Members of the 1951 team, which was 36-4 and one of the best teams ever at FSU. The statue is of the legendary Pete Beiden, who was their coach for many years. The two smallest and best players were Kenso Zenimura and Fibber Hirayama, fifth and sixth from left. (Courtesy of Teresa Zenimura)
FRESNO — Fresno State Baseball saw its 11th jersey induction in program history on April 30 at Pete Beiden Field, Bob Bennett Stadium, as former Bulldog Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama’s No. 3 jersey was retired in a pre-game ceremony before the Bulldogs took on San Jose State.
Honored previously this season on a “Night to Remember,” which marked the 75th anniversary of a presidential decree that led to the World War II-era incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans, including Hirayama along with former Bulldog Kenso “Howard” Zenimura, the former Bulldog legend was recognized for his many contributions to the Fresno State baseball program.
Fibber Hirayama of the Hiroshima Carp with New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel in 1955, when the two teams played each other in Japan. (Nisei Baseball Research Project)
Often referred to as the greatest pound-for-pound athlete in Fresno State history, at just 5-foot-3 and 140 pounds, Hirayama was a dynamic offense, defense, and special teams star for the Bulldog football team. On the baseball diamond, despite saying he only came out for baseball to avoid having to participate in spring football, he became a record-breaker in program history.
Beiden’s 1951 Bulldogs produced the greatest winning percentage in program history, finishing the season 36-4, with three of those losses coming against professional competition, as Hirayama stole a then-school record 36 bases as nobody would surpass him until future major leaguer Tom Goodwin in 1987.
Fibber Hirayama and his three boys, Colin, Brian and Kevin. (Courtesy of Teresa Zenimura)
Hirayama, who turned 87 in February, recorded five stolen bases in a single game in 1951, a mark that still stands today. His exploits with the glove and a surprisingly strong throwing arm also helped make him a fan favorite. The 1951 Bulldogs had been left out of college baseball’s postseason, despite that gaudy record, but as a senior in 1952, Hirayama led Fresno State to its first NCAA bid. Fibber finished his Bulldog career with 71 steals, a record that lasted nearly 40 years before being broken by Goodwin.
“It’s really a thrill, it really is,” said Hirayama on having his number retired. “I never thought it would happen. It was the last thing in my mind, that my number would ever be retired.”
The Exeter native, who went on to play professional baseball in Japan with the Hiroshima Carp and was a two-time All Star there, was overjoyed by receiving this honor.
“I look at these people I have here today and they are the ones that deserve to be standing here today where I am at,” said Hirayama. “They are good friends and just wonderful people and all the people in Fresno, Exeter and everywhere I played ball were just so wonderful to me and I thank them for that. I want to thank my family for being here and I want to honor these people right here beside me, because they are the ones who should be standing here.”
Fibber Hirayama excelled in both baseball and football at Fresno State. (Fresno State Yearbook Collection/Madden Library)
Hirayama is the first Bulldog player to have his number retired since Dick Ruthven and Tom Goodwin had their Nos. 17 and 1, respectively, retired in 2008. Hirayama, along with his former teammate and Bulldog Baseball Hall of Famer Jake Abbott and Voice of the Bulldogs Paul Loeffler, were all a part of Sunday’s ceremony. Bulldog Baseball Hall of Famer Jack Hannah sang the national anthem and Hirayama delivered the first pitch.
Hirayama remains close with fellow Bulldog Hall of Famer Truman “Tex” Clevenger, a teammate for a pair of seasons (1951-52) and later a pitcher for the Red Sox, Senators, Angeles and Yankees. Although Clevenger suffers from late-onset Alzheimer’s, Hirayama continues to visit him every week at a senior care home in Visalia.
At the game, there was a giveaway of Bulldogs jerseys with “Fibber” and his number on the back.
Fibber Hirayama speaks at his jersey retirement ceremony. (Fresno State Bulldogs)
The Bulldogs won the series finale against San Jose State, 16-8, giving head coach Mike Batesole his 500th career win at Fresno State. He joins Beiden and Bennett in the 500-win club at Fresno State as the Bulldog baseball program becomes only the fifth Division I program with three head coaches with 500-plus wins at their school.
For more information on the Bulldogs, visit www.gobulldogs.com.