy Graves of Visalia, and, in addition to Tom of San Clemente, sons John of Maryland and Jim of Dana Point, and daughter Kimberly of Visalia; 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Services are pending, though Tom Graves said a graveside service Monday in Exeter is likely.