Dr. Lester 'Les' Bakos, who learned to pitch a long baseball throw from campus, will be inducted into the Cal U Athletic Hall of Fame on June 29.
The 2019 Hall of Fame inductees will be recognized at California University’s signature fundraiser, the Bow Ties & Pearls Ball, set for June 29 in the Cal U Convocation Center. The event is open to the public; proceeds benefit scholarships for Cal U students and legacy projects on campus. More information is available at calu.edu/bowtiesball.
When Dr. Lester “Les” Bakos was notified he was part of Cal U’s 2019 Athletic Hall of Fame Class, he could not help but look back to his childhood.
Bakos, a standout pitcher for the Vulcans from 1965-1968, is the 27th baseball player to receive Cal U Athletic Hall of Fame honors and the first inductee from this sport since Jack Zduriencik ´74, in 2011.
The ceremony will take place in the Convocation Center.
“Obviously I am very honored, and it’s remarkable to me that where I will receive this award, geographically, is probably where I threw my first baseball,” said Bakos, who grew up in California’s Phillipsburg neighborhood.
“It’s ironic to come 360 degrees, and after awhile you sort of resign yourself to the fact that this might not happen. For it to happen now is certainly special.”
During Bakos’ 1966 sophomore season, the Vulcans earned their fifth NAIA post-season appearance in seven years, closing the regular season with nine wins in its last 11 games.
Bakos was one of 12 Vulcan pitchers who saw action that year and he went 2-0 overall as the Vulcans finished with an 11-8 mark.
As one of 14 returning lettermen in 1967, Bakos led the pitching staff in victories (4), ERA (1.35) and innings pitched (26.1). His single-season ERA that season remains the fourth best in school history more than 50 years later.
During his 1968 senior season, Bakos helped the Vulcans achieve a sixth NAIA playoff appearance in nine years under the late head coach and 1996 Cal U Hall of Fame inductee Mitch Bailey ´53.
Bakos compiled a then school-record 7-1 overall record, a single-season mark, which stood until 1989. His seven wins still ranks fourth in the Cal U record book. Bakos opened the season with a two-hit, 62-pitch complete game 7-0 road victory over Division I West Virginia University. It was the first shutout the Mountaineers ever suffered in a home opener.
Bakos looks back fondly on the team’s success. Several of the exceptional teammates he played with included NAIA All-American J.L. Lechner ´69, pitcher John “Razor” Cott ´66, and George Carlock ´68.
Bailey, colorful and fiery, once commented to an athletic trainer that if Bakos had a stronger fastball he could have made the major leagues — like the late Bruce Dal Canton ´63, who was part of Cal U’s inaugural 1995 Hall of Fame class.
“Mitch was Mitch, and everyone has stories,” said a smiling Bakos. “He must have thought something of me to say that and he was fair with me and a good coach.”
During his scholastic days, he played three years of baseball, football, and one year of basketball for the Trojans. Before high school Bakos attended the old Noss Laboratory School, located on campus.
Bakos earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Cal U in 1968.
He graduated from West Virginia University School of Dentistry in 1972 and completed his residency in 1975.
Bakos served 26 years in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, which included Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and attained the rank of colonel with veteran status.
He is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who’s been in practice and a professor in West Virginia University’s School of Dentistry for 44 years.
Since 1993 Bakos has been the chair of the Department of Dentistry at Ruby Memorial Hospital and for the past 26 years has served as the dental doctor for WVU’s athletic teams. He received the Meritorious Achievement Award from Cal U’s Alumni Association in 1977.
Looking back at his undergraduate days, Bakos credited J. Robert Craig, his adviser and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Physics, for his influence.
“He pushed you, and just as my father, would not let me take an easy way out,” said Bakos. “I tell people all the time Cal prepared me well. I graduated sixth out of 62 in my dental class because of the strong work ethic I learned here (Cal U) and growing up.”
Having been involved in many sports during his professional career, Bakos’ passion for baseball is evident.
“Baseball is a team sport, but it’s also an individual sport, and if everyone on the team does their job you’re going to have a great team,” he said. “The one thing about baseball is while you must have the help of your fielders, when you’re the pitcher, it’s just you and that batter.
“In that sense it’s a lot like wrestling, and I’ve always enjoyed that.”
A resident of Morgantown, W.Va., he has three grown children — Jeffery, Ashley and Lauren — and five grandchildren.
Bakos frequently returns to Cal U for a variety of events and starred in some past alumni baseball games. He also gives lectures on facial trauma to various dental societies, military bases and university athletic trainers, including Cal U.
“I don’t think you ever lose your connection to anything like that,” he said. “As you get older, you realize it’s not about or remembering the wins and losses or details of a game, but seeing the people you were with is what keeps you where you were.
“That makes you realize how important your earlier days were and the influence they had in shaping you.”
Once a Vulcan, always a Vulcan.