By Glen Sparks
The first thing to know about Orval Overall is that his name really was Orval Overall.
Mom and pop Overall did not bless their son with a middle name, either. Nor did Orval ever go by a nickname. He was simply, and forever, “Orval Overall,” born Feb. 2, 1881, in Farmerville, Calif., less than an hour from Fresno.
The right-handed pitcher grew up on the sandlots of central California, attended the University of California-Berkeley and enjoyed a seven-year career in the major leagues. He spent most of that time with the Chicago Cubs.
Overall broke in with the Cincinnati Reds in 1905 and compiled a hefty 18-23 won-loss mark. The following year, he started off 4-5, and Cincinnati shipped him to Chicago. Overall cruised to a 12-3 record the rest of the way. He enjoyed a 23-7 season in 1907.
The mighty Cubs ruled the National League (107-45) in ’07, finishing 17 games ahead of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates. Chicago met the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Overall pitched two games, went 1-0 and had a 1.00 ERA. The Cubs beat the Tigers in four straight.
The following year, Chicago won 99 games, just one game more than the New York Giants. The Cubs claimed the pennant in part due to Merkle’s Boner, maybe the greatest base-running gaffe in baseball history. (Read more about that here.)
Once again, Chicago met Detroit in the World Series. The Cubs won a 10-6 slugfest in Game 1. Overall pitched one/third of an inning in relief and was charged with one earned run. He started Game 2 and gave up a lone run over nine innings. Chicago won 6-1.
Detroit beat Chicago 8-3 in Game 3 and lost 4-0 in Game 4. Overall started Game 5, the potential World Series clincher. On this date in 1908, Orval shut out the Detroit Tigers 2-0 at Bennett Park in Detroit. He gave up three hits, walked four and struck out 10 in front of the smallest crowd in World Series history (6,210).
As you’re probably aware, no Cubs team has celebrated a Series title since Overall and that 1908 team popped champagne. To put it all into perspective (This is always entertaining.), in 1908:
- Tolstoy was still alive. So was Mark Twain.
- Machine Gun Kelly turned 8. Bugsy Siegel turned 2.
- The start of World War I was still six years away. The Spanish-American War had been over for just a decade.
- Winston Churchill married Clementine.
- The movie, In the Sultan’s Power, was released. It was the first film completely made in Los Angeles. The city of L.A. had about 300,000 residents when the cameras started rolling.
- Henry Ford introduced the Model T.
Overall, the star of the 1908 World Series, threw 18.1 innings with a 0.93 ERA. He continued his fine pitching in 1909, going 20-11 with a 1.42 ERA (179 ERA+). The Cubs won 104 games and still finished 6.5 games behind the Pirates.
In 1910, Overall ended up 12-6. He missed several starts due to a sore arm, probably caused by tossing too many curveballs. Overall threw a nasty bender. The Cubs won 104 games once again; this time it was enough. The Philadelphia A’s, though, beat the Cubs in five games in the World Series.
Overall figured that he was done. His arm ached. He left for California to work in—get this—a gold mine that he co-owned with teammate Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown. He also played some semi-pro ball.
Overall returned to big-league ball, and to the Cubs, in 1913. He went a pedestrian 4-5 in 11 games, with a 3.31 ERA. Overall retired with a 108-71 mark and a 2.23 ERA (123 ERA+) in the run-suppressed dead-ball era.
Following baseball, Overall ran and lost a bid for Congress, made a lot of money in real estate and ran the family’s citrus farm. He also worked as an executive at a local bank. Overall died July 14, 1947, in Fresno, Calif. He was 66 years old.