“Duz” could do everything on a baseball field.
Bill Fanning tells a story about spending one weekend playing baseball in Oklahoma in the late 1940’s. During that time, Fanning was a right-handed pitcher for the University of Colorado. He was in his mid-20’s, enjoying his days as a college student/athlete after serving 37 months in the Navy during World War II.
In the first game of the series Fanning started in right field. Later, he was brought on to pitch, and helped CU secure a win — not only with his arm, but with a hot bat. The next day Fanning started on the mound for the Buffaloes. He enjoyed another good day with the bat, as well, and led them to a sweep of the Sooners. A group of fraternity members from Oklahoma caught up with Fanning and presented him with a wrapped present. Fanning was leery, but he unwrapped the surprise gift only to find a box of Duz washing detergent. One guy said, “He’s Duz — he does everything.” “That,” Fanning said, “was the highlight of my career.”
The baseball career of William T. Fanning, both as player and coach, spanned over five decades. The Pittsfield, MA native was a four-year letter winner at Colorado, earning All-Big Seven honors as a pitcher and utility infielder. In 1954 Fanning took over as baseball coach at Grand Junction High School. He retired 35 years later, after compiling a record of 467-172 with 21 state playoff appearances and three state championships (in 1961, 1962, and 1976). Fanning’s championship teams in 1961 and 1962 combined to win 43 consecutive games in the State of Colorado. Even though his teams won more often than they lost, Fanning always found a few bumps in the road. “Once, I had to bench my son (Bill Jr.) during a state tournament game his senior year,” Fanning said. “My wife (Val) wasn’t too happy about that. It was a little cool around our place for a while.”
The honors Fanning has received as a coach are numerous. He was named the Southwestern League’s Baseball Coach of the Year 19 times. He won Colorado High School Baseball Coach of the Year three times–1960, 1961, and 1976.
In 1984, Fanning was the first coach from Colorado to be named National High School Baseball Coach of the Year. He was inducted to the Colorado High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Colorado High School Hall of Fame in 1995. In 1997, Fanning was inducted to the University of Colorado’s Living Legends. A year later, in 1998, the National High School Sports Hall of Fame opened its doors for Fanning. That same year, at age 77, Fanning threw one more pitch– the ceremonial first pitch at the inaugural Fanning Classic, an annual high school baseball tournament held in Mesa County.
If playing and coaching weren’t enough, Fanning is also well-known around the state as an official, having spent 39 years umpiring baseball, 37 years officiating football, and 32 years as a basketball official. Fanning officiated 14 state football championships, umpired two state baseball championships and was selected to work in seven state basketball tournaments. He also umpired in 13 consecutive National Junior College Baseball tournaments, and served as an official for baseball, football, and basketball games in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. What is it like being a referee? Fanning once told a reporter, “It’s hell, that’s what it is. Nobody likes you.”
Everyone, it seems, likes Bill Fanning, a man who spent most of his life giving to the sport played on a diamond. He always will be considered one of the jewels in Colorado’s baseball history.
He enjoyed another good day with the bat, as well, and led them to a sweep of the Sooners.