Text and photos submitted by Terry L. Ommen
To most Visalians today, the name Orval Overall means nothing. It’s simply an odd moniker, difficult to pronounce and probably the result of a parental christening mistake. But the name wasn’t always unfamiliar. A century ago, locals knew it very well and why wouldn’t they? To many, he was the greatest athlete in Visalia history, and his fame had spread throughout the country.
Orval was born in Farmersville on Feb. 2, 1881, to Daniel and Cynthia Overall. His father was an early pioneer in Tulare County and was active in civic affairs, serving as Tulare County auditor and sheriff in the 1880s. Later, the senior Overall owned and operated Visalia’s Palace Hotel while continuing to manage his extensive farming operations. The family eventually moved to Visalia.
Orval, an only child, attended grammar school in Visalia and, in 1896, he entered Visalia High School, where he was quickly recognized for his athletic ability. He excelled in baseball and football especially, but was a standout athlete in track and field events like shot put and pole vaulting.
Of all his talents, baseball clearly seemed to be his best. While in high school, he was also recruited to play for Visalia’s town team, which was part of the Valley Baseball League — one organized to allow communities to compete against each other.
He pitched for the Visalia team, becoming a “media darling.” The reporting by the Visalia Daily Morning Delta on the last valley league game in November 1899 was typical publicity for the talented right-hander. Visalia was playing at home against Merced and beat them 5-4. The Delta called it the “most exciting game ever played on the local diamond.” The home team was trailing 4-1 in the fourth inning when Orval was brought in to pitch. He performed brilliantly, finishing the game and even hitting a triple to tie the game. Visalia came back and squeaked out a victory. The Delta concluded, “If Overall had been in the box [pitching] during the entire game, they [Merced] would have been badly defeated.”
Overall graduated from Visalia High School in 1900 and went on to the University of California at Berkeley, majoring in agriculture science. He was elected freshman class president, and word of his talent in sports spread quickly.
He joined the university’s Golden Bears football and baseball teams, where he was a standout player in both. In football, he played guard and was picked to be the kicker. In baseball, he pitched. While at Cal, he was called one of the “great college athletes in the country.” During his senior year at Cal, he was named captain of both the football and baseball teams — unheard of and a first for the university. Later, he was inducted into UC’s sports hall of fame.
In this 1900 graduating class from Visalia High School, Overall can be seen on the top row second from the right. (Courtesy William Henshaw. Photo credit Redwood High School)
The years of showing off his talent in high school and college did not go unnoticed, and the hometown newspaper followed the rising star. In March 1904, the Daily Visalia Delta reported that the athlete was gaining notoriety, proudly announcing that he had signed with the Tacoma Tigers baseball team of the Pacific Coast League. His stay was short and, in 1905, he entered the big league with the Cincinnati Red Stockings, later shortened to the Reds. The following year, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs, a highly respected team managed by Frank Chance, a Fresno guy who knew Overall. His acquisition was perfectly timed, and his arrival helped launch the Cubs to the National League championships in 1906, 1907, 1908 and 1910. They won two World Series titles in 1907 and 1908 — the first time a team had won back-to-back World Series titles.
A circa 1910 Hassan Cork Tip Cigarettes card of Orval Overall. These cards were included in cigarette packs.
The 1908 World Series was big for Overall. The Cubs won the first game against the Detroit Tigers, and in the second game, Overall pitched against the Tigers Bill Donovan. The two put on quite a show. After four innings, neither pitcher had allowed a hit. After seven innings, Detroit had three hits and the Cubs only one, and that was by Overall. It was still a scoreless game. The Cubs scored six in the bottom of the eighth, and in the top of the ninth, the legendary Ty Cobb hit a single to drive in the Tigers’ only run. The Cubs won the game 6-1 and went on to win the series in five games.
The San Francisco Examiner summed up his performance, “Overall cut loose the grandest array of curves yet shown in the series. His fast drop ball was breaking like a flash and the batters who swung at it missed it a foot or more … he pitched almost a faultless game … that places Overall among the best of the country’s twirlers.”
In the 1910 season, Overall hurt his pitching arm and his major league career was over. He returned to the valley and spent the next few years hunting, fishing, horseback riding, trap shooting, playing golf and also managing the family business.
In 1919, the one-time baseball star, along with E.D. Farrow and R.F. MacFarland, formed a real estate and insurance business called the Tulare County Land Company at 118 W. Main St. in Visalia.
By 1922, Overall was an appraiser and director of the First National Bank of Visalia, later to be called the Pacific Southwest Trust & Savings Bank of Los Angeles. In 1931, he was named manager of the Security First National Bank of Los Angeles, Fresno Branch, a position he held for the remainder of his life. On July 14, 1947, he died of a heart attack in Fresno, survived by his wife, Ethel.
Overall had packed much into his 66 years of life, but his legacy rests with the Chicago Cubs. During his career,the superstar with the tongue-twisting name actually had many nicknames, like Big Groundhog (Groundhog Day Feb. 2 was his birthday), Ovie or Big Orvie, and Boomey. The adjective “big” seemed to be a common one to describe the 6’2”, 215 pounder. Physically, he towered over most of his competitors.
Even though he was born in Farmersville, Orval Overall made it clear where he called home. “No place will ever be home to me but Visalia,” he said. And Visalia is proud to claim him.