Sports

A Fresno State legend who won two World Series with the New York Yankees has died

’Fibber’ Hirayama, 87, makes weekly drive to South Valley for love of a friend and ex-teammates

Former Fresno State and Japanese league baseball player Fibber Hirayama, 87, pays his respect to those who cared for him, including former Fresno State teammate and major league pitcher Truman "Tex" Clevenger and past teammates at Exeter High Scho
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Former Fresno State and Japanese league baseball player Fibber Hirayama, 87, pays his respect to those who cared for him, including former Fresno State teammate and major league pitcher Truman "Tex" Clevenger and past teammates at Exeter High Scho

One of the greatest pitchers in Fresno State baseball history has died.

Truman “Tex” Clevenger, who starred for the Bulldogs in the early 1950s before playing eight years in the majors, passed away Saturday after years battling Alzheimer’s.

He was 87 years old and under hospice career at Casa Grande senior care homes in Visalia.

“He was a tremendous guy, had a great personality,” said Jack Hannah, a longtime friend and former Fresno State teammate. “And he was a dominant pitcher. He had great control. Never walked anybody. His pitches moved.

“I’d say he was one of the greatest to play at Fresno State.”

A member of the Fresno State Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame, Clevenger played for the Bulldogs from 1951-53 under legendary coach Pete Beiden.

He owns the second-best mark in school history with a 1.94 career ERA and notched the fourth lowest single-season mark with a 1.37 ERA.

But his accomplishments as a pro baseball player and, later, as a businessman in the South Valley may have been even more impressive.

Clevenger won two World Series championships while suiting up for the New York Yankees in 1961 and 1962.

He was teammates with three Hall of Famers in catcher Yogi Berra, pitcher Whitey Ford and outfielder Mickey Mantle. Former single-season home run king Roger Maris also was a Yankees outfielder at the time.

“He was very proud of what he’d accomplished in the pros, and he loved sharing those stories when people asked,” granddaughter Maryanne Hubbard said. “I mean they made a movie about the 1961 Yankees team, so he had a lot of stories.”

It was quite the career, especially considering Clevenger’s tough upbringing.

His family didn’t have much money when Clevenger was a child. He would go to the orange groves and play baseball by using oranges.

“When you love the sport as much as he did,” Hubbard said, “you do what you got to do.”

His Major League Baseball career lasted from 1954-1962 and included stints with the Boston Red Sox, Washington Senators, Los Angeles Angels and Yankees.

After his baseball career ended, Clevenger bought a Ford car dealership in Porterville. There, he developed close relationships with employees and enjoyed conversing with customers.

“He was a very old-school gentleman,” Hubbard said. “He always carried a handkerchief, carried himself with class. Had a good command for a room. It was a good fit for him after baseball.”

Added friend Tom Sommers: “He really cared about people. That’s why he was so successful in business.”

Clevenger sold the car dealership about 10 years ago, shortly after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

As teammates found out about his declining health, they started visiting Clevenger to catch up.

Former Fresno State baseball/football legend Fibber Hirayama perhaps was the most dedicated to seeing Clevenger.

Hirayama, who is three years old than Clevenger, would drive every Tuesday from Fresno to Visalia to see his good friend for 2 ½ years.

But their talks never were like they once were.

By then, Clevenger couldn’t speak and most of the time didn’t recognize his friend of seven decades.

“He was a good friend, such a loving guy,” Hirayama said. “The visits got tough. They were hard to get used to.

“He was there physically but not mentally. I felt like crying every time I went down there. I feel very sorry for Truman’s family for their loss.”

Clevenger, who celebrated his final birthday just last month, is survived by his wife Donna Clevenger, son Marty and daughter Jan, stepdaughter Pam and stepson John, and several grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.

“I loved Truman very much,” Hannah said. “A lot of people did.”

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