Archive for the ‘Untold Stories’ Category

HOT SPRINGS: Where Pitchers Became Legends

Monday, March 5th, 2018

In a time when Major League Baseball has acknowledged an epidemic of “sore arms”, it seems appropriate to ask why this is happening. We’ll have to wait for the science to catch up with the question, but, in the interim, let’s look back at what has worked in the past. Specifically, we should consider the fantastic success achieved by professional pitchers in the early Twentieth Century who trained in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

We don’t know with certainty why this happened. They all hiked or ran over the local mountain trails. They all took the hot baths. Many of them played a lot of baseball in town. Some played golf while others didn’t. Some visited the casinos and horse races while others chose not to. Frankly, it’s a bit of a mystery. Yet, beginning with John Clarkson in 1886 (possibly even sooner) and continuing until Major League pitchers stopped coming to Hot Springs over a half century later, there was a record of phenomenal success for those who trained in Hot Springs. For the record, Clarkson won 328 games in his Hall of Fame career.

There is even some evidence that Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn came to town in 1881 after injuring his right throwing-shoulder the preceding season. According to those accounts, Radbourn retired from the game, and went home to work as a butcher. He was then convinced to come to the Spa City, and give it one last try. Why is this tale important?

We know that Charles Radbourn played his first full Major League season in 1881 when he won twenty-five games for Providence. He went on to win a total of 309, including an absolutely mind-numbing fifty-nine games in 1884. Those numbers, however incredible, are real. Did it all happen because Old Hoss came to Hot Springs in 1881? While pondering that question, let’s look at the roll call of pitchers who later came to town, and eventually became legends.

The list of examples is extraordinary. We can’t discuss them all in a single newspaper article. Such a discussion would require an entire book. Let’s select a few of the most romanticized individuals, starting with one of the earliest and certainly one of the all-time best.


In his historic twenty-two years in the Major Leagues, Cy Young established almost every record for durability. That includes his most-ever 511 wins and most-ever 316 losses. It also entails his all-time record 7,356 innings-pitched. In today’s game, Big League teams hope that their starting pitchers throw 200 innings in a season. In five different years, Cy exceeded 400 innings, and, in eleven other seasons, he topped 300. Young threw every imaginable breaking ball whereas the modern guys are dissuaded from tossing pitches which create high levels of stress on their arms. So, pitch selection is not the explanation t for Cy’s unique durability.

This we do know: Cy Young trained in “The Valley of the Vapors” in, at least, thirteen different years. Cy hiked and jogged relentlessly over the rugged mountain trails, thereby achieving high levels of cardiovascular fitness. In the process, he also significantly increased his leg strength. For those who don’t understand that reference, all modern pitching coaches advocate the development of strong legs. Why? The more they “push off” with their legs from the pitcher’s mound, the less strain is placed on their arms.

Plus, during all those visits to The Valley, Young was also regularly “taking the baths.” The combination of the mountain training along with the therapeutic hot baths worked wonders.

Please also consider this. Cy Young visited Hot Springs for the first time in 1892, his third Big League season. During his stay in the Valley, he pitched in five exhibition games against the Chicago White Stockings (now known as the Cubs). That was Young’s so-called breakout year, posting a 36 & 12 record while accruing a 1.93 E.R.A. In that same remarkable season, Cy hurled the astonishing total of 453 innings. Was it a coincidence that he achieved such historic success after training for the first time in Hot Springs?

Along with those astonishing innings-pitched, Young naturally accrued some equally amazing pitch-counts. That issue should be addressed and clarified before proceeding further.

Since official pitch-counts were not kept in those days, it is fair to ask how we can know the number of pitches thrown back then. In recent years, some baseball-oriented mathematicians have used computer science to create highly reliable formulas for estimating the number of pitches thrown. By combining batters-faced, bases-on-balls, and strikeouts, they crosschecked with modern known pitch-counts to establish their guidelines. Since all those statistics are available to everyone on-line, once the formulas became available, making the calculations is a relatively easy process. The formulaic results are almost always within a few pitches (more or less) of the official totals.

By today’s standards, any single game pitch-count exceeding 130 is considered exceptional. As we proceed with our story, that number will repeatedly be dwarfed by the actions of our bygone heroes. Please do not allow such repetitive drama to lessen your appreciation for what they did. The nearly incredible difference between what the older guys accomplished, as compared to what the modern guys can do, is an integral part of this thesis.

In Cy Young’s case, probably the best example of his astounding stamina occurred on the Fourth of July in 1905. Pitching in Boston versus the Philadelphia Athletics’ iconic Rube Waddell (another Hot Springs trainee), Cy hurled twenty innings during a heart-wrenching complete game loss to his talented, but eccentric, rival. In that historic confrontation, Young threw approximately 257 pitches!

In 1908, as Cy Young turned forty-one, he understood better than anyone that he was approaching the end of his pitching days. Accordingly, he returned to Hot Springs for pre-spring training, and continued to do so for five straight years. As late as May 4, 1910, at age forty-three, Cy pitched a fourteen-inning 3-3 tie in St. Louis. Along the way, he tossed about 210 pitches. Young is the ultimate symbol of a pitcher who became a legend by training in Hot Springs, Arkansas.


Despite enjoying a highly successful season in 1910 (25 wins & 17 losses), Walter Johnson got off to slow start. That had been the case each year, starting in 1907 when he made his Major League debut. Johnson knew full well about Hot Springs as a result of his interaction with the older Cy Young. Accordingly, young Walter journeyed to the Valley of the Vapors in February 1911. He went there to get into peak physical condition, and he did. Walter pitched very little in Hot Springs, but he did hike the mountain trails and take the hot baths. He even played some very competitive baseball.

So many Major Leaguers were training in the Valley that pre-season, that there were enough to organize a kind of All-Star game. On both February 23 and 24, while playing right field for the American League Stars against their National League rivals, Walter clubbed long home runs. The second of those two, launched at Majestic Park, soared so far to center field that Johnson, who was regarded as the mightiest hitter in MLB until Babe Ruth came along, declared it the longest drive of his career. He went on to record an even better mark of 25 & 13 in 1911, and credited much of his success to his early spring work in Hot Springs.

Although vowing to return to the Valley, the “Big Train” was so dominant over the next decade that he just didn’t find the time to come back. That all ended in 1920 when he suffered the first serious “sore arm” of his career. He dropped precipitously to an 8 and 10 record while pitching a measly (for him) 143.2 innings. That induced Johnson to finally return to the Valley in early 1921, and he was glad that he did. Walter, at age thirty-three, bounced back with a seventeen win season while hurling 120 more innings than the year before.

He only waited three more years this time to return, and the results were historically dramatic. After suffering from some leg problems in 1923, Walter did a lot of hunting and hiking in the Reno, Nevada area during the following winter. He then used his influence with the Washington Senators’ owner and new manager, Bucky Harris, to send many of the team veterans to pre-spring training in Hot Springs. Up to that time, the Senators had never won the American League pennant in their twenty-two year history.

In his definitive biography (WALTER JOHNSON: Baseball’s Big Train, University of Nebraska Press, 1995), historian Henry W. Thomas wrote:

At Hot Springs, even before the formal start of spring training, a spirit of camaraderie developed among the regulars…They worked out together, took marathon hikes in the Arkansas hills, enjoyed the ‘radio-active’ baths, and played cards with one another.

Specifically, on the matter of conditioning, Thomas had this to say:

The legs causing so much trouble in 1923 had been built up and strengthened, and it was Johnson who set the pace for the rest of the team in their daily treks in the foothills of the Ozarks around Hot Springs. ‘The Mountain Goat,’ they started calling him. ‘He had most of us staggering around until we became accustomed to the uphill going,’ Bucky Harris recalled. ‘We returned to Tampa (formal spring training site) in fine condition.’ A report from Hot Springs noted that ‘ When some of the party return [from the mountain hikes] tired and ready to call it a day, Walter rests by playing from 18 to 36 holes of golf.’

The results were astounding. The thirty-six year-old Walter Johnson posted a 23 and 7 record while leading the traditionally inept Washington Senators to not only their first American League pennant but the World Series championship as well.

Johnson trained again in Hot Springs in early 1925, and very nearly reprised his amazing accomplishments from a year earlier. He began by “warming up” on the front lawn of the grand Eastman Hotel on February 25, 1925 as the other hotel guests gasped in awe at his still imposing fastball. Walter accrued a 20 & 7 record as the Senators claimed their second straight AL pennant. That autumn, they lost the World Series, but their two year run, starting both times in Hot Springs, was the best-ever for the franchise. The Valley of the Vapors had worked wonders for both the team and its legendary best player.

When you closely examine the factual history of Walter Johnson’s visits to Hot Springs, Arkansas, it appears that he only came when he needed help the most. That somewhat odd pattern would be repeated by others.


Smoky Joe Wood is one of the most intriguing players in baseball history. Born Howard Ellsworth Wood in Kansas City, Missouri in 1889, Joe’s beloved father was a gifted but adventurous fellow. He rambled across the country to pursue whatever career fantasy motivated him at any given time. As a result, Wood’s youth was divided between western Kansas, south Chicago, eastern Pennsylvania, and frontier Colorado. It was a nomadic and challenging childhood, but it imbued young Wood with an inner toughness which would serve him well throughout his own eventful life.

Joe Wood developed a passion for baseball at an early age, and participated wherever he lived. In 1905 and 1906, he played respectively for his so-called town teams in Ouray, Colorado and Ness City, Kansas. Oddly, Wood finished that 1906 season by playing for a few weeks as one of four males on a primarily female team known as the National Bloomer Girls (based in Kansas City). That was not uncommon in those days.

Joe then spent his first professional season with the Class-C Hutchinson (Kansas) Salt Packers where he permanently switched from the infield to the pitcher’s mound. Moving rapidly upward, Wood next joined the Class-A Kansas City Blues in 1908. Despite a losing record, Joe threw so hard and so effectively that the Boston Red Sox purchased his contract in late August. Within two years, Joe Wood, at age twenty, was a Major League star. Two years after that, relying mostly on his astonishing velocity, Wood performed at a level that has never been surpassed in baseball annals.

After training in Hot Springs in 1912, Wood went on to compile an extraordinary 34 & 5 record while posting a dazzling 1.91 E.R.A. During that historic season, Joe also hurled 344 innings and threw thirty-five complete games along with ten shutouts. Amazingly, Wood finished this magical year by winning three more games while vanquishing Christy Mathewson and his New York Giants in the World Series.

That season is the center piece in the still-enduring legend of Smoky Joe Wood. How could it not be? No human being has ever pitched better than Wood did in 1912. That was also the year when the word “smoky” was attached to the front of his name.

Despite rumors that he may have pitched too much the preceding year, when Wood and his Boston teammates returned to Hot Springs for spring training in 1913, he was on top of the athletic world. On March 28 that year, Joe took the mound for an exhibition game against the immortal Honus Wagner and the Pittsburgh Pirates at Whittington Park. Throwing fastballs which could hardly be seen by the naked eye, Wood shut out the Pirates over five innings. During that time, he struck out seven, including Wagner himself on two occasions.

In that moment, Smoky Joe Wood was on his way to possibly becoming the greatest pitcher in baseball history. However, as it often does, fate intervened. While pitching in Philadelphia on April 21, Joe injured his thumb sliding into second base. He missed the next three weeks before returning ineffectively in Detroit. Joe lasted only two innings in relief; it was obvious that he just wasn’t ready to pitch. And yet, Wood was the starting pitcher three days later in St. Louis (May 15, 1913).

For some unknown reason, despite clobbering the Browns 15-4, Manager Jake Stahl allowed his injured ace to throw a complete nine-inning game. In the process, Joe threw approximately 159 pitches. Such obvious overuse (bordering on abuse) would not be tolerated today, but, back in that primal baseball era, it was not unusual.

Focusing on this point, during Joe’s next nine starts, he averaged 155 pitches and 9.2 innings per start (including consecutive 12 inning complete games). It is theorized that, during this entire time, Wood altered his delivery to compensate for his lingering thumb injury. As a result, Joe Wood’s priceless right shoulder was being worn to an anatomical frazzle.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he then slipped on wet grass while fielding a ground ball in Detroit on July 18. Nearly incredibly, he fell on the same, already damaged, right thumb, this time causing a serious fracture. Trying to rehabilitate, Joe pitched two meaningless innings in September, but that was it for 1913.

When Joe Wood married Laura O’Shea near his ancestral home in Pennsylvania on December 20, 1913, he was thought to have suffered ptomaine poisoning during the post-ceremony reception. Hoping to enjoy his honeymoon, he didn’t seek further medical treatment. Sadly, that misdiagnosis led to even more problems. In the early morning hours on February 22, 1914, doctors rushed to his house, and performed an emergency appendectomy on his kitchen table. In the process, they saved his life, barely, but those events led to another compromised season.

Wood carried on for another year as a starting pitcher, and was highly effective when on the mound. Yet, the pain was constant, and he never pitched more than 157 innings after 1912. In 1915, after returning to Hot Springs again, he amassed an outstanding 15 & 5 record. He also led the American League with an eye-popping 1.49 E.R.A. However, by that time, his right shoulder was so badly damaged that pitching had devolved into pure agony. In all likelihood, he was suffering from a torn rotator cuff. At age twenty-five, Smoky Joe Wood was, essentially, finished as a pitcher.

Joe resurfaced a few years later as a converted outfielder with the Cleveland Indians. There he joined best friend and fellow Hot Springs devotee Tris Speaker. As late as 1922, Joe Wood was playing All-Star caliber baseball with Cleveland in his adopted position. That year, he batted .297, scored seventy-four runs, and drove in ninety-two. Miraculously, considering his shoulder ailment, the thirty-two-year-old marvel even managed to record eighteen assists from his spot in right field.

Joe Wood could have played for a few more years, but, when offered a baseball coach’s job at Yale University, he accepted. Within a year, he was the head coach, and kept that position until 1942. Despite his earlier health problems, Joe lived to the advanced age of ninety-five, enjoying life to the end. He never forgot his time in the Valley of the Vapors.  Joe suffered a lot of adversity during his athletic career, but not in Hot Springs. By hiking the mountain trails and taking the hot baths (even playing some memorable games), he rose to the top of the baseball world. He didn’t stay there long, but his legend remains.


Babe Ruth, of course, is known primarily as baseball’s greatest slugger. But, we should not forget that he began his career as a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher. Babe first visited Hot Springs in March 1915. That was his official rookie year, and he did all the same things that Cy Young, Walter Johnson, and Smoky Joe Wood had done before him. Ruth doggedly hiked and/or ran the mountain trails while also undergoing the standard course of hot baths. As time passed and Babe became increasingly fond of playing golf, he also logged long hours on the links. Ruth repeated that process in 1916, 1917, and 1918. The results were astounding.

In those four years, despite transitioning from pitching icon to legendary slugger, Ruth threw over 1,000 innings while winning seventy-eight games. He did this without any hint of a sore arm. That should tell us something about Babe’s training.

The Babe, of course, is famous for his playboy lifestyle. It is true that Ruth liked to party, and there is evidence that he did a lot of that in Hot Springs. Yet, we should recall that partying hard is not exclusive to working hard. It may surprise modern observers, but Babe Ruth trained as hard as any player in baseball history. There were times when he was asked by management to reduce his efforts during pre-season training. Babe just seemed to do everything at warp speed. When competing on the field, Ruth was the ultimate warrior, never taking a backward step and NEVER giving anything less than 100%.

Babe is also one of the pitchers who played a lot of baseball in the Valley of the Vapors. He logged many innings during intra-squad games with his Boston Red Sox teammates, usually at Majestic Field. Additionally, he often pitched in exhibition games against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Whittington Park. For example, on the day (March 24, 1918) Ruth launched his historic 500-foot home run, he hurled three scoreless innings against those Brooklynites.

After joining the Yankees in 1920, Babe returned to Hot Springs on his own for five straight years (1921-1925) to engage in pre-spring training. By then, he was no longer a pitcher, but he still benefitted from the tried-and-true regimen of hiking, golf, and hot baths. Consistent with his spontaneous nature, Ruth would often rush from the bath houses to his next activity without bothering to cool down and dry off. As a result, he tended to “catch the flu,” which greatly displeased Yankee management.

None of that was the fault of the Hot Springs community, but, nevertheless, those episodes ended Babe’s long association with the Valley. Yet, Ruth truly loved Arkansas, and, for the rest of his days, he recalled how his training there had helped him to become a legendary pitcher.


Many historians, including myself, regard Robert “Lefty” Grove as the greatest left-handed pitcher in Major League history. Born and raised in Western Maryland’s hard-working coal region, Grove grew up with a fierce determination to succeed. His fiery temperament and remarkable ability to hurl a baseball at blinding speeds ultimately empowered him to win 300 games in the Big Leagues. However, it wasn’t easy.

Grove was beset with particularly painful arm conditions in both 1934 and 1938. The first episode threatened to end his career. In response, according to biographer Jim Kaplan, Lefty trained in Hot Springs in early 1935, and effectively regained his former stature. Lefty’s focus on cardiovascular training was a common thread throughout the saga of pitchers visiting Hot Springs.

As testimony to the thoroughness of his physical recovery, Grove pitched 273 innings in 1935. Consider this as well: on July 27, 1935, Lefty threw approximately 251 pitches in a fifteen inning loss to his former team, the Philadelphia Athletics. That marathon performance was no fluke. Grove had preceded that outing with games of 160 and 158 pitches, and followed it with pitch-counts of 163, 150, and 182. Whatever Lefty did in the Valley back in February, it really worked.

Then, after suffering another setback in 1938, Grove returned to Hot Springs in 1939 and 1940. Remarkably, he again achieved great results. In his fortieth year, Lefty pitched 191 innings while amassing a record of 15 & 4. That season (1939), he won an eleven-inning 170-pitch outing in Washington on May 14. No wonder Lefty Grove came to the Valley when he was in trouble.

Ultimately, Grove stayed in the game through 1941 when he posted his 300th victory. We can only wonder what he might have achieved if Lefty had visited Hot Springs more often.


Is there any pitcher who can challenge Cy Young ‘s reputation for endurance, stamina, and longevity? Perhaps not. But, if anyone can, it’s Satchel Paige.

Leroy Robert Paige was born into abject poverty in Mobile, Alabama in 1906. He tried to help support his ten siblings by hustling nickels and dimes in any way that he could. At age twelve, after missing too much school and getting caught in one too many hustles, Leroy went to reform school for the next five years. Yet, all was not lost. That is where he learned to pitch, falling in love with baseball along the way.

Satchel (the origin of that nickname is still fuzzy) first pitched professionally in 1926 for the Chattanooga Black Lookouts at age twenty. Unfortunately, when discussing the first two decades of Paige’s career, there is some guesswork. Major League Baseball was not integrated until 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the so-called color line. Until then, African-American players performed in the old Negro Leagues where statistical accuracy was not always assured. They simply didn’t have the same resources as the Major Leagues. Accordingly, researching Satchel Paige is not easy.

We should also recall that the Negro League schedule was much shorter than that of MLB. In order to remain financially solvent, those old Black teams played regularly against a combination of Minor League squads, town teams, and even semi-pro outfits. Of course, occasionally, they also competed against Major Leaguers, but those games were only a small part of the annual itinerary. As a result, we will never know the full statistical legacy of any of the great Negro League ballplayers. Such is the case with Satchel Paige.

Satchel moved up to the Negro Major Leagues halfway through the 1927 season when he joined the Birmingham Black Barons. Paige was string-bean thin, standing six-feet-three and weighing only about 170 pounds. Yet, somehow, his musculature was extremely efficient in catapulting a baseball at astonishing speed. Throwing from the right side, Satchel was an immediate sensation at Birmingham. In league games only, he compiled a 7 & 1 record. During unofficial games, and there were many of those, we have no way of knowing exactly what he accomplished.

This was the beginning of a long professional career which was marked by the contrasting elements of extraordinary success and painful turmoil. Negro League franchises of that era were notoriously unstable. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, really. They were fighting a no-win scenario by competing with the Big Leagues who held all the winning cards. Negro teams came and went. Players switched loyalties, and walked out on contracts. Owners fined them and, often, even suspended them. Satchel Paige was at the center of the mayhem. Never wanting to be tied down by anyone, he jumped from team to team, league to league, even country to country.

Yet, somehow, amidst all the madness and confusion, great baseball was played. The pageantry that accompanied the exemplary athleticism was just as remarkable. There too, Satchel Paige was at the heart of the cultural phenomenon. Wherever he would wander, Satchel was the center of attention. It was that kind of life.

As of 1931, Paige was playing for the Pittsburgh Crawfords, a franchise that would soon make its mark as the greatest-ever to not play in the Major Leagues. At the conclusion of that campaign, Paige went to California to play in an integrated winter league. It was the first of nine times that he would spend his so-called off-season in that fashion. It was at the conclusion of that initial winter tour that Satchel Paige first came to Hot Springs.

Was it because he had worn out his arm by pitching without rest during the winter months? Was he simply joining fellow Negro Leaguers who had already been training in the Valley for many years? Or, was it just a typical Satchel Paige whim? Whatever the reason, the man came to town and trained in early 1932. He then proceeded to enjoy one of his finest seasons, including a no-hitter against the New York Black Yankees.

Some of Paige’s teammates that year were Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Ted Radcliffe, Judy Johnson, Jud Wilson, and Cyclone Joe Williams. All of them were legendary ball players. The Pittsburgh Crawfords of that era (early to mid-1930s) was a team for the ages. On page 45 in his outstanding book (Baseball in Hot Springs, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, 2016), historian Mark Blaeur features a photo of Paige and his mates in Hot Springs. That image is an invaluable, cultural treasure.

As Satchel Paige’s pitching acumen improved, so did his social and financial influence. When Dizzy Dean (a favorite in Hot Springs) barnstormed after leading the Cardinals to World Series victory in 1934, Paige was invited to join him. Satch and Dizzy went head to head in several epic confrontations, and, at the end, it was hard to determine who had been more dominant.

Satchel’s career continued arcing upward for several more years, when, unaccountably in 1943, he suddenly failed. No one knows for sure why this happened. There are many theories, but arm fatigue is the most likely explanation. By that time, Satchel Paige had been pitching throughout almost every calendar year for seventeen years. Whatever the cause, it was a genuine downturn. Satchel’s official Negro League record was an uncharacteristic 6 & 8, accompanied by a dismal 5.95 E.R.A.

The solution? In early 1944, Satchel Paige returned to Hot Springs to train and regain his lost effectiveness. Almost predictably, the plan worked to near perfection. His E.R.A. that season dramatically dropped to 2.30.  If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Many of America’s greatest pitchers came to the Valley when faced with career Armageddon. The strategy worked almost every time.

While pitching mostly for the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1940s, Satchel still performed for other teams when opportunity arose. After the 1946 season, he teamed with fellow pitching icon Bob Feller in one of baseball’s greatest-ever barnstorming tours. Just as in 1934, the tour organizers understood that the best man to oppose their star “white” attraction was Satchel Paige. Feller and Paige did not disappoint, engaging in some of the most memorable pitching battles in the annals of the game.

By 1948, Satchel Paige was forty-one, and most baseball fans assumed that he was finished. They were wrong. As mentioned, Jackie Robinson had “broken the color line” one year earlier, and the process of integration was on its way. So, when the Cleveland Indians invited Paige to join them, he finally got his chance to pitch in the Big Leagues. He did so on July 9, thereby becoming the oldest man in MLB history to begin his career (two days after turning forty-two).

On that occasion, Satchel relieved Cleveland Indian ace Bob Lemon, and pitched two scoreless innings. That was just the start of a remarkable run. As The Tribe successfully competed for the American League pennant, Paige went 6 & 1 while recording an excellent 2.48 E.R.A. Even more remarkably, on August 13 and August 20, the old master hurled consecutive complete game shutouts. Satchel Paige pitched briefly in that year’s World Series, becoming the oldest man ever to do that as well. After all those years of interminable waiting, Paige got his chance on the big stage, and performed magnificently.

Satchel spent two seasons with the Indians, and eventually played three more with the St. Louis Browns (1951-1953). What he accomplished in 1952, at age forty-six, is truly astonishing. Paige logged a 12 & 10 record while posting a 3.07 E.R.A. over 138 innings. On July 1, he lost an eleven inning heartbreaker to his old teammates in Cleveland while throwing an estimated 183 pitches. Then, on August 6, Satchel did the seemingly impossible for a man of his years by vanquishing the Detroit Tigers 1-0 in twelve innings (hurling 162 pitches in the process).

By the way, during this improbable stretch of Major League success at such an advanced age, Satchel Paige trained at Hot Springs in 1948, 1949, and 1953. The linkage almost certainly was not coincidental. Satchel pitched occasionally until age fifty-nine, and lived peacefully until 1982 when he passed in Kansas City during his seventy-sixth year.

There will always be much about this man’s life that remains unknown. However, this we do know. Satchel Paige pitched prolifically for over twenty-five years, often competing in more places and logging more innings than any of his contemporaries, Black or White. During his remarkable, but turbulent career, Paige played for teams all over the United States as well as in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Cuba. Along the way, he also came to Hot Springs where he added his name to that long list of true pitching legends.


Carl Hubbell is another Hall of Fame pitcher who similarly trained in Hot Springs when his body needed help the most. Since his signature pitch was the screwball (notoriously damaging to the arm), Hubbell’s longevity was always in doubt. Carl was born in rural Missouri, and spent much of his youth throwing everything he put his hands on, including baseballs. Yet, he didn’t develop Major League ability until relatively late in life. In 1926, near age twenty-three, he was signed by the Detroit Tigers and invited to spring training. Player-manager Ty Cobb was not impressed. He was also worried that Hubbell’s primary use of the screwball would, almost certainly, shorten his career.

It wasn’t until 1928, when scouted by the New York Giants, that Hubbell was taken seriously. The great Christy Mathewson had also thrown the “scroogie,”which he referred to as his fade-away. Legendary Giants skipper John McGraw, who had managed Christy, was still piloting the Giants at that time. Thinking back to the success that Mathewson had enjoyed, McGraw was willing to give Hubbell a chance. It was a very profitable decision. Carl was an immediate success in the Big Leagues. He went on to record 253 career wins while pitching for the Giants through the 1943 season.

However, in order to make it that far, Carl Hubbell had to survive some significant physical adversity. By 1936, Hubbell would wince in pain every time he threw his screwball. He bravely battled on, and was on track for his tenth straight 200-plus-innings season (including four over 300 innings) well into 1938. Then, during the fifth inning of the August 18 encounter with the Brooklyn Dodgers at the Polo Grounds, Carl’s arm finally failed him. The Dodgers rallied for four runs, and, when Hubbell returned to the dugout, he told manager Bill Terry that he could not straighten his left arm. Four days later in Memphis, bone chips were surgically removed from his elbow, and no one knew if King Carl Hubbell would ever pitch again.

Carl had trained in Hot Springs before, but, when he returned in February 1939, it was a matter of athletic life or death. By running and hiking the mountain trails while also taking the hot baths, Hubbell gradually began to recover. He didn’t start an official Major League game until May 14, but, when he did, it was a beauty. That’s the day that Carl recorded a ten-inning win over the Philadelphia Phillies while throwing an estimated 151 pitches. He was back. Two months later in St. Louis July 25, Hubbell did even better. He won a complete game thirteen inning marathon over the Cardinals by hurling approximately 183 pitches.

In 1940 at age at age thirty-seven, Carl Hubbell logged 214 innings for the Giants. He proceeded to win eleven games in each of his final four complete seasons, thereby cementing his reputation for toughness and reliability.

When it was all over at the conclusion of the 1943 season, the “Meal Ticket” had won 253 games (all with the Giants), and amassed the sparking career Earned Run Average of 2.98. As was the case with Lefty Grove, Hubbell pitched mostly in the 1930s which is known for its high offensive production. Accordingly, Carl’s E.R.A. was remarkable. Along the way, Hubbell also pitched 36 shutouts and 260 complete games.

Certainly, Carl’s personal work ethic was the primary factor in his ability to pitch again from 1939 through 1943. His surgeon, Dr. J. Spencer Speed, also gets much credit. Yet, can we be certain that it would have happened if Hubbell hadn’t trained in the Valley of the Vapors when his arm had reached the breaking point?


Major League teams should study the history of baseball in Hot Springs. If they did, maybe they would send some of their high-priced pitching talents to The Valley for some old fashioned training.

Of course, none of what we have discussed establishes scientific proof of anything. I am obligated to acknowledge that. Yet, the story is truly compelling. Was it all just coincidence? Or was there actually some organic magic created by that combination of mountain hikes and hot baths? Were there other, unknown factors at work? The air? The food? Who knows for sure? We’re certain that it worked for Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, and Lefty Grove, as well as many others. Why not give it a try? In Hot Springs, Arkansas, pitchers became legends.




Grover Cleveland Alexander

Jack Chesbro

Eddie Cicotte

Stan Coveleskie

Red Faber

Bob Feller

Rube Foster

Burleigh Grimes

Eddie Joss

Christy Mathewson

Jack Quinn

“Bullet” Joe Rogan

Schoolboy Rowe

Johnny Sain

Urban Shocker

Lon Warneke

Joe “Cyclone” Williams


Babe Ruth and Baseball’s First 500 Foot Home Run

Monday, March 5th, 2018

When the city of Hot Springs honors the one-hundredth anniversary of baseball’s first 500 foot home run, we should pause to consider exactly what that means. Just how far is 500 feet, and how difficult is it to hit a ball that far?

For a perspective on the first part of that question, we could stop at the nearest high school football field, and walk out to either of the goalposts. Then gaze at the other goalpost, and consider that it is 360 feet away. Next, add another 140 feet to that visual benchmark, and you will instantly understand that 500 feet is unnaturally far for any human being to hit a ball.

On the matter of the second part of the question, consider this: in the first eighteen years of the 21st Century, there has been a grand total of exactly one confirmed, official 500 foot home run in Major League Baseball. ONE! It was hit by Adam Dunn on September 27, 2008 in Phoenix’s Chase Field, and flew 504 feet. This is an era when ballplayers engage in sophisticated strength-training, use computer designed equipment, eat special diets, and seemingly always swing for distance. Collectively hitting only one homer to that rarified distance plateau tells us all we need to know about the degree of difficulty.

And let’s be honest. We know that, during this same time, many Big Leaguers were using performance-enhancing drugs. So, when we say that Babe Ruth, a man born in the 19th Century, slugged a ball over 500 feet during an exhibition game in Hot Springs during the spring of 1918, we are saying a lot. Here’s how it happened.

Ruth first came to the Valley of the Vapors in March 1915 at the start of his formal rookie season with the Boston Red Sox. Of course, back then, Babe was a pitcher. He was instantly drawn to the energy and diversity of Hot Springs, and was seen everywhere, walking the streets and seeing the sights when not playing baseball.

Contrary to popular belief, Ruth trained hard. It’s true that the young Babe liked to party, but it is also true that he was a prodigiously hard worker on the field of play. Accordingly, when Ruth was in town, he had lots of fun, but he also worked as hard as any man could.

During those first three full seasons (1915-1917), Babe began each year in Hot Springs, and won the imposing total of sixty-five games. He also performed heroically in Boston’s 1916 World Series victory. During that same period, Babe slugged nine home runs. Everyone knew that he could hit, but there was no thought of moving the game’s finest left-handed pitcher off the mound. However, the United States then entered the First World War.

When the Red Sox reported to Hot Springs for spring training in 1918, they had a diminished roster. Some of their players had switched uniforms (from baseball to military). Plus, veteran first baseman Dick Hoblitzel was late in arriving at camp. Into that personnel void stepped twenty-three- year old Babe Ruth who played first base in Boston’s initial exhibition game. That was the starting point for the most impactful position change in sports history.

On Sunday, March 17, 1918 at Whittington Park against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Ruth slugged two home runs. It was the second homer, hit off Norman Plitt in the fifth inning, which changed baseball history. It sailed far over the fence in deep right centerfield toward the Arkansas Alligator Farm.

Over the many intervening years, there has been considerable discussion and debate about the exact landing point of that drive. Sadly, the newspaper accounts (usually reliable primary sources) just don’t provide enough detail to answer that question definitively. Hot Springs’ own Sentinel Record reported in its Tuesday edition that this drive was the longest ever struck at Whittington Park. The Boston Evening Transcript and Boston Herald came to the same conclusion. However, none of those sources actually described where the ball landed.

The paper that gave the best account was the Boston Globe. It read:

…the other (homer #2) not only scaled the right-field barrier, but continued on to the alligator farm, the intrusion kicking up no end of commotion among the “Gators.”

That description fills our head with some humorous images, but, from an historical perspective, it falls short. In order to know for sure if the ball flew 500 feet, we need proof that it landed on the fly in the Alligator Farm. The Globe just doesn’t offer that assurance. Based upon this single account, it’s possible that the ball bounced into the farm.

Interestingly, the Boston Post reported that the ball was struck with such astonishing force that the rival Brooklynites “had to rise and cheer.” Ballplayers of that era were hard-nosed guys and were not given to spontaneous praise for the deeds of their opponents. Their reaction, as documented by the Post, tells us that they were surely awed by what Ruth had just done.

In its next Saturday edition, which reviewed all the biggest news from the preceding week, the Post included a sketch which illustrated the direction of the St. Patrick’s Day homer. It showed the ball flying directly toward the Alligator Farm in deep right centerfield.

Not surprisingly, there is a substantial amount of oral history attached to the event. Some of it tells us that the ball landed deep inside the Alligator Farm, possibly in the more distant of the two circular pools. Perhaps it did.

Acting on that assumption, the distance was measured at 573 feet in 2011 by the prestigious surveying company of B and F Engineering. Since the farm hasn’t moved, and by using reliable modern technology to locate the original position of home plate, that measurement is accurate. The question, therefore, is whether or not we can rely on the oral history about the precise landing spot. Maybe we can’t, but there is much more to this story.

The Red Sox and Dodgers played again at Whittington Park one week after Ruth had initially shocked everyone with his tremendous display of nearly superhuman power. On this occasion (March 24), Hoblitzel was back with the Sox, and Babe was in right field. Facing Al Mamaux in the third inning with the bases loaded, Ruth blasted a ball nearly in the same direction as he had done seven days earlier. Against all logical expectations, this drive flew even farther.

There are many surviving eyewitness accounts to this epic drive, but the two that provide the most detail are from the Boston Globe and Boston Post. In part, the Globe said this:

Every ball player in the park said was the longest drive they had ever seen…soaring over the street and a wide duck pond, finally finding a resting place in the Ozark Hills. Had Ruth made the drive in Boston it might have cleared the bleachers in right center.

For its part, the Post had this to say:

Before the echo of the crash had died away the horsehide had dropped somewhere in the vicinity of South Hot Springs…The sphere cleared the fence by about 200 feet and dropped in the pond beside the Alligator Farm, while the spectators yelled with amazement…

Let’s take a closer look at those two descriptions. The article in the Boston Globe was written by a highly respected journalist named Edward Martin. He made two crucial assertions in his account. He claimed that the ball actually cleared the so-called duck pond adjacent to the Alligator Farm. We know where that pond was situated; the ball would have needed to fly well over 500 feet to surmount it. He also stated that the ball “might have cleared” the right centerfield bleacher seats at Boston’s Fenway Park.

Although somewhat re-configured in 1934, those bleachers are essentially the same size and in the same place in 2018 as they were back in 1918. In all that time, nobody has come realistically close to clearing them with a batted ball. Ruth belted one in 1926 that landed about twenty feet short, and Ted Williams came within about forty feet in 1946 (after that structure had been slightly enlarged). It would take a shot of nearly six-hundred feet to actually hit a ball completely over those historic bleachers. Accordingly, Martin’s account is highly relevant in any discussion of a player reaching the prohibitive 500 foot barrier.

Regarding the content of the Boston Post article, it was also written by one of baseball’s most respected observers. His name was Paul Shannon, and, after working at his craft for four decades, he was never known to have engaged in reckless hyperbole. He observed the ball to have landed in the duck pond, as opposed to Martin who concluded that it had flown over the pond. Shannon also estimated that the drive had cleared the outfield fence by “about 200 feet.” Since the fence in deep right centerfield was situated approximately 400 feet from home plate, Shannon’s insights are dramatic.

None of the other newspapers which reported on the game contradicted either the Globe or the Post. They simply didn’t provide the same measure of specificity. However, they did include the consensus conclusion that this March 24 home was the longest ever struck at Whittington Park. Considering the magnitude of Babe’s March 17 blow, that is significant in itself.

Unluckily, the Sentinel Record, which did not publish on Mondays, didn’t include a so-called follow-up article about this event in its Tuesday edition.


The data clearly shows us, therefore, that Babe Ruth hit a 500-foot home run in Hot Springs, Arkansas on March 24 1918. But how do we know for sure that no one had hit one that far before him? First, we must consider that there was no cork center inside the ball used in Major League Baseball until 1911. Without that added flight capability, it is almost certain that no human being, including The Babe, could have hit a ball so far.

Second, every home run recorded by each of that era’s strongest hitters has been carefully researched, and none of them have 500 foot credentials.

There certainly were immensely strong batsmen before Ruth came along. Two muscular, left-handed behemoths come to mind first. Roger Connor and Dan Brouthers stood six-feet-three and six-feet-two respectively, and weighed about 230 powerful pounds in their heyday. Neither appeared to have an ounce of fat on their imposing frames. They both pounded the ball mercilessly during their long and successful careers throughout the 1880s and 1890s. Yet, neither came close to launching a ball 500 feet through the air.

Roger blasted one close to 440 feet at the original Polo Grounds in New York on September 11, 1886. Big Dan crushed one at Baltimore’s Union Park on June 16, 1894 that sailed about the same distance. Then, in a spring training contest at Raleigh’s Athletic Park the following year (April 3, 1895), Brouthers bombed a ball into a nearby cemetery. Some observers regarded that drive as a 450-footer.

Please don’t be fooled by the absence of formal weight-training for these 19th Century sluggers. Back then, there were significant life style differences which forged tremendously strong musculatures. Many future MLB players started working long hours in factories or coal mines or on farms at very early ages, sometimes as much as ten hours a day, six days a week. They were required to lift, push, or pull heavy burdens over and over again, and these repetitive functions of applied physical force had demonstratively positive results.

Buck Ewing, another 19th Century long distance hitter, offers an entertaining example. Born and raised in the Cincinnati area, Buck supported himself by working as a deliveryman for a local whiskey distillery. Why does that apply to our considerations? Here’s why: Ewing made his deliveries of those wooden casks on his own. Besides handling the mules which pulled the wagon, he loaded and unloaded the product by himself. We don’t know precisely how much those forty-two gallon barrels weighed, but they were, approximately, three-hundred pounds.

Buck Ewing lifted those burdens hour after hour, day after day, six days a week, for several years as a young man. Despite weighing “only” 190 pounds, he was immensely powerful. On June 22, 1889 at Cleveland’s League Park, Buck propelled a stupefying line drive so far over the left field fence that it landed in some rose bushes beside the second house removed from the park. Ewing is generally regarded as the finest all-around player from the 19th Century.

For the record, Buck Ewing came to Hot Springs in the spring of 1892 when his sore right throwing arm threatened to end his career. By taking the baths, running the mountain trails, and undergoing electric impulse treatment to his arm, Ewing rehabilitated himself enough to remain in the game as an active player until 1897. Buck has his own plaque on the Historical Baseball Trail near the old Army-Navy Hospital in downtown Hot Springs

What about the years from 1911 and 1918? After the ball was enlivened, was there anyone else who was capable of whacking a baseball 500 feet? Not really. The most powerful batters during that time were Honus Wagner, Sam Crawford, and Gavy Cravath, but none of them ever came genuinely close to our proscribed distance threshold. Each hit many drives well over 400 feet, occasionally nearing the 450-foot mark, but that is a long way from our stated goal. By the way, each of those three guys also trained and played in Hot Springs at some point. Wagner and Crawford have their own plaques along the Trail.

When we examine all the data, it is apparent that there is virtually no chance that anyone struck a baseball over 500 feet until Babe Ruth did the seemingly impossible on March 17 and/or March 24, 1918 at Whittington Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas.


On the matter of the plaque across from that old ballpark which currently stands adjacent to the Arkansas Alligator Farm, an explanation is in order. It reads that Babe Ruth hit a 573 foot home run at that location on March 17, 1918. I take responsibility for that assertion.

When my good friend Steve Arrison invited me to visit Hot Springs in March, 2011, he did so after reading my 2007 book about Babe Ruth. Based upon what I had written, Steve (CEO of Visit Hot Springs) engaged B and F Engineering to measure Ruth’s St. Patrick’s Day homer. That is where the 573 foot calculation originated.

From that first trip to the Valley, I became more and more involved in the study of Hot Springs history, culminating in my work with a team of other historians to assist Steve in the creation of the Historical Baseball Trail. It has been a labor of love. It has also been the springboard for additional research. Along the way, we have learned much more about the specific circumstances of Babe Ruth’s two titanic home runs at Hot Springs in March of 1918. We now know that the longer of the two was hit on March 24, as opposed to the first drive from one week earlier. That is the drive (March 17) featured on the actual plaque. I am okay with that.

We are honoring the one-hundredth anniversary of baseball’s first 500 foot home run on March 24 because, based on the best available data, that is the one for which we have the most certainty. Yet, why change the plaque? The one hit on March 17 probably flew 500 feet as well. It might not have traveled exactly 573 feet, but, then again, it might have. To me, a little mystery and uncertainty only adds to the overall intrigue for this captivating series of events.

Athletic power has always been a cherished and romanticized aspect of American culture. Babe Ruth’s deeds in March, 1918 at Hot Springs, Arkansas compare favorably with any act of physical prowess in our nation’s history. That was the month and place in which a player first hit a baseball to a distance that had previously seemed beyond the capabilities of a mortal man. That’s good enough for me. I can’t wait to celebrate the occasion!

Bill Jenkinson, Baseball Historian, Copyright 2018

LEFTY GROVE, Baseball Immortal

Monday, March 5th, 2018

When baseball historians think about a flame-throwing, fiercely competitive pitcher, they do not picture anyone from the modern era. In their mind’s eye, they see Robert Moses “Lefty” Grove. Although largely forgotten by contemporary fans, for those who know best, Lefty is the embodiment of the one pitcher whom nobody wanted to face.

“Groves” (as his name was originally spelled) was born as the seventh of eight children on March 6, 1900 in the coal-mining town of Lonaconing, Maryland, situated in the western panhandle of that state. Like many boys from that background, young Bob grew up playing baseball as the primary release from his, otherwise, hard-scrabble existence. He also matured with an attitude that said, “Don’t mess with me.” By the time he reached adulthood, no one did.

Robert came from good stock. Both parents traced their lineage back to ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War. Bob’s father worked in the mines for fifty-four years, but, miraculously, lived in good health until age ninety-two. At age eighteen, Robert himself survived the worldwide influenza pandemic, but his hair began to prematurely turn gray as a result. He also survived a host of physically punishing jobs, including a short spell down in those mines. It is believed that his early work experiences motivated Grove to pitch with savage intensity to escape a life in the darkness and coal dust.

By age nineteen, Robert Grove had grown into six-foot-three-inch athletic demon who could throw a baseball like a bolt of lightning. He was very slender, but notoriously powerful, nonetheless. After pitching for local teams for a few years, Grove turned pro in 1920, performing briefly for Martinsburg, West Virginia. His talent was so unmistakable that the International League Baltimore Orioles soon signed him to a contract. They were just ahead of a host of hungry Major League clubs.

Although not a Big League franchise at that time, the Orioles were one of the premier baseball clubs in the nation. As of 1920, they were owned and managed by former Major League pitcher/infielder Jack Dunn who had discovered Babe Ruth six years earlier. Both native-born Marylanders, Lefty Grove and The Babe were destined to become, arguably, the greatest man-to-man rivals in baseball history.

At age twenty, Lefty Grove could throw his fastball roughly as fast as his boyhood idol, Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators. Although we don’t have scientifically established speeds from that era, it is likely that those two old-timers were among the few fastest-throwing starting pitchers in the history of the game. However, just like Johnson, Grove had trouble with control early in his career. Yet, he was still able to win 111 games between 1920 and 1924.  Lefty steadily overcame his control issues, and became the most overpowering pitcher in the Minor Leagues. He stayed in the Minors for five seasons because Dunn and Connie Mack had forged an agreement about his future.

Mack was the legendary owner/manager of the vastly successful Athletics, but he was never a wealthy man. He was severely handicapped by the so-called Blue Laws in Pennsylvania which prohibited his team from playing on Sundays. That meant an approximate loss of 40% of his revenues each season. Connie would routinely build championship caliber teams, but then sell his key players once they became established starts. As of the early 1920s, Mack and his A’s were in another rebuilding cycle.

Accordingly, Jack and Connie informally agreed that Lefty Grove would continue to pitch for Baltimore until the Athletics were ready to contend with the lordly New York Yankees. As of 1925, Mack was developing future superstars Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, and Jimmie Foxx on the Athletics’ roster. That’s when he finally called on Lefty Grove to join him.

In that first season together, Philadelphia was pretty good (88 & 64, 2nd place), but their new left-handed pitcher was only so-so (10 & 12). For some reason, Grove relapsed briefly into wildness, and led the American League by issuing 131 bases-on-balls. However, the problem was permanently corrected by 1927, and Lefty never struggled with his command thereafter. That year he finished with a 20 & 13 record while the Athletics challenged the legendary ’27 Yanks (aka Murderer’s Row) by finishing with a strong 93 & 61 second place finish. Both the man and the team were close to greatness.

Even then, Lefty Grove was feared by the batters he faced. From that very first Big League season in 1925, he led the Majors in strikeouts, and did so through the 1931 campaign. He rarely threw breaking balls at that stage of his career. He didn’t have to. His fastball was virtually unhittable. Grove threw his “heater” in two different ways. Sometimes, it appeared to actually rise through the strike zone. Just as often, it sunk as it neared the plate, apparently as a forerunner to the modern “split-fingered fastball.”  Back then, they hadn’t yet applied that specific name to that particular pitch.

Just as importantly, Lefty’s demeanor on the mound was literally terrifying. Grove actually cultivated his image of wildness and reckless disregard for the safety of opposing hitters. In truth, Lefty never hit more than six batters in a season, but, to those who faced him, it seemed like their lives were always in the balance. Grove liked it that way.

There is a counterpoint, however, to all these entertaining references to Grove’s combative nature. Lefty was a decent and honorable man. It is said that his boyhood buddies remained his friends throughout his entire life. To them, he was just “Bobby,” that tough but likeable kid from the coal region. It was only on the baseball diamond that Bobby became a beast.

By 1929, Grove had been a twenty-game winner for three consecutive years, and his Philadelphia Athletics had dethroned the Yankees as baseball’s greatest team. In fact, the A’s won three straight American League pennants along with consecutive World Series (1929 & 1930). They lost a bitterly fought seven game Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1931, but that was not the fault of Lefty Grove. He pitched so magnificently throughout the entire campaign that his performance is sometimes regarded by historians as the greatest single season by a pitcher in MLB history.

Grove accrued the mind-numbing record of 31 wins and 4 losses, while leading the league in E.R.A. (2.06), complete games (27), and strikeouts (175). Along the way, he even managed to record five saves. Lefty was so transcendent that he won sixteen consecutive games during one stretch. It was also at this time that the Lefty Grove/Babe Ruth epic rivalry reached its apex.

Ruth and Walter Johnson had also competed dramatically, but the Big Train had retired after the 1927 season. More to this point, Johnson was a classic gentleman. Although a tremendous competitor in his own right, Walter seemed to like everyone. He treated Babe Ruth with warmth and respect. That was simply not the way that Lefty Grove did business. Grove once acknowledged that if a teammate hit a hard ball through the middle when he was pitching batting practice, he (Grove) would deliberately hit him with the next pitch (usually in the back). He was that ornery.

So, when Grove came into the American League in 1925, he had already made up his mind to never give an inch to baseball’s reigning monarch. In fact, when the two future rivals first met during a late-season exhibition game back on October 1, 1923 in Baltimore, Grove struck out Ruth. Two days later at the Polo Grounds, Grove struck him out again, and added further insult by plugging The Babe with a pitched ball. Ruth was not pleased, but Lefty didn’t care. He gave deference to no one, not even the game’s most popular player.

When they eventually faced each other for the first time in an official Big League game, Babe collected two singles, thereby slightly bettering the rookie upstart. Yet, in that same outing, Grove struck out Ruth once more, thereby initiating a back-and-forth rivalry that would last for ten years. It was always primal force against brute strength. Each took turns vanquishing the other until neither could ultimately claim mastery. Our National Pastime never shined brighter than when those two giants collided.

At Yankee Stadium on September 11, 1928, Lefty Grove took the mound with a fourteen game winning streak. Grove led most of the way, but weakened in the 8th inning. Facing The Babe with a man on base in a tie game, Lefty unleashed one of his blistering fastballs. As always, Ruth swung from his heels. Bat met ball with a resounding crack. The battered sphere then sped like a rocket until it crashed violently into the 40th row of the right centerfield bleachers. The Yanks won the game, Grove’s streak was over, and the Yanks soon clinched the pennant.

Three years later, it was Lefty’s turn to outshine The Bambino. On May 25, 1931 at Shibe Park, Ruth went 0 for 5 in the first game of an important double-header. Most galling for Babe, Grove struck him out in both the 7th and 9th innings, thereby insuring his team’s defeat. Ruth had to watch the A’s pull away on the road to their third straight American League triumph.

When it was all over and Babe and Lefty had faced each other for the last time, the final statistics were intriguing. In 135 official at-bats versus Lefty Grove, Babe Ruth had struck out the rather embarrassing total of forty-two times. Contrarily, Ruth had batted a highly respectable .311 and slugged at the productive rate of .526. He had also launched nine home runs. All in all, after all the fanfare and adrenaline, it had been a draw. If I could travel through time to watch only one head-to-head matchup in baseball history, this would be the one.

Sadly, Connie Mack ran out of money again soon after his 1929-1931 dynasty declined. Although Lefty Grove was still fantastic in 1932 and 1933, winning 25 and 24 games respectively, Mack essentially sold Grove to the wealthier Boston Red Sox prior to the 1934 season. It should have been a wondrous deal for the Sox, but bad karma intervened. Lefty developed a sore arm, and posted a disappointing 8 and 8 record, along with a dismal 6.50 E.R.A. That’s when the Hot Springs connection happened.

In early 1935, in order to salvage his waning career, Robert Grove came to the Valley of the Vapors for the first time. In his definitive biography (Lefty Grove: American Original, 2000), author/historian Jim Kaplan wrote this:

Grove spent three weeks in Hot Springs, Arkansas, before spring training. Every day he had breakfast at 10 and played thirty-six holes of golf, carrying his bag. If it rained, he used the rowing machine.

The visit worked. Grove roared back to life with an impressive 20 & 12 record and an excellent (for the 1930s) 2.70 E.R.A. Lefty Grove had found magic in the Ouachita Mountains.

Grove performed well again in 1936 and 1937, winning seventeen games in both seasons. In the process, he logged over 515 innings. That was great stuff for a thirty-seven year old hurler. By then, Lefty could still throw a mean fastball, but he had evolved into more of a craftsman. He now often threw a sharp-breaking curveball along with a change-up and forkball (aka screwball). All seemed well in the life of the aging veteran. Then adversity struck again. Although starting effectively in 1938, Grove suffered a “dead arm” in mid-season. Was his extraordinary career at an end? What to do?

Before the next season, Lefty Grove simply returned to Hot Springs along with a few of his teammates. The Boston Globe featured a photo of him sitting in a thermal bath in its February 10 edition. On February 21, the Globe reported that the group was doing well, training every day from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M. for the past two weeks. Their regimen included workouts, golf, and the full course of hot baths. Was Lefty Grove able to recapture the old magic in the Valley of the Vapors? Yes. At the age of thirty-nine, Grove turned in an absolutely stellar season. His record of 15 & 4 speaks for itself, and he also turned in a superlative league-leading E .R.A. of 2.54.

Lefty credited much of his 1939 success to his pre-season work at Hot Springs, and returned to the Valley in February 1940. During that visit, Grove provided posterity with a powerful example of that classic interaction of hot baths and cardiovascular training. On one of his golf outings, Lefty sped through all eighteen holes in a mere eighty minutes, power-walking all the way.

Yet, no athlete can go on forever, and, by 1940, Lefty’s fastball was mostly a memory. At age forty, he was getting by on guile and guts. He started just one game a week, but still managed to post a winning 7 & 6 record. He played long enough to achieve his cherished goal of winning 300 games. That occurred on July 25, 1941. He finished with a 7 & 7 record that year, and retired at the end of the season.

Lefty Grove’s career Earned-Run-Average was 3.06. Although there are some pitchers who finished with lower numbers, almost all of them performed in the Dead Ball Era. Lefty did most of his work in the 1930s which is a decade long-recognized for its elevated offense. When we adjust Grove’s E.R.A. for the time in which he played, he is tied for the third lowest among all starting pitchers. Essentially, he and Walter Johnson (recognized as baseball’s greatest right-handed pitcher) finished even.

Not surprisingly, Lefty Grove mellowed with age. He would never be regarded as soft-spoken or passive, but, after he stopped competing, he was able to relax and enjoy his accomplishments. He died peacefully at his daughter’s home in Ohio on May 22, 1975. Grove came home to Lonaconing for his funeral as the entire baseball community mourned his passing. A true American legend was gone.

As far as we know, Lefty Grove visited Hot Springs on three occasions, but those three trips to the Valley tell us much. When he needed help the most, Grove came to Central Arkansas. Each time, he left the Valley in significantly better condition than when he had arrived. In 1935 and 1939, Grove feared that his Big League career was in jeopardy. He had heard about the success of other pitchers who had trained in the Spa City, and decided to try his luck. Of course, there were other factors involved in Grove’s twin recoveries (most notably, Lefty’s own hard work), but isn’t it fascinating to wonder if Grove would have reached that 300 win plateau if he hadn’t come to Hot Springs?

Regardless of the answer to that proposition, Lefty Grove left a big imprint on the history and mystique of Hot Springs. The town’s Historical Baseball Trail wouldn’t be complete without a plaque in his honor. Although he might have had a few flaws, Lefty was a good man. He was also, according to the consensus view of baseball historians, the greatest left-handed pitcher in the history of the game.

Bill Jenkinson-Copyright, 2018


If we were to compare Lefty Grove to a current player, it would likely be Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both men stood or stand about six-foot-three (or four) and were regarded as the dominant left-handed pitchers of their eras. There are other similarities, but there is also one dramatic difference: pitch-counts. Despite being recognized as a marvel of endurance and tenacity, Clayton has never thrown more than 132 pitches in a Major League game.

It’s true that official pitch counts weren’t kept when Grove was an active player, but modern computer analysis has provided us with formulas for accurately estimating the pitch–counts for every Big League game which is accompanied by an inclusive box score. Accordingly, we know, within five pitches (more or less), the number of pitches thrown by Lefty Grove in every one of his MLB outings. It is an astonishing set of numbers to contemplate.

It started immediately upon his arrival in the Majors. On May 18, 1925 in Chicago and twelve days later in Philadelphia, Grove threw 160 and 165 pitches respectively. By today’s standards, that sounds crazy. But just wait. On the Fourth of July at Yankee Stadium just a month later, Lefty hurled 14.2 innings before losing a 1-0 heartbreaker to the Yanks’ Herb Pennock. The estimated pitch-count on that occasion was an incredible 224!

Here’s the ultimate attention grabber: while winning a seventeen inning marathon in Cleveland on August 14, 1929, Lefty threw approximately 262 pitches. If that happened in 2018, it would seem as unlikely as a pitcher using eight arms like an octopus. It absolutely could not happen. Please don’t be fooled into thinking that this was an early career phenomenon.

After rehabbing in Hot Springs in 1935, Lefty performed as if he had never suffered a sore arm. On July 27 of that year, he took the mound at Shibe Park against his former mates, and stayed there until losing with two outs in the fifteenth inning. That pitch-count amounted to 251. As late as September 10, 1940, at age forty, Lefty Grove pitched a thirteen-inning, complete game victory in Detroit. In order to do that, he threw the ball about 214 times. These numbers stretch the limits of credibility, but they are real, nonetheless. The man was a ferocious combatant.


BILL DICKEY: Pride of Arkansas

Monday, March 5th, 2018

Anyone who is proud to call themselves an Arkansan should know the story of Bill Dickey. Born in Louisiana in 1907, he moved to Kensett, Arkansas as a child, and remained a citizen of the Natural State for the rest of his life.

William Malcolm Dickey was raised as one of seven children. His dad supported the large family by working as a brakeman for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and young Bill did his part by learning the value of honest labor as a boy. Dickey attended Searcy High School, and played pitcher and second base for his baseball team. He also played guard for the football team while briefly attending Little Rock College.

At that point in Bill Dickey’s life, no one could have predicted that he would become a Hall of Fame Major League catcher. Then, in 1925, a series of events dramatically changed the course of Dickey’s life. The Lawson-Buicks team, located in Hot Springs, needed a replacement catcher, and Bill was asked to fill the void. He agreed to do so, and took to his relatively new position as if born for it.

Dickey already possessed a rocket throwing arm and exceptional overall athleticism, but, when he combined those gifts with his natural competiveness and intelligence as a baseball backstop, a truly transcendent catcher was born.

Playing each Sunday at Whittington Park from June through October, Bill quickly distinguished himself. His best game occurred on July 26, 1925 versus the Stuttgart Rice Growers. He drove in all his team’s runs in a 5-1 victory, including a tremendous double off the top of the center field fence with the bases loaded.

On August 23, 1925 against Prescott’s Bruce Lumber squad, it was Dickey’s remarkable throwing ability that most impressed three representatives from the Little Rock Travelers. Reportedly, they were there to scout someone else, but, when they watched Bill throwing out opposition runners, Dickey became an instant priority. Manager Russell “Lena” Blackburne was so enthralled that he summoned the young prospect under the grandstand during the seventh inning, producing an “agreement to sign a contract” from his pocket. Bill Dickey affixed his signature on the spot, and his career rocketed upward.

Bill moved quickly through the Minor League system, and his contract was acquired by the New York Yankees after the 1927 season. In 1928, he split time at both Little Rock and Buffalo (Double-A level), but, by then, his talent, unmistakably, belonged in the Major Leagues.

Accordingly, Bill Dickey was summoned by the Yankees, and made his Big League debut on August 15, 1928. As soon as the next year, Bill Dickey was doing most of the catching for the legendary Bronx Bombers (led by Babe Ruth). He caught in 127 games that season which was the start of a record thirteen consecutive years in which he caught in over one-hundred contests.

During that entire time, Dickey was also establishing himself as one of the best hitting catchers in baseball history. In that first full season in 1929, Bill batted .324 which was the first of six straight years of .300-plus batting averages. Two of his best offensive games took place in 1931. In Detroit on May 17 of that season, the big backstop ripped five straight singles. Then on September 17 at Yankee Stadium, he led the way in a 17-0 shellacking of the St. Louis Browns by belting two lusty homers and driving in seven runs.

Dickey stood six-feet-one, and weighed 190 muscular pounds. He threw right-handed, but batted from the left side. Just as important as his physical attributes, Bill Dickey possessed one of the game’s most efficient baseball minds.

Behind the plate, he took charge of games, especially in the toughest situations, and earned the respect and trust of every pitcher with whom he ever worked. With Dickey calling for pitches, hurlers seemed completely confident in his judgment and were able to focus on the physical execution of their jobs. The results were unmistakable. The Yankee pitching staff improved significantly after Bill arrived on the roster.

Bill Dickey won his first World Series as an active player in 1932; it was the start of one of the most impressive winning resumes that the athletic world has ever seen. Yet, it was a bitter-sweet season. During the first game of a highly competitive double-header in Washington, D.C. on July 4, Dickey was involved in a particularly rough tag play at home plate. Senator runner Carl Reynolds had come barreling into Bill who had tagged him out, thereby sending both players sprawling to the ground. Neither man knew exactly what had happened in that moment.

Reynolds, still not aware that he had been called out, scrambled back toward home plate since he wasn’t sure if he had touched the plate during the collision. Dickey saw him coming out of the corner of his eye, and assumed that he (Reynolds) was returning to start a fight. Trying to protect himself, Bill swung his fist, and broke Reynolds’ jaw.

Bill Dickey was a truly tough guy, but he was never a trouble-maker. He was also an honorable fellow. When he was accused by folks, who didn’t know him, of “sucker punching” Reynolds, he was devastated. Naturally, more than anything, he was deeply upset that he had injured Carl Reynolds. Dickey was fined $1,000, and suspended for thirty days. That hurt a lot, but it was nothing compared to the pain he felt over the way that he was being perceived by much of the public. I interviewed Bill Dickey in the 1980s, and he referred to those events as the low-point of his athletic career. I could hear the pain that still resonated in his voice a half century after the fact.

Happily, Dickey and his teammates got to celebrate their World Series triumph soon after the Reynolds incident, and, moving forward, Bill enjoyed considerably more ups than downs. Babe Ruth left the Yankees at the conclusion of the 1934 season, but, in 1936, Joe DiMaggio put on the pinstripes. Somehow, the Yanks kept stockpiling talent, and they just kept on winning…and winning. They claimed World Series titles consecutively from 1936 through 1939 as Bill Dickey seemed to improve with each passing year.

During those four straight championships, Dickey batted over .300, slugged over twenty home runs, and drove in over 100 runs each year. That was (and still is) a remarkable output for an outstanding defensive catcher. In 1936, Bill batted a career-high .362 while slugging at the rate of.617. By the end of 1939, the only debate about the quality of Dickey’s game was whether he was a better offensive or defensive performer. As an historian, I can confidently state that he was great in both categories.

During that same period, Bill Dickey was quietly coming to Hot Springs to engage in so-called pre-spring training. In other words, before joining his New York mates in Florida for formal spring workouts, he would come to the Valley to get into playing condition. He did this without much fanfare or publicity. As a result, it is hard to know precisely how often these visits took place. However, according to local historian and author, Don Duren, we know for sure that Dickey trained in Hot Springs in early 1937, 1939, and 1940. This data can be found in Don’s definitive book on Hot Springs baseball history, titled Boiling Out At The Springs (Hodge Printing Company, 2015).

In an entertaining twist of local lore, fellow 2018 Historical Trail honoree Lefty Grove also trained at Hot Springs in early 1940. Even though they were intense rivals during the regular season, Dickey and Grove happily appeared together at the annual Boys Club “homecoming” in Little Rock on February 21, 1940. They were two tough hombres, but, when it came to helping needy boys, they were willing partners.

It was also in 1940, that there was a significant change in Bill Dickey’s baseball life. It was the first time that Bill began a season with the Yankees without his good friend Lou Gehrig. It was during the 1939 campaign when the great “Iron Horse” had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease which would end his life within two years. Bill and Lou had become roommates for many years, and had forged a very close relationship.

Although Dickey was a Southerner and Gehrig had been born and raised in New York City, the two men looked at the world through a similar lens. They both thought and acted with restraint, preferring to live quietly and conservatively. When traveling with the team, they talked about baseball, ate a healthy diet, went to the movies, and retired early. It had worked well for both of them, so when Lou left the scene, Bill felt a huge void in his life. Predictably, he soldiered forward.

Contrasted to Lou Gehrig’s early and tragic death, Bill Dickey was still in the early stages of his overall odyssey as a baseball legend in 1940. He was nearing the end of his physical prime, but his contributions to the game were still on the ascendency.

In both 1941 and 1943, although Dickey’s statistical output diminished, the Yankees again won the World Series. Bill won the final game of that latter series by blasting a mighty home run to the back of the right field pavilion roof at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.  The drive sailed so high and far that young Cardinals’ right fielder Stan Musial never moved as it flew over his head. That two run blow was the only scoring in a thrilling climax to that year’s Fall Classic. By then, Bill was the leader of the team. Joe DiMaggio had become the star player, but Dickey’s quiet leadership was the team’s anchor.

In 1944 and 1945, Bill served for the United States Navy in the Pacific theatre during World War II. As was the case with most Major League players, Uncle Sam chose to keep Dickey out of harm’s way. Against his wishes, he stayed in Hawaii to oversee baseball operations there. At war’s end, Bill was thirty-eight years old, and decided to return to the Yankees one last time.

He was no longer the same athletic juggernaut, but he did get the chance to do something that he had never anticipated. When iconic Yankee manager Joe McCarthy suddenly resigned early in the 1946 season, Bill Dickey became the new team skipper. He did a commendable job while guiding the team to a respectable 57 & 48 record over the next few months. However, true to his nature, when it became apparent to Dickey that he would need to play team politics to keep his job, he simply stepped aside. Bill finished that campaign as a player, and quietly retired.

When it was over, Bill Dickey had batted .313 for his career while blasting 202 home runs and driving in 1,209 runs. He had won seven World Series as a player, and been chosen eleven times to represent the American League in the annual All-Star game. That last total would have been even higher if that mid-summer classic had begun before 1933.

As a catcher and handler of pitchers, Bill Dickey had few peers in the history of the game. Bob Feller, who played his entire career for the rival Cleveland Indians as one of the game’s greatest hurlers, once said:

Bill Dickey is the best (catcher) I ever saw. He was as good as anyone behind the plate, and better with the bat. There are others I’d include right behind Dickey, but he was the best all-around catcher of them all. I believe I could have won 35 games if Dickey was my catcher.

Bill Dickey returned to Arkansas upon the conclusion of his Big League career. In 1947, he managed the Little Rock Travelers of the Southern Association. It was not a successful season, and Dickey became convinced that managing was not what he wanted to do. However, baseball was not through with the man. After working for a year in the Little Rock business world, the phone rang in early 1949 with the Yankees asking Bill to return as a coach. Specifically, they recognized the considerable raw talent of young Yogi Berra, but felt that only Dickey could help him to fulfill his potential. That marriage of coach and player turned into an extraordinarily compelling story.

As most everyone knows, Yogi Berra and his Yankee teammates went on to do great things under Bill Dickey’s tutelage. In fact, with Dickey at the side of manager Casey Stengel, the New York Yankees reached new heights of athletic grandeur. From 1949 through 1953, they won five consecutive World Series, a feat that is unlikely to ever be equaled. With Dickey still coaching them, the Yanks won it all again in 1956. All the while, the star players on that historic roster (Berra, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford et al) sang the praises of their quiet but forceful coach from Arkansas.

One of the most intriguing subplots during that time was Yogi Berra’s wearing of Bill Dickey’s old number 8. When Dickey returned in 1949, Berra had already been assigned that number in an effort to induce him to pattern himself after his esteemed predecessor. Accordingly, Dickey wore number 33 until he retired from the field after the 1957 season.

Meanwhile, Bill had been elected to the Hall of Fame in 1954. Yogi, after winning three American League Most Valuable Player Awards, followed him into baseball immortality in 1972. That was the same year in which their shared uniform number was permanently retired by the Yankees. The dramatic synchronicity in the relationship between the two Hall of Fame backstops was beautifully verbalized by the usually inarticulate Yogi. Berra said in later years, “I always say I owe everything I did in baseball to Bill Dickey. He was a great man.”

Just to emphasize the relevance of Berra’s sentiments, it should be noted that Dickey was asked to reprise his coaching magic with Elston Howard who succeeded Yogi as Yankee catcher. Capitalizing on Dickey’s tutoring, Howard enjoyed his own significant success as a Big League catcher, winning the American League MVP Award in 1963. Elston put it this way:

The year I came to the Yankees from Toronto, I wasn’t as good as a lot of semipro catchers. Bill took me over and talked to me. Then he worked with me. We’d go off in a corner and practice. Without Bill, I’m nobody. Nobody at all. He made me a catcher.

To further understand the role of Bill Dickey as a maker of men and professor of catching science, it should be noted that Elston Howard went on to set multiple defensive records as a Major League backstop.

Dickey made occasional appearances at Yankee Stadium after retirement, but mostly stayed in Arkansas where he worked for a large Little Rock investment company. Once Bill became an Arkansan, he remained one for life. Dickey relaxed during his golden years by spending time as an outdoorsman, especially enjoying himself as a quail hunter. He died in Little Rock in 1993 at age eighty-six.

The story of Bill Dickey’s life is a powerful tale indeed. He had the good fortune to be signed by the New York Yankees. Beyond that bit of good luck, his success was based on hard work, perseverance, and talent more than anything else.

As long as his body permitted, Bill used his natural gifts to compete as an historically great baseball player. Then, when his playing days were over, Dickey became as good a coach as he had been a player. He was not only a Hall of Fame athlete. Bill Dickey was a teacher of the game whose expertise has not been surpassed. Just look at the final record: thirteen world championships while wearing the uniform as player and coach.

Is there anyone more deserving of athletic recognition in his home state than Bill Dickey? He clearly deserves a place in the Hot Springs Historical Baseball Trail. Bill was discovered while playing in the Valley of the Vapors, and returned in later years to get in shape. Bill Dickey was a man of quiet dignity, intense determination, intellectual acumen, and genuine class. He was also one of the greatest baseball players in the history of our National Pastime.


Babe Ruth’s Last Visit to Hot Springs

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Babe’s Last Visit to Hot Springs

Babe Ruth Hot Springs Last Visit

This never-before-seen photo, shot circa 1941, is believed to be the only photograph of baseball legend Babe Ruth in Hot Springs in the 1940s.

Posted online by an anonymous Midwestern blogger in her “Me, Take Three” blog, it shows the writer’s father, Robert Harrison Jr.,  at age 3 with the legendary Ruth in what is believed to be Whittington Park. Harrison, an Air Force Photography Corps veteran, passed away at the age of 77 in 2015.

Ruth was a huge fan of Hot Springs and visited often, as part of baseball spring training and later as an enthusiastic lover of the city and its attractions. His legendary 500-foot-plus home run into the Arkansas Alligator Farm is chronicled elsewhere on this website.

A big thank you to the daughter of Robert Harrison, Jr. for providing us with this historic photo of Babe in Hot Springs.

Dizzy & Daffy Dean

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

As native Arkansans, Dizzy and Daffy Dean are, of course, well-remembered by most folks in the Diamond State. That is no surprise. Yet, even three-quarters of a century after the brothers retired, they retain their legendary stature in the minds of most baseball fans around the entire country. That is saying a lot!

Jay Hanna Dean (later nicknamed Dizzy) was born in Lucas (Logan County), Arkansas on January 16, 1910. Younger brother Paul Dee Dean (subsequently referred to as Daffy) arrived two-and-a-half years later (August 14, 1912) in the same small town. They grew up playing baseball together, and ultimately led the St. Louis Cardinals to victory in the 1934 World Series. When they did, the Dean boys ascended to the pinnacle of fame in the world of sports. But, their road had been difficult.

Father Albert worked long hours as both a tenant farmer and sawmill laborer, and mother Alma died of tuberculosis in 1918. The fragmented family moved to Yell County in 1920 and then to different homes in Oklahoma. Accordingly, there had been little parental guidance and even less formal education. Despite those handicaps, both boys grew into manhood with the ability to work hard and behave responsibly. Each became a success in his own right. For the record, eldest brother Elmer also tried his luck as a professional ball player, but lacked the talent of his two younger siblings.

Jay enlisted in the Army in 1926 at age sixteen. It was then, according to most sources, that he acquired his nickname. He allegedly was seen throwing potatoes against garbage can lids, prompting his drill sergeant to yell: “You dizzy s.o.b.” Regardless of the origin, the moniker remained with Dean for the rest of his life.

While in uniform for Uncle Sam, “Dizzy” also found time to play baseball, and developed a reputation for being a highly talented pitcher. So, when he left the Army in 1929, he joined a semi-pro team in San Antonio, Texas. His natural gifts and unwavering dedication combined to quickly propel him toward the Big Leagues. Dean pitched in Saint Joseph, Missouri for most of the 1930 season, but moved up to the Houston Buffaloes in late summer.

The St. Louis Cardinals took notice of the rising star, and signed him into their highly successful organization. In fact, even though they knew that Dean, at only age twenty, was not ready for full time work in the Big Leagues, they summoned him to pitch the final game of that season. On September 28, 1930 at Sportsman’s Park, Dizzy Dean previewed future glories by hurling a complete game three-hit 3-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Just as Dizzy was finishing his Minor League climb in 1931, kid brother Paul was beginning his. Dizzy won twenty-six games for Houston that year, and then headed up to St. Louis to stay. In the meantime, Paul pitched for three different teams. Although not possessing the exceptional talent of his big brother, the younger Dean still showed significant potential.

Jay “Dizzy” Dean won eighteen games for St. Louis in his official Major League rookie season in 1932. It was the start of a five year span of pitching greatness that has never been eclipsed in Big League history. Meanwhile, Paul was in Columbus, Ohio, laboring his way through an undistinguished losing season.

In 1933, Dizzy won twenty games for the first time, which was not unexpected. However, Paul dramatically reversed his downturn from the preceding year, and recorded twenty-two victories for the Red Birds back in Columbus. There would be no holding back the Dean boys in 1934. It began with a connection to their home state of Arkansas.

Ray Doan, an Iowa-born promoter of various sporting events, opened a baseball school in Hot Springs in 1933. Meeting with success, Doan operated the school again in the early spring of 1934. This time, Dizzy Dean came to town as one of his celebrity instructors. That luminescent group also included George Sisler, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Rogers Hornsby, and Burleigh Grimes. In his definitive book on the baseball history of Hot Springs (Boiling Out At The Springs, Hodge Printing Company, Dallas, 2006), local author/scholar Don Duren tells us that Paul Dean was also in town that March, staying at the Como Hotel. Predictably, the brothers took the opportunity to take the baths, hike the mountain trails, and get ready for the forthcoming season. It was a prescription for astonishing success.

When Dizzy and Paul reported to the Cardinals’ spring training headquarters in Bradenton, Florida, Diz famously predicted that he and Paul would win a total of forty-five games that season. Since Paul (soon to be known as “Daffy”) had yet to pitch in a Major League game, folks thought that the elder Dean was, in fact, dizzy. Of course, we know now that neither of the Dean Brothers was ever either dizzy or daffy: both men possessed demonstrable levels of solid intelligence. If anything, Dizzy was conservative in his 1934 pronouncements.

The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series that year, and Jay and Paul Dean were at the core of that remarkable triumph. Along the way, Dizzy won the exceptional total of thirty games (against only seven losses), and twenty-two-year-old Daffy was victorious nineteen times. With that combined sum of forty-nine wins, Dizzy suddenly appeared like a venerable prophet.

The highlight occurred in a double-header on September 21 at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field when Dizzy won the first game 13-0 with a masterful three-hitter. Daffy was destined to walk in his big brother’s shadow for most of his baseball life, but not on this day. Taking the ball to start the second game, Paul was even better than Dizzy. Two hours later, he walked off the mound having pitched a no-hitter, winning 3-0. The Deans were heralded from coast to coast as the biggest sports story of the year.

Along with his thirty wins, Dizzy Dean also saved seven games that year. He was the last National Leaguer to reach that exalted thirty-win plateau. In his rookie season, Daffy started twenty-six games, and relieved in thirteen others. He pitched a total of 233.1 innings: a remarkable total for a first year performer. And they were far from finished!

In the 1934 World Series against the American League champion Detroit Tigers, the Dean boys teamed up to forge the final links in a legend which still resonates today. Ultimately prevailing in a tough seven game series, Dizzy and Daffy recorded all four victories for their side. In fact, working with only one day of rest, Dizzy pitched a complete game shutout in game seven to clinch that memorable world championship. Looking back through the prism of those long intervening years, it all seems like fiction. It wasn’t. Jay and Paul Dean really did all that.

By the time the 1935 season began, Dizzy Dean rightfully looked upon himself as the kingpin of the National League. Yet, just at that moment, an old Hot Springs advocate unexpectedly entered the scene. The one-and-only Babe Ruth, who had trained and frolicked in the Valley of the Vapors nine different times, signed with the Boston Braves after retiring from the Yankees. Initially, Dizzy Dean did the unthinkable, and told the aging monarch that he wasn’t wanted in the Senior Circuit. Ruth, always supremely confident, merely laughed.

That led to an interesting episode on March 20, 1935 when Dean’s Cardinals played Babe’s Braves in a pre-season game in St. Petersburg where Boston did its spring training. By then, the amiable Dean had re-thought the situation, and warmly embraced Ruth. When the two magnificent gladiators faced one another in the ballgame, the wind was howling in from center field as Babe batted for the first time. Dizzy, thinking that he had nothing to worry about, fired a fastball. A few seconds later, the battered sphere was finally caught in front of the distant right centerfield corner after a 460-foot flight.

As Ruth shrugged his shoulders near second base and headed back toward the dugout, he saw Dizzy gaping at him. The Babe gave Dean a playful wink whereupon Dizzy tipped his cap. It was baseball at its best.

By then, of course, Dizzy Dean didn’t have to take a back seat to anyone. Before the 1935 season ended, that reality was more apparent than ever. Even though the Cardinals were not as successful, Dizzy was just as dominant. Logging over 300 innings for the second straight year, the elder Dean won twenty-eight games. Paul also reprised his 1934 success, accumulating nineteen victories for the second consecutive year. Of those combined thirty-eight wins, thirty-five were complete games.

By 1936, Dizzy Dean was a regular part of the Doan baseball school in Hot Springs, appearing annually in February before heading to Bradenton for spring training. Along with the hot baths, Dizzy was fond of playing golf, frequenting the casinos, bowling at the local lanes, and attending the thoroughbred races at Oak Lawn. He was great again that year, winning twenty-four games. However, Daffy’s brief sojourn atop the baseball world ended abruptly. Suffering from a “sore arm,” he won only five games. Sadly for Paul, he would never again be a top caliber Major League pitcher. He would courageously compete as a professional hurler until 1946, finishing his career that year with the Little Rock Travelers.

Contrarily, big brother Jay still had it. Dizzy added twenty-four more wins in 1936, and began the 1937 season as if he would dominate for years to come. Then, athletic tragedy suddenly struck him as well. Facing Earl Averill in the All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. on July 7, Dean suffered a fractured left big toe from an unluckily directed line drive. Just three days before, pitching in an Independence Day double-header in Cincinnati, Dizzy had twirled a brilliant 1-0 shutout against the over-matched Reds. In that moment, Dizzy Dean appeared invincible. Although it was impossible for anyone to have known it at the time, that whitewashing of Cincy would be the last time that Jay Hanna Dean would dominate Major League hitters.

When Dizzy tried to return too quickly from the toe injury, he altered his pitching motion to compensate for the lingering pain. The great Smoky Joe Wood, who also loved coming to Hot Springs, had attempted the same ill-fated strategy upon injuring his ankle and thumb in 1913. Suddenly changing a pitcher’s delicately conditioned pitching mechanics is risky business. It almost never achieves a positive result. That approach had drastically deadened Smoky Joe’s blazing fastball, and wound up doing much the same thing to Dizzy Dean a quarter century later.

When Dean’s toe was injured at that halfway point in that 1937 season, he had accrued a 12 & 7 record, along with a sterling 2.41 ERA. For the remainder of that ’37 campaign, Dizzy would win only one more game. His fastball never returned. Almost unbelievably, Dean would add only sixteen more victories for the rest of his career. Like a meteor, Jay and Paul Dean had burst into the upper firmament of the baseball world, and, almost as quickly, they had faded into athletic mediocrity. That was okay. How many folks can say that they have ever seen life from such rarified heights?

For his part, although never again a genuine star, Dizzy had a few more goosebumps to give. Switching over to the rival Chicago Cubs in 1938, Dean won seven times, including a crucial winning effort on September 27 to help lead the Cubs to the National League pennant. That game tells us a lot about Dizzy Dean, the man. Despite lacking superior physical ability by then, Dizzy stood on the mound in a climate of intense pressure, and prevailed on pure guts and tenacity. Jay Dean talked a lot, even boasting more than most. Yet, he also possessed tremendous grit and toughness. In retrospect, we can safely say that both Deans were men of strong character.

As of 1941, Dizzy was virtually spent. He made a single token appearance for the 1947 St. Louis Browns, but, by then, he was on his way to his second legendary career. Dean became one of baseball’s most beloved broadcasters. Known for his folksy mannerisms and unscripted use of the English language, Dizzy was beloved by countless fans across the land. Often serenading his listeners to renditions of “The Wabash Cannonball,” only the nation’s stuffed shirts (and perhaps a few English teachers) didn’t appreciate Dizzy Dean as a spokesman for the game of baseball.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953, Jay “Dizzy” Dean died in Reno, Nevada in 1974. He is buried in Bond, Mississippi which was the home town of his wife and lifetime companion, Patricia.

As most residents of Hot Springs already know, Paul Dean eventually settled here for two years. He owned and managed the Hot Springs Bathers in 1954. His oldest son, Paul Junior, led the Lakeside High School baseball team to second place in the Arkansas state baseball championship the following year. His youngest son, Sandy, returned to Hot Springs in 1985, and is still living here today. Sandy tells us that his father always considered Hot Springs as his favorite place to live. Paul Dee Dean died in 1981 at Springdale in the northwest corner of the state. He is interred at the Oakland Cemetery in Clarksville with his beloved wife, Dorothy.

No baseball brothers have ever impacted the game as suddenly and pervasively as Jay and Paul Dean. It is true that they didn’t stay long at the top of the competitive mountain, but their impact was immense nonetheless. There are few genuine baseball fans today who do not know their names.

As native-born Arkansans, it seems natural and fitting, therefore, to include them in the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail. Jay and Paul both left significant legacies in the Spa City, and their memories still linger in the hearts of those who feel the pride of their accomplishments.

Bill Jenkinson, Baseball Historian

N.B.-This writing of this article was a collaborative effort. Historians Mark Blaeuer, Michael Dugan, Don Duren, and Tim Reid all made valuable contributions.

Home Run Slugger Tunes Up With Bath…

Monday, July 13th, 2015

The following article appeared in the February 19, 1923 edition of the Richmond Times and was written by legendary writer and newspaper reporter Damon Runyon.

Runyon is best known for his short stories celebrating the world of Broadway in New York City that grew out of the Prohibition era. However he was also an accomplished sportswriter who was inducted into the writers’ wing (the J. G. Taylor Spink Award) of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967.

To prove that Ruth’s every move was amplified Damon Runyon exaggerated his writing power in a hilarious article about the big man.

Home Run Slugger Tunes Up With Bath

  • Bulletin- 8:40a.m. – The Babe Ruth opened his eyed, yawned six times in succession, arose and dressed.
  • Bulletin- 9:00 a.m. – The Babe Ruth repaired to the dining hall of the Hotel Majestic and made an order of ham and eggs look mighty silly.
  • Bulletin- 9:30 a.m. – The Babe Ruth sat down to a game of Hearts in the lobby of the Majestic Hotel with a bunch of traveling-looking men.
  • Bulletin- 9:35 a.m. – The Babe Ruth led the five of hearts and the deuce, trey and four were played on it by his companions.
  • Bulletin- 9:36 a.m. – This correspondent inquired of the Babe Ruth as follows: ’How do you feel, Babe?’ ‘Terrible,’ replied the Babe Ruth, as he raked in the four of hearts.

Thus we discharged our duty to the waiting world. We have passed out all of the immediate feed box into the doings of the Babe Ruth up to the hour of going to the typewriter.

It is rumored that late yesterday afternoon the Babe Ruth was observed in route to the bath house connected with the Hotel Majestic arrayed in a trailing robe and flapping slippers, and breathing threats of taking a bath, but as this information came to us second-handed, we refrain from expatiating on it at length.

It is know that the Babe Ruth did purchase robe, slippers, and a brace of fresh-laid Turkish towels soon after his arrival, but this is a formality required by law of every new arrival in Hot Springs. In fact, if a man goes around town without a robe, slippers and a pair of towels, he is at once an object of dark suspicion. Another requirement is a cane.

This writer has gone through life for many years without a cane, because he never needed a cane. We were brought up to believe that canes were only for the aged and decrepit, or for dudes, and back in our home town, dudes were killed on sight, with the concurrence of the authorities.

We never believed that we would sink into the depths of cane-carrying, but soon after our arrival in Hot Springs we learned that a cane was almost as necessary to citizenship as a Turkish towel.

Damon Runyon, Richmond Times Dispatch, 2/19/1923


Roy Campanella, Dodger Hall of Famer

Monday, July 13th, 2015

The following story is excerpted from the autobiography It’s Good to be Alive by Roy Campanella. Campanella (Campy), who is considered one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game, played for the Brooklyn Dodgers until his playing career ended in 1958 when he was paralyzed by an automobile accident. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969.

“One reason I (Campy) was in shape was because I had spent ten days at Hot Springs taking the baths and doing lots of running. Larry Doby and Don Newcombe had gone with me. I also took along Ruthie and the two youngest kids. In the evening we’d go out to watch a basketball game at the local high school (Langston). I became interested in one of the players. He had the makings of a great basketball player. One particular night, I didn’t see him and I asked the coach about him. “Oh,” said the coach. “You mean Bobby Mitchell. The boy had to quit sports-he has to work after school to make ends meet in order to graduate.”

“I asked the coach to have Mitchell come to my hotel for a talk. He told me the boy worked as a bus boy in my hotel. I had a talk with him there and the upshot of it was that before I left Hot Springs I made arrangements with a doctor friend of mine to take care of his clothing, books, and other expenses and to give him a weekly allowance and to bill me.”

It’s Good to be Alive by Roy Campanella-Boston, Little Brown, and Company, 1959,177-178; reprinted Bison Book, University of Nebraska, 1995).

The young man in the story is none other than Pro Football Hall of Fame member Bobby Mitchell, the most famous athlete to ever come out of Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Langston High School graduate starred in the National Football League with the Cleveland Browns and the Washington Redskins. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.

The impact of baseball on the community of Hot Springs extended past the foul lines and impacted positively the life of a future star when the greatest catcher in the game extended his hand to help a young man of promise.