Archive for the ‘Untold Stories’ Category

Reaching for the Brass Ring: A Portrait of Doan’s 1937 Baseball School

Monday, January 13th, 2014

by Mark Blaeuer

The following is an attempt, based on available sources, to provide a context for the memories of Col. Albert Wiest, whose article follows mine in this volume. In his article Col. Wiest writes about attending the Ray L. Doan All-Star Baseball School in Hot Springs in 1937. 

RayDoanHot Springs was still a baseball town. True, its heyday was past—those halcyon Februaries and Marches when three or four major league clubs would show up for spring training each year, the total number of players swollen by a plethora of individual athletes who believed the place so healthful, they trekked here on their own. By the 1930s, teams were sending fragmentary rosters instead, especially batteries and “fat men” who needed to shed avoirdupois in Arkansas’s renowned thermal baths. This dwindling pattern would hold through the 1950s

with occasional exceptions, mostly Negro league squads (able to boast their own future Hall of Famers) contributing to the overall baseball legacy of Hot Springs. Several major leaguers, like Al Simmons and Mel Harder and Earl Whitehill and Willis Hudlin, continued to swear by the resort, wintering here. One player, Lon Warneke, grew up in the area and kept a permanent residence nearby.

Into this milieu strode Ray L. Doan. Doan was born in Iowa in 1896, and he would die there in 1969. In the first half of the twentieth century, his name was synonymous with  the phrase “sports promoter” (and among those who were not fans of his, the word “huckster”). His clients included Olympian and pro golfer Babe Didrikson, the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues, and miscellaneous House of David teams known for mixing their version of the national pastime with beards and a fun-to-watch activity called pepper. He was the self-proclaimed “father of donkey baseball.” According to author Timothy Gay, Doan said, “I’m also the fellow who thought up playing softball with the infielders and outfielders tied to goats.”

At one time or another, many of the aforementioned clients were guests in the Spa City, but Doan’s work meant the most to raw hopefuls who made the pilgrimage to his “All-Star Baseball School.” Adolescent males came here from practically every U.S. state and several Canadian provinces, the majority of boys no doubt imagining stardom. The stars in their eyes had names, too: Doan recruited a slew of major leaguers to serve as instructors at his school. Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander, Clyde “Deerfoot” Milan, Urban “Red” Faber, and many more taught here over the six years of its Hot Springs incarnation.

The school operated in Hot Springs between 1933 and 1938. In 1939 Doan shifted the enterprise to Jackson, Mississippi, where enrollment flagged. In 1940 and 1941, winding down, the Doan school was lodged at Palatka, Florida. He also tried setting up a traveling baseball school for the summer of 1940, but it seems not to have caught fire. By then, a veritable thicket of schools for budding rookies had sprung up, so Doan’s educational institution was hardly unique. There was, in fact, another such nursery in Arkansas in 1937, in Little Rock under Bobby Harper, who caught for numerous minor league aggregations during the 1920s and 1930s. (In 1938 yet another baseball school would arise, in El Dorado under Frank “Blackie” O’Rourke, an infielder for six major league clubs over fourteen seasons.)

In addition, in this era major league clubs commonly held mass tryouts, hundreds of potential players venturing onto the “apple yards” to vie for spots in a given team’s organization. The shotgun strategy was less cruel than it sounds, as professional baseball could not yet rely on the dynamo of intercollegiate athletics to generate prospects. Some minor league teams would stuff their rosters with green youngsters from these open-to-anybody combines or from baseball factories like Doan’s. St. Louis executive Branch Rickey’s farm system was beginning to sink roots in 1932: “Furthermore, as a feeder to all these teams, is the Cardinal baseball school at Springfield, Mo., where 300 rookies of rawest ray serene are vaccinated with elemental baseball serum . . . In charge of this baseball cradle are 11 former major league players.”

There were precursors. The great player and manager Buck Ewing had a related notion in 1901 in Cincinnati with his correspondence course on baseball. The Miami Herald broached the concept of a real school in 1913. Charles Kelchner, a major league scout disappointed in the quality of minor league play, started a school in 1919. In 1921 Boston Braves manager Fred Mitchell endorsed and predicted the idea’s expansion. A 1907 Boston Doves catcher, Jess Orndorff, appears to have been the first to “go large,” with his 1928 National Baseball School in Los Angeles. Over a number of years, he employed several erstwhile major leaguers for sages.

Doan souped up Orndorff’s jitney model and revved its engine, hiring active stars as well as old- timers: “. . . association with these major league players in Hot Springs takes a lot of the inferiority complex out of the youngsters.” Doan shrewdly planted his kindergarten in the U.S. midsection, accessible to all, but chose a town that reveled in publicity: “Passing through Hot Springs with the Davids one time, he suddenly hit upon the idea of a baseball school.” Doan’s establishment soon dominated, operating in concert with The Sporting News, a St. Louis-based but nationally circulated “Bible of Baseball” (more about this relationship, anon; Orndorff had also found this to be a perfect venue in which to advertise).

From 1935 through 1940, initially affiliated with Doan, National League arbiter George Barr taught an umpiring school in Hot Springs. In 1937 he had thirty students. These included William Glass and Walter Jones, both of Hot Springs, and football celebrity Forrest “Frosty” Peters (age thirty-two, just seven years younger than Barr). By 1931 Peters had been an offensive back with Montana State, the University of Illinois, and four NFL clubs; in one 1924 game he drop-kicked an amazing seventeen field goals.

Barr’s program, according to his prospectus for 1938 (dated 1937) was made up of the following:

Opening week—while players are lectured and limbered up—three daily sessions are the order of business at thePic2 UMPIRE SCHOOL, morning, afternoon, and evening. During the first week, a few motion pictures, dealing with baseball subjects are shown, but the time is chiefly devoted to lectures . . . Since good umpiring is largely dependent upon good physical condition, each day-time lecture ends with a hike up one of the two Ozark peaks that flank the city . . . Through field-drills, the proper position for each play-situation is educated into the men. The Baseball School devotes several days to batting drill and these workouts are
utilized by our umpires. One is placed in each batting cage and familiarized with the positions and stances for working back of the plate . . . By this time, a regular schedule of games is instituted and lecture periods are cut to one per day, since mornings and afternoons must be devoted to umpiring games on the field. In the night lectures, Mr. Barr brings a complete resume of the day’s activity, progress, and mistakes before the group.

Tuition was $50. The 1937 umpire school ran from February 15 through April 1. When Doan left, Barr worked with the Hornsby school. About half of Barr’s protégés, on average, landed umpiring jobs, but he would not refer his graduates automatically. Therefore, leagues wishing to hire from his reservoir of candidates trusted him.

Barr, like Doan, eventually found the grass more emerald-tinted in sunshine-happy Florida, moving his flock to Orlando in ’41. There, he operated in conjunction with the Joe Stripp Big League School of Baseball. In 1938 Stripp introduced the novelty of a tall mirror beside home plate as an aid to improving a student’s batting stance.

Preferring to stick with Hot Springs after Doan left, Rogers Hornsby steered his own baseball “college” here from 1939 through 1941 (he taught the school in Fort Worth in 1942), from 1948 through 1951, and again from 1955 through 1956.

Doan attempted to resurrect his old school at Hot Springs in 1961 and even pondered integrating the student body and the faculty (he intended to bring in John “Buck” O’Neil, then a scout for the Chicago Cubs but formerly a longtime player and manager with the Kansas City Monarchs). Doan corresponded with city officials and advertised in several issues of the Sporting News that the school would open on March 1. A squib in the March 8 issue of the News indicated the opening would be postponed until June 1. I found no further mention of the school, anywhere, and have concluded that Doan’s effort went for naught.

The promoter faced an American society that was evolving on numerous fronts. The same Sporting News page announcing his school’s delay in opening also carried ads for four baseball “camps” designed not only for teens but also for kids down to eight years old or younger (the Ken Boyer camp, at Montauk, Missouri, had no age limits whatsoever). These camps could charge rates exceeding $100. The primary motive for holding these camps during summer was that parents would not have to choose between baseball and formal education for their children. If parents were involved with a boy’s desire to attend Doan’s 1937 school, it might often have been to hope that six weeks in Arkansas would “get baseball out of his system” and nudge him toward the alternative: traditional work. Nor would the immediate goal of Baby Boom

Dewey Adkins (1918-1998) warming up at Wrigley Field in Chicago. His busiest year in the majors was 1949 with the Cubs, when he pitched eighty and one- third innings as a starter and reliever. He notched 115 wins in the minors between 1940 and 1955. His per- formance at the Doan school earned him a tryout contract with the Winnipeg Maroons, but he was not on their 1937 roster. His first minor league team was the Pine Bluff Judges. Pic3According to his daughter, Shirley Bennett, his wife had family in Arkansas. In September 1940, the Cleveland Indians purchased and brought him up from the Oklahoma City Indians, whose manager—Rogers Hornsby—“highly recom- mended” him. “A number of major league teams [had] bid for Adkins.” [Courtesy Shirley Bennett and Anthony Youngkin] participants have been to enter the pro scene. Baseball was a more diverse proposition by the affluent 1960s, with increased opportunity across multiple age brackets: Little League, high school programs, etc. Hence, Doan decided to push his school’s starting date back, but in so doing, he would have run smack into the already well-developed world of baseball camps.

Not that Doan had smooth sailing before. Some journalists and baseball grandees in the 1930s looked askance at baseball schools, implying it was unethical—if not larcenous—to pocket fees from callow youth of suspect aptitude. The Yankees owner, Col. Jacob Ruppert, was among the critics: “I see no reason for the schools, and I am astonished that they are tolerated.” Doan, to his credit, never claimed that the school’s graduates would achieve fame and fortune: a wise precaution, as the ex-pupils rarely drew sports page ink of a major league variety. One ad for the school trumpeted that eighteen alumni had “won berths” on major league teams. Thus far, I have confirmed that seven students, including two of Wiest’s fellow novices in 1937, appeared in The Show as regular-season performers (Harry Chozen with the Cincinnati Reds; George Dickey with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox; Dewey Adkins, Doan class of ‘37, with the Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, and Chicago Cubs; Sam W. Narron with the St. Louis Cardinals—later a bullpen catcher and coach with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates; Ben Huffman, Doan class of ‘37, with the St. Louis Browns; Thurman “Joe E.” Tucker with the White Sox and Indians; Johnny Grodzicki with the Cardinals). Beyond those who attained major league status as players, one alumnus donned an American League umpire’s suit (Bill McKinley) and one rose to executive echelons (Vaughan “Bing” Devine, Cardinals general manager and New York Mets president). In addition, Douglas “Scotty” Robb, who attended Barr’s 1936

school, umpired in both the National and American Leagues; the umpire school was still considered part of Doan’s operation at that time.

Undeniably, Doan lined up minor league tryouts for skilled students, and many enjoyed careers in the bush. Earning the coin of the realm while pursuing a dream, rugged and transitory though such diamond labors often proved, was nothing to scoff at during the Great Depression. The rest of his charges likely cut a finer figure on their local sandlots and town circuits. Doan pointed out

that his “for profit” school instructed students for a full six weeks, as opposed to club-sponsored free camps, which cut the less gifted kids loose after a day or two. Apparently, though, a student was not obligated to stay for the whole six weeks; Wiest mentioned that he was present for three.

When Albert Wiest and his buddy hitchhiked and freight- hopped from North Dakota to “Bathburg,” they Pic4encountered a vast assemblage of boys like themselves here, all of them eager to learn the arts of batting, fielding, and base-running at the feet of major league masters. The staff that year consisted of the forty-year-old Doan (a semipro pitcher whose arm went bad, he had coached at Springfield College, Massachusetts, and been an athletic director in the Army), three main instructors, and “a score of others.”

Assorted Luminaries at the 1937 Doan School

Rogers “Rajah” Hornsby: This forty-year-old hitting legend (then manager of the St. Louis Browns and beginning his last year as a player) was arguably “head man” among the instructors. He taught batting, of course, but also offered tips in glove technique to his embryo infielders. By March 7, Hornsby was in San Antonio for the Browns’ training camp.

Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean: The “loquacious moundsman” from Lucas, Arkansas, was a faculty veteran at age twenty-six, and reporters visiting the school frequently sought snippets about his demand for a $50,000 salary from Cards management in 1937. His final day that term was February 18.

Lon “The Arkansas Hummingbird”/“Country” Warneke: The former Chicago Cub hurler, age twenty-seven, was now Dean’s teammate with St. Louis after an October trade. A January 15 blurb in the Sentinel-Record announced his signing to the Doan staff: “Warneke can walk from his home to the baseball campus to hold class. He recently moved here from his Norman, Ark., farm.” By March 2, Warneke was at the Cards’ camp in Daytona Beach.

Charley O’ Leary: At age sixty-one, this Detroit Tiger of yesteryear (and ex-vaudevillian) was less than three years removed from having stroked a pinch hit and scored a run with the Browns. By 1937 he was Hornsby’s sidekick—as coach with the Browns, as a trusted partner in teaching basic glovemanship to Doan’s neophyte infielders, and, during the first week of the session, in helping the youngsters apprehend their batting lessons. He arrived in San Antonio for the Browns’ training camp no later than March 11.

Hank Severeid: A journeyman backstop, he thumped his mitt for roughly a decade with the Browns, but his stalwart presence aided two pennant-winning clubs in the twilight of his major league career—the Senators in 1925 and the Yankees in 1926. By 1937, at age forty-five, he was a player-manager in the minors. Fresh off a stint with the Omaha Robin Hoods, he had already Hancocked a deal to pilot the Galveston Buccaneers (this would be his final summer as a player). He arrived at Hot Springs on February 16 to share the tricks of his craft with Doan’s apprentice catchers; these ought to have included Wiest. By March 16, Severeid was in Galveston for the Bucs’ opening workout.

Johnny Mostil: In his prime a fleet outfielder with the White Sox, Mostil twice nabbed an American League title for stolen bases. Now, at age forty, he was skipper of the Eau Claire Bears, in the Cubbies chain, and still an able fly-chaser. Under his reins, the Bears had taken the

1936 Northern League crown. He mentored Doan outfielders: per one article, “the ‘faculty’ includes a recognized

Pic5expert at every position on the diamond.” Naturally, students would have felt lucky to absorb his bag-purloining methodology.

Joe “Germany” Schultz: Stationed largely at infield slots upon arrival in the bigs, he logged substantial outfieldtime as his career meandered. He spent more years with the Cardinals than with any other club. Later, he managed in the minors. Having reached age forty-three, Schultz was, in 1937, a high-caliber scout in the Cards’ farm system. By early March, he was reportedly judging horsehide talent in Riverside, California, and later that month, in Houston. While at Hot Springs, regardless of any scouting he might have done, he assisted Mostil with outfielders.

Walter “Union Man” Holke: In his salad days Holke was a first baseman, primarily for the Giants, Braves, and Phillies, and the forty -four-year-old still could wear multiple caps. Aside from managing the Terre Haute Tots in the Class B Illinois-Indiana -Iowa (or “Three-I”) League, he doubled as scout for their parent club, the St. Louis Browns. Labeled an actual instructor in Doan brochures, he stayed at theschool for at least two weeks, appearing with colleague Jack Ryan sometime before March 15. Holke was admittedly searching out prospects he could spirit away for his Hoosier outfit, and he did go north with several players from the school. One of these young men, pitcher Elmere P. “Elmer” Wright, went on to whiff 212 batters over the course of his season, 90 with the Tots and 122 for the Mayfield (Kentucky) Clothiers of the Class D Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee (or “Kitty”) League. His National Guard unit was mobilized the fall before he would have attended the Browns’ spring training (the Browns were keeping close tabs on his progress in the minors). Overseas, in southeast England, during the two weeks leading up to D-Day, Wright

Pic6was still tossing a baseball. Former college catcher Hal Baumgarten (later a consultant during the filming of Saving Private Ryan) said, “Wright was fast. I had to put a double sponge in the glove.” Elmer Wright was killed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

Lew Fonseca: A former major league player and manager, “sweet-singing baritone,” and film enthusiast, thirty-eight-year old Fonseca crisscrossed the country as “super salesman of the American League.” Several late 1936/early 1937 articles listed him as an instructor at the Doan school in 1937. Also, a Wilbert “Wib” Henkel, in a 1999 syndicated column on collectibles, asserted that he had been a Doan student in 1937 and possessed a Fonseca autograph. Between February and June that year, Fonseca was on a six-thousand-mile tour throughout the eastern U.S. with 1910s and 1920s junior circuit shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh. The pair could easily have swung west and shown their popular movie, Heads-Up Baseball, at the school. If so, they might not have lingered at the bathing capital. Fonseca: “We have a solid schedule for one-day stands at colleges, CCC camps, luncheon groups and father-and-son groups.” Umpire George Moriarty directed the “six-reel talkie,” which was “sponsored by the Fisher Body Division of General Motors.” The movie had a cast of “more than 50 American leaguers.”

Pic7George “Gorgeous George”/“Gentleman George” Sisler: The retired Browns first- sacker had been one of the original nestors at Doan’s 1933 school. By 1937 he was boosting softball for the masses and running a sporting goods store in St. Louis. Sisler was forty-three when the session began and less than two years away from getting his own passport to Cooperstown.

Wid “Spark Plug” Matthews: This forty-year -old “official in the expansive Cardinal farm system” had a short playing career with the Athletics and Senators in the 1920s. He later worked for the Dodgers, Cubs, Braves, Mets, and Angels. His greatest achievement may have been signing Ernie Banks for the Cubs.

Bob “Bullet Bob”/“Rapid Robert”/“The Heater from Van Meter” Feller: As far back as December, when Doan originally convinced the young hurler to participate, Tribe management tried to squelch his involvement, understandably fearing he might ruin his phenomenal arm. As late as February 25, he was mulling his opportunity “to coach a few days at the Doan Baseball school.” Ultimately, Feller’s role was reduced to that of “prize exhibit” for a single day. Doan said of the eighteen-year-old sensation, “I wanted to get a typical American boy” to inspire the students.

Lynwood “Schoolboy” Rowe: The Detroit pitcher suffered an accident en route to Hot Springs on February 15. “His automobile collided with the rear end of an oil truck” near Prescott, but his scratches, cuts, and broken nose were quickly “patched up” at a hospital there. On the sixteenth he informed reporters at the Majestic Hotel that “there’s nothing the matter with the old wing, thank goodness! My car was badly damaged and I finished the trip by bus to Arkadelphia, remaining there overnight and coming here this morning.” His former high school coach in El Dorado, Bill Walton, chauffeured him from Arkadelphia. One news story indicated the twenty- seven-year-old slab-man was only in Hot Springs to soak in the baths prior to traveling on to the Tigers’ training camp at Lakeland, Florida. Another had it that Rowe announced he would assist at the Doan school until March 1. Players in town for their own training purposes did lend a hand at the school if they happened by, and Rowe had been on the staff in 1936.

Miles “Spike” Hunter: This Hot Springs native was thirty-five when the session began. With the Little Rock Travelers in 1936, then with the House of David, he would serve as player- manager of the 1937 Jonesboro Giants in the Class D Northeast Arkansas League. In 1938 he plied his trade in a similar capacity with the Hot Springs Bathers. The Sporting News of April 8 labeled him a Doan instructor. The March 27 New Era concentrated on Hunter’s quest for young material with which he could stock his team.

Wilmer “Rip” Schroeder: The twenty-eight-year-old minor league twirler (his career lasted from 1930 through 1940) was hired as “boys’ supervisor” for 1937. Schroeder’s duties were to “arrange housing accommodations, ascertain the religion of each boy and see to it that he answers the roll call at that place, and in general supervise after-hours conduct.” Schroeder may have been one of those “Three Competent Counsellors” lukewarmly touted in a February 18, 1937, Sporting News ad aimed at potential late registrants for the course. Post-baseball, he was destined to be the sheriff of Scott County, Minnesota, an “internationally known” pigeon breeder, and a dedicated Red Cross volunteer.

Homer Cole: Defending the safety of his school, Doan wrote, “We employ two college graduate trainers to take care of sprains and muscular soreness.” Half of that duo was the twenty -nine-year-old University of Illinois grad Cole, who in 1936 worked with the North Carolina State football program under Heartley “Hunk” Anderson. In the 1940s Cole was “on the training staff of the [Chicago] Bears.” During World War II, Navy Lieutenant Cole was gridiron boss at Arkansas A&M (due to its V-12 training school) and took his Boll Weevils to the 1944 Oil Bowl.

Homer Wright: Overseeing the students’ “general health” was “Dr. Wright, one of Hot Springs’ most prominent physicians and surgeons.” Wright turned thirty-seven a few days after the school opened. He was an athlete himself, competing in tennis tournaments across the South. Wright was apparently not the only doctor associated with the school this year. A March 10 Dallas Morning News editorial quoted Doan: “We have a clinic of seven doctors who are at our students’ service day or night . . .” Thermal baths were also available as needed.

Jack Ryan: This venerable Cardinals scout, along with Browns scout Walter Holke, witnessed the 1937 session’s waning days. Now sixty-eight, the quondam major league catcher (as well as coach and manager at lower levels) had settled into the vocation of identifying players who had promise, then funneling said youngsters into the professional ranks.

Pat Monahan: Rumored to have been a pitcher in his youth, the forty-eight-year-old ivory hunter was exploring Doan’s jungle by February 20 on the Browns’ behalf. This formidable raconteur seldom lacked for confidence or garrulity, dishing out his “endless fund of information about players” and “thousands of stories.” In a radio stunt, he once extemporized for twenty-two straight hours.

Individuals Named Only Once as 1937 Doan School Instructors

The December 25, 1936 Omaha World Herald listed Dodgers manager Burleigh Grimes and the immortal Tris Speaker as teachers for the upcoming term at Doan’s school. (Speaker was voted into the Hall of Fame the next month; Grimes, “the last legal spitballer,” would have to wait until 1964 for his own induction at Cooperstown.) Also noted was Dutch Zwilling, then manager of the Kansas City Blues, who were minor league grangers on Yankee acreage. I found no other source linking any of the trio to Hot Springs during the appropriate time frame, not even later issues of the same paper. All three were 1936 faculty members, and the Nebraska scribe might simply have assumed they would return.

From Start to Finish, 1937

The school, for boys age fifteen and up (that year the top age was twenty-five), ran from February 15 through April 1 or so, but much occurred prior to mid-February.

The January 9 issue of the New Era reported: “The thermometer took a nose dive in Hot Springs yesterday, but the first harbinger of spring arrived, nevertheless. With a cold wave riding on his heels, Ray Doan . . . blew into town to make arrangements for the 1937 term . . .” A nineteen- year-old from Massachusetts was the early bird among the students, showing up in Hot Springs two days behind Doan.

From his desk at school “headquarters” in the Como Hotel, Doan took care of business. He replied promptly to copious inquiries about whether disastrous Midwestern flooding had spread to Garland County: “Hot Springs is high and dry, never has been threatened, and is a couple of hundred miles away from such danger.” One of his toughest duties was to turn down applications from boys who were still in school, as the Baseball School’s vernal semester conflicted with standard pedagogic calendars. Sometimes he had to do this in person if a boy suddenly quit his classes and popped up here. Doan likely disseminated last-minute information about expenses, too. Tuition was $40 for March, according to circulars (cost for the first two weeks was unspecified; a 1936 ad listed the full fee as $60, exactly as Wiest recalled, but $50 if paid before January 20). Room and board was “obtainable in clean, respectable hotels and private homes for $7 a week or less.”

On January 27, Doan addressed the regular meeting of the Hot Springs Kiwanis, providing an optimistic forecast about his upcoming school.

Early the next month, Doan formally divulged the names of eleven of his 1937 professors. On February 4, the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat enumerated the mavens: Dean, Warneke, Hornsby, Feller, Sisler, Severeid, Mostil, Fonseca, Schultz, Holke, and Matthews. In March, a “ranting” letter from Doan to the Dallas Morning News posited: “Such men… aren’t hired for a song.” He slipped one other detail into his missive: “During the course of the school we use 100 dozen baseballs.” These “three typewritten pages of testimony” were sent to combat a negative editorial penned by George White, a skeptic of baseball schools. Doan was “reported to have cleared in the neighborhood of $100,000” from his educational work, so he wanted to remind everyone that he had expenses.

On the sixth, Doan released intelligence of a bold scheme: “Several days ago Mr. Doan wired President Roosevelt, requesting that he deliver a message to the boys when they assemble for their first meeting [February 15]. Since that time a lengthy telegram also has been sent Senator Joe T. Robinson, [who] was asked to assist in getting the president to speak over long distance telephone to the Doan baseball pupils. The Southwestern Bell Telephone company, it was announced, is ready to install equipment that will amplify the president’s voice, so that every one in the room will be able to hear it.” Neither FDR’s daily appointment logs nor Eleanor Roosevelt’s daily newspaper columns nor any other subsequent accounts offer so much as a hint that the gambit was effective.

Pic8The February 14 Sentinel-Record stated that Doan had met “during the past week” with “a group of representative Hot Springs community leaders” about “a program of activities for the leisure time of his students.” Doan wanted the boys to experience “one evening’s entertainment” per week, so they could get to know local citizens and, later, speak well of the Spa City in their hometowns. “S.A. Kemp, chamber of commerce president, called the meeting to order and explained its purpose . . . Elmer

Crowley, Garland county recreation leader; Miss Carrie Lou Ritchie, YWCA executive; and Floyd Huddleston, Boy Scout executive, were among the group to offer many interesting suggestions.”

In the weeks preceding February 15, an election had been underway. The Sporting News would soon award ten scholarships to prodigies craving instruction at Hot Springs. Readers could cast their ballots for candidates (all write-in) by enriching the publication. A year subscription counted as 400 votes for the stripling of choice, six months got him 175, and three months garnered 75. A cheaper option allowed backers to clip a “Scholarship Coupon” from the News and mail it in, each coupon worth 5 votes.

The Sporting News announced these ten winners, in descending order of votes received: Albert Wild, Collinsville, Illinois; William Enos, Cohasset, Massachusetts; Edward Osick, Jr., St. Charles, Missouri; Arnie Velcheck, Thorp, Wisconsin; Arthur C. Eddy, National City, California; Warren Kellogg, Lansing, Michigan; Harold Koopmann, Plymouth, Wisconsin; Edward Hughes, Richmond, Virginia; Joseph Rappazini, Negaunee, Michigan; and Francis Ettinger, Sebago Lake, Maine. All were to receive “free tuition, room and meals and $20 travel allowance” and be “equipped with uniforms made by the Rawlings Mfg. Company, St. Louis, Mo. and with ‘Lefty O’Doul’ shoes made by the Brooks Shoe Mfg. Company, Philadelphia, Pa.” Wild racked up a whopping 19,900 points. The February 25 issue also put Al Pepper of Washington, D.C. in the select group; the previous week’s results had him finishing fourteenth. The March 18 issue ran a picture of the suited-up winners in Hot Springs, and a twelfth young man, Joe Contini of Dover, Ohio, had been added. His vote total put him in twelfth place, per the original announcement. In the photo, “The Sporting News,” in Old English font, adorned the spotless Rawlings jerseys.

Pic9At 9:00 a.m., February 15, an “informal opening” of the school began at the “school headquarters, Ouachita avenue and Market street.” Unless Doan had use of another building in that vicinity, it was apparently the Como Hotel again. There, S. A. Kemp welcomed students to Hot Springs. This location may have been where Wiest registered and proffered his I.O.U. (acceptance of young Albert’s token belies criticism that Doan was completely mercenary) and where at least a few indoor chalk talks would have been held “in the event of inclement weather conditions.”

Local sportswriter Roy Bosson reported that 373 students had “journeyed to Hot Springs, Ark., by Pullman, bus, truck, freight and the thumb route to attend” the school: “One group from Wisconsin rolled in on a dilapidated truck, while two from New York arrived in style, driving a Packard.” Latecomers were still showing up. The tally would have been higher, in Doan’s opinion, except for cancellations caused by fear of flooding.Pic10

Bosson continued: “In greeting the students, Doan stressed the fact that his school is conducted on a ‘frank basis.’ ‘If, at the end of the school, a student has shown no natural ability we tell him to go home and forget baseball, other than as a recreation.’”

The school used three playing fields: Ban Johnson at Whittington Park (current site of Weyerhauser offices and parking), Older (above the Alligator Farm), and Dean “at the end of Morrison avenue” (where the Boys and Girls Club grounds are today). At that time, Dean Field had two diamonds. “On rainy days, when the students are unable to get outdoors,” the aspiring lads received instruction indoors. “By diagrams, actual word and motion pictures the instructors point out the fundamentals . . .” Rain or shine, teachers conducted classes at night, “skull features” with “a large blackboard.”

As no rain fell on February 15, everybody betook themselves to their assigned pea patches.

Two men from the Chicago Daily News accompanied Doan and Hornsby on the jaunt to Whittington Park. At Ban Johnson Field, Hornsby put seventy-nine student infielders “through their paces.” The youngsters “were sent trotting twice around the park and then given brief instructions. They were told to ‘hold your steam’ for a few days and not to throw away their arms. The Rajah made them stand at the plate one by one, showed the proper stance and gave them such pointers as only one of his experience can.”

The gruff Hornsby apparently excelled with boys: “When [the students] ‘take a lap’ around the field, he jogs along beside them, kidding and scuffling with them. Before the first day of class was over, most of them were calling him ‘Rajah.’” (He was less popular with major leaguers of his acquaintance, many of whom found him ill-tempered, unpredictable, and blunt; Hall of Fame shortstop Travis Jackson, of Waldo, Arkansas, once uttered, diplomatically: “He had a good way of making everybody irritated.”)

From Doan’s office, Warneke and Dean “jumped in Warneke’s car and headed for Dean Field, where nearly 100 ambitious young pitchers and catchers were awaiting them.” The ratio was about two-thirds hurlers to one-third backstops. “Dean lined up the pitchers and catchers and started warming them up.” According to one article, this meant calisthenics. “‘And don’t let me see any of you boys bearing down,’ yelled the Diz. ‘You’ll have plenty of time to limber up your arms and legs.’ Dean sent the pitchers in squads of four to Warneke, who, standing in the box, would have the boy show him how he pitched. Then, in most cases, Lon would show the boy a better way.”

Warneke was encouraging. To “one chap who wore glasses,” he effused, “Holy mackerel! Look at that kid pitch! Son, I am going to put you up against Diz for a strikeout record.” To another student: “Young fellow, you’ve got the stuff that makes pitchers. I mean it, too. There’ll come a day when you will step into the box and feel that you’ve got everything, that the opposing team is at your mercy. Your fast one will zip over and your curves will cut the corners, and you will split the heart of the plate. When the day comes there will be a little fellow standing back of the plate and he will break your heart. Every time you throw over a strike what will that little fellow say, Diz?”

Pic11Dean chimed in on cue, “He’ll yell ‘Ball’ . . . You see, that fellow is blind.”

A third man, silent until now, spoke up: “Will you two guys do me a favor?”

Dean: “Yes, Mister.”

“Remember those nasty cracks you just made and repeat them when the season is on and I’m calling ‘em. Will you do that, please?”

“Well, if it isn’t our old pal, George Barr,” Warneke said loudly, and Barr “joined in the big laugh that followed.”

The Dizzy One could also be pragmatic: “Dean studied the style of each young pitcher, advised him of ways to strengthen his delivery and then showed them how he pitched.” A bit of moralizing came in the bargain: “The main thing’s control. And to have control you’ve got to have control of yourself—live clean, let booze alone and don’t smoke to excess.”

As for the youngling outfielders, one article claimed they worked out at Dean Field under O’Leary. Another indicated they were among the group Hornsby led at Ban Johnson. Either scenario might suggest that Doan’s two outfield specialists, Mostil and Schultz, had not yet arrived in Hot Springs.

For the entire aggregation, “a hike over the mountains was in prospect for [the] afternoon.”

That night, the school’s formal opening and banquet took place at the Eastman Hotel dining room, where “elaborate preparations” had been made. A thirty-minute program, slated for eight o’clock, included speeches by Doan, Hornsby, Dean, Warneke, O’Leary, Barr, Peters, and Mayor Leo McLaughlin. The remarks were broadcast over Hot Springs radio station KTHS. Dean imparted this nugget to pupils: “When you get to be a big star, some tight baseball managers and owners will try to cut you down on your salary. Don’t let ’em do it. Do like I’m doing right now. Stick for everything you are worth.”

On February 16, photos were taken. The previous afternoon, Doan had queried his students, “How many of you would like to have your pictures taken sitting in a group chatting with Dean, Warneke, and Hornsby? All of you who would, hold up your hands.” Allen Tilden’s “Every Now’n Then” column in the February 16 Arkansas Democrat reported that “every hand in the classroom went up.” The images produced that day—at least the three I have examined—were deficient in the “chatting” aspect, but, as Tilden wrote, “It’s real work for Dean, Warneke, and Hornsby. Imagine yourself posing for approximately 300 pictures in a single day.” Nonetheless, many of the school’s alumni would have treasured these souvenirs.

Pic12Ben Epstein of the Arkansas Gazette visited the school on February 20. “Rain forced the young buckos indoors today for the second straight day but it failed to dampen their enthusiasm. Professor Doan hired the Hot Springs High School gymnasium, divided up time for the teams and they went at it on the asphalt ‘diamond.’” The practice leagues noted by Wiest had come into existence.

Wiest’s memoir also describes a lecture by “some guy on the stage, armed with a bat,” in “an old union hall.” One wonders who he saw, and where. On the twentieth, at the high school gym, “Professor Hornsby was in charge of the morning session. In a way, the Rajah was handicapped. He hit a measly .424 in [1924] and over .300 for goodness knows how many seasons, which well qualifies him to the art of assaulting that apple. However, the bad weather put him on the spot of sermonizing on how to field and throw a ball.”

Among would-be hurlers Epstein encountered were H. T. Weaver of Mt. Ida and Norman Scott of Marianna, both in the Warneke clan: Scott a first cousin, Weaver a nephew. “‘Uncle Lon might have the pitching edge but you just get us in a tobacco-spittin’ contest,’ snapped H.T., who is a dead ringer for the former Cub and present Cardinal moundmaster.” Weaver pitched in the Cardinal organization for eight seasons between 1939 and 1949. Scott pitched in the Tiger farm system for seven seasons between 1941 and 1951.

Warneke clan: Scott a first cousin, Weaver a nephew. “‘Uncle Lon might have the pitching edge but you just get us in a tobacco-spittin’ contest,’ snapped H.T.,

Epstein interviewed another “carefree youth” on the twentieth: “Mr. Doan said student James Vinson of Junction, Ill., is the school’s problem child and it is likely he will injure some one if

he isn’t curbed. He throws with either hand and bats from either side. Two kids now are nursing head-hickeys because James lobbed one over left-handed and then crossed ‘em up with a righthanded peg. ‘I don’t mean any harm,’ says the six-foot farm boy . . . ‘I was born left- handed. After about 10 years of left-handing, my folks decided left-handed folks aren’t up to snuff and they urged me to try eating, chunking and batting from the right side. Well, I kept that up for six years and now—I’m pretty pert with either hand. It’s loads of fun. Hornsby can’t do it.’”

 Pic15 Pic14Flame-flinger Bob Feller paused at Hot Springs on February 27, in the company of Indians coach (and watchdog, probably) Wally Schang. They had rail tickets for New Orleans, the Indians’ training site. While at the school, Feller proudly discussed his newly acquired command of the curve. Having met their one-day obligation, the two again boarded the train. Earl Whitehill, presumably in tip- top condition after an extended stay at the Vapor Valley, joined them. All three rode to Memphis to rendezvous with the main Tribe contingent, on its way down from Cleveland.

Much of the tutoring was said to be incorporated into live games. Despite the loss of marquee instructors by mid- March (partly explaining Wiest’s comments about their scarcity), the school had enough boys to set up sixteen teams in two leagues. The rationale was that this permitted “students a chance to develop and show what they can do under fire.” The 1937 Doan teams, following major league precedent, were called the Athletics, the Bees (the Boston National League franchise commenced a five-year stretch as the Bees in January 1936, but changed back to the Braves while the 1941 season was in its infancy), the Browns, the Cardinals, the Cubs, the Dodgers, the Giants, the Indians, the Phillies, the Pirates, the Reds, the Red Sox, the Senators, the Tigers, the White Sox, and the Yankees (for whom evidence of Wiest’s toil is found beneath the Hot Springs New Era subhead “Doan School Loop Results”). “For four weeks starting March 1,” Doan wrote to the Dallas Morning News, “we play a schedule of twenty-two games in which all students participate.”

By session’s end, about one-third of the fledgling ballplayers had been tendered professional contracts.

Although George Barr’s pupils gained experience by umpiring the curricular tilts, Barr himself “officiated” at least twice, in a climactic March 21 doubleheader at Ban Johnson Field. “General John J. Pershing, here for a brief rest, has been extended an invitation to throw the first ball in the second [game] which starts at 3 o’clock, while the Hot Springs High school band has also been invited to attend and play during the ceremonies. The first baseball game will begin at 1 o’clock.” In the first game, the “Ray Doan All-Stars” whipped a Greenwood, Arkansas, nine by the tune of 8-5. The nightcap saw contract recipients of the “National League” frustrate their “A.L.” counterparts, 7-5. In another feature that afternoon, “the field day exercises, carried on in conjunction with the twin bill, found Keith Powell, Lansing, Mich., winning the base circling honors with his good time of 14.5 seconds. Charlie Burnett, Kilgore, Tex., won the baseball throwing contest for catchers.”

The Sporting News revealed that Miles Hunter had just become manager of the Jonesboro club. He took eleven students with him to northeast Arkansas: “The youngsters are Bill Menser, Lefty Hughes, Wess Ray and Bill Rumfelt, pitchers; Andy Bach, catcher; Wily Sunderland, outfielder, and Klein Powell, Joe Cantini, Benny Labello, Roland Hamilton, and Al Pepper, infielders.” Jonesboro, along with Abbeville, Louisiana, of the Evangeline League, “recruited entire teams from the school.” Judging by data compiled at, only two of Hunter’s picks made the Jonesboro team. Of those, only Edward Hughes played more than one year in organized ball. His seven-season/nine-team/eight-league odyssey began at Jonesboro in 1937 and ended with a single inning pitched for the 1946 Dunn-Erwin (North Carolina) Twins in the Class D Tobacco State League.

The school closed for the year on March 27. On the twenty-ninth, Doan climbed into a car and departed for Muscatine, Iowa. With him were his wife and son, who had been in Hot Springs for six weeks. Before motoring off, Doan pronounced his 1937 term “more successful than any of the previous sessions,” but warned: “If we can obtain more playing fields we will have a much larger school next year, but unless the present situation is remedied the next school will not be a large one.” He “also expressed a desire for better housing for his students next year.”

His 1938 session would attract a record 450 students. After 1938 the Ray Doan school bell would ring no more in Hot Springs. The Doan baseball school had, for a few years, been as close as most Doan youngsters would get to a brass ring—a fabulous career in the big leagues.


A special tip of the cap to Steve Arrison, Nigel Ayres, Gary Bedingfield, Shirley Bennett, Tom Hill, Andreas Raht, Liz Robbins, Bill Rogers, the Allan Roth Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, Jim Sargent, Thor Stratton, Nancy Waldo, and Anthony Youngkin.


Advertisements and correspondence in Doan School and Barr School files, Garland County Historical Society.

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Baton Rouge State Times, various issues 1935; 1937-38; 1968.

Bedingfield, Gary. Scotty Robb, accessed at

Bedingfield, Gary. The Bedford Ballplayers, accessed at

Bennett, Shirley, Telephone interview. June 26, 2013.

Bowling Green Daily News, July 1, 1999.

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Columbus Daily Enquirer, July 26, 1919.

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Decatur Herald-Review, January 23, 2011.

Devine, Bing with Tom Wheatley. The Memoirs of Bing Devine: Stealing Lou Brock and Other Winning Moves by a Master GM. New York City, New York: Sports Publishing, 2011.

Duren, Don. Boiling Out at the Springs: A History of Major League Baseball Spring Training at Hot Springs, Arkansas. Dallas, Texas: Hodge Printing Company, 2006.

Elmer Wright, accessed at

Evansville Courier, January 24, 1937.

“FDR: Day by Day,” accessed at

Fimrite, Ron. “The Raging Rajah,” Sports Illustrated, October 2, 1995, accessed at http://

“Frosty Peters,” accessed at
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Robinson. New York City, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.
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Hervieux, Linda. “Bronx man remembers D-Day, visits cemetery in Normandy on anniversary of famed World War II invasion,” New York Daily News, June 5, 2009, accessed at http:// normandy-anniversary-famed-world-war-ii-invasion-article-1.373634.

“History of the Sheriffs of Scott County” accessed at
Hye, Allen E. “Fonseca, Lewis Albert ‘Lew,’” in Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Baseball,

Volume 1, edited by David L. Porter. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000. Kalamazoo Gazette, January 23, 1921.
La Prensa (Los Angeles), February 22, 1936.

La Prensa (San Antonio), March 16, 1937.
Livingston, Ginger. “WWII Vet Shares Story with Students,” October 29, 2012, accessed at http:// Miami Herald, April 30, 1913.

“My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt,” accessed at New Era, various issues, 1937.
New Orleans Item, September 20, 1901.
New Orleans Times Picayune, various issues, 1932-33; 1937.

Omaha World Herald, various issues, 1936-38; 1977.
Portland Oregonian, various issues, 1936-37.
Riverside Daily Press, various issues, 1937-38.
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Rockford Register-Republic, various issues, 1937-38.
Sargent, Jim. Ben Huffman, SABR Baseball Biography Project, accessed at Sentinel-Record, various issues, 1937; 1960-61.

Seymour, Harold. Baseball: The People’s Game. New York City, New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1991.

Social Security Death Index, accessed at

Sporting News, various issues, 1928; 1936-37; 1939-42; 1947-51; 1954-56; 1960-61.

Springfield Republican, various issues, 1937.

Waldo, Nancy. Telephone interview. June 20, 2013.

Wiest, Col. (Ret.) Albert. “Baseball As It Was: Before the War.” The 164th Infantry News, July 2012, 14- 16.


Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

When the Hot Springs Historical Baseball Trail was opened in 2012, it was planned that more plaques would be added as research continued and additional qualified honorees were identified. So, it is with great pride that the City of Hot Springs announces its two newest inclusions in “The Trail.” They are Hall of Fame sluggers Al Simmons and Stan Musial.

These two legendary figures from baseball’s rich history both compare and contrast with one another. Both men began life with poor immigrant backgrounds, and had to work at an early age to help support their large families. Each grew up near large industrial complexes where soot and pollution were everyday issues. Both were Polish-American and devout Roman Catholics. Simmons and Musial both loved baseball, and worked tirelessly to reach their potential…in both cases, setting lasting records on their way to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Oddly, each man achieved his athletic goals while using batting techniques that defied traditional methodology. Yet, there were also differences.

Although open and engaging, Simmons was a brash, swaggering fellow who was not opposed to self-promotion or occasional confrontation. Conversely, Musial was friendly, temperate and modest: more inclined to move folks with a warm smile than with a direct challenge.

Alois Szymanski was born to Polish immigrant parents on the south side of Milwaukee on May 22, 1902. His father died when he was only eight years old, which meant that young Al had to help his mother feed his five younger siblings. Happily, there was still time for baseball, and Simmons developed into a powerful and promising all-around diamond talent. Like many other ethnic ballplayers, Szymanski decided to “Anglicize” his name, whereupon he became Al Simmons. By age twenty-two in 1924, he joined the legendary Connie Mack and his Philadelphia Athletics. He was an instant success at the Major League level.

Batting right-handed, the six-foot, 200-pound Simmons stepped toward third base as he swung, thereby inviting the peculiar nickname, “Bucketfoot Al.” Despite the unorthodox batting style, Simmons consistently pounded the ball to all fields. In his rookie year with the A’s, Al batted .308 and drove in 102 runs. Yet, it was only a prequel to what followed. In his second season, in 1925, the burly Simmons hit .387, belted twenty-four home runs, and knocked in 129 runs. Al was also an excellent defensive outfielder as well as a fine base runner.

Simmons added another star-caliber campaign in 1926 (.341 batting average) as the Athletics came closer to dethroning Babe Ruth and the lordly New Yankees as kingpins of the American League. Yet, as the A’s continued to improve in 1927, Al Simmons took a step backward, playing in only 109 games due to a serious groin injury. So, when he arrived for spring training at Fort Myers in 1928, Simmons was determined to make amends. By all accounts, he worked extra-hard to avoid a recurrence of the strained groin.

What happened next is difficult to explain by way of 21st Century medical hindsight. All we know with certainty is that Al Simmons missed the first twenty-seven games of the 1928 season due to rheumatoid arthritis in both ankles. It was a condition which threatened to prematurely end his career at age twenty-six. As he did in 1927, Al played very well when he was in the lineup (batting .392 and .351 respectively), but, also as in 1927, he missed many games, ultimately playing in 119 contests that year. That is when Al Simmons discovered Hot Springs.

Shortly after the conclusion of the 1928 season, when the Yankees barely withstood a determined assault by the Athletics, Simmons journeyed to the Valley of the Vapors to save his career. The connection is unclear, but it may have been at the suggestion of Tris Speaker who played his final season with Simmons in Philadelphia that year. It is a fact that the legendary “Grey Eagle” had trained and played in Hot Springs many times throughout his career, and looked very favorably on his experiences there. Either way, Al Simmons arrived in the Spa City in the fall of 1928, and kept returning for the remainder of his life.

Simmons took the thermal baths, and hiked the mountain trails until traveling home to his native Milwaukee for Christmas. Obviously, he saw some significant benefits, because he headed back to Arkansas on January 30, this time in the company of six teammates. Al continued to train for the 1929 season for about a month before joining the rest of the pennant hungry A’s in Florida. And what were the final results? Al Simmons played in 143 games, leading the Philadelphia Athletics to victory in the World Series. Along the way, he batted .365, slugged thirty-four home runs, and drove in 157 runs…all by a guy who thought that he may have been “washed up” the preceding year. That was it; Simmons was hooked on Hot Springs.

With Connie Mack’s blessing, Al came to The Valley in early February, 1930, and actually played his entire spring training schedule with the Minneapolis Millers (American Association) who were also in town. This time, Simmons brought good friend and future Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane with him. In fact, before their respective careers were over, almost every prominent member of those dynastic Athletic teams journeyed to Hot Springs for conditioning. That included pitchers Jack Quinn, George Earnshaw, Howard Ehmke and Lefty Grove as well as position players Cochrane, Jimmy Dykes, Bing Miller and Jimmie Foxx.

Al’s Hot Springs highlight that spring was a four-hit, two-homer game versus Little Rock on March 17. Simmons eventually rejoined the A’s back in Philadelphia on April 12 in time to blast a long home run off Grover Cleveland Alexander in the annual City Series against the Phillies. It turned out to be another fabulous year for Al Simmons who batted .381, belted thirty-six homers and knocked in 165 runs, helping the A’s repeat as World Champions.

Unquestionably, Simmons was drawn to Hot Springs for a variety of reasons, including his natural affinity for its history and culture. Yet, there were some practical baseball-only factors as well. For example, Al felt that the fields in Arkansas were better maintained than their counterparts in Florida. Plus, he believed that the turf was softer around Hot Springs than in Fort Myers, thereby making life easier for his weak ankles. Furthermore, Simmons preferred the Arkansas weather over that in Florida. In this regard, Al was a little like Goldilocks and her porridge. Simmons felt that the temperatures in the Valley were not too hot…not too cold…but just right. According to Al, the temps were ideal for hiking and training from February through early March. Then, in late March and early April, the climate was perfect for playing baseball.

Finding great success in this format, Simmons followed the same spring schedule in 1931, again arriving in February and playing for Minneapolis. On March 14, 1931 at Whittington Park, Al went 4 for 4 against his hometown Milwaukee Brewers while clubbing an impressive home run over the center field fence. The next day, he did even better…much better. Simmons recorded four more hits, including three homers versus the Brewers. For the season, Al Simmons repeated as American League batting champion (.390), and the A’s won their third straight pennant. This time, however, they lost a hard-fought seven game World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Returning to Hot Springs on February 10, 1932, Al Simmons engaged in his annual ritual of taking the baths, hiking the mountains and playing golf. Participating in an intra-squad game with the Milwaukee Brewers on March 28, Al launched two more home runs at Whittington Park. Sadly for the Philadelphia Athletics, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig led the Yankees back to the World Series in ’32, signaling the end of the Athletics’ supremacy.  Yet, no one faulted the “Duke of Milwaukee.” For the only time in his career, Simmons played in all 154 games, while posting a .322 batting average as well as clubbing thirty-five home runs and driving home 151 runs.

Due to Pennsylvania’s restrictive “Blue Laws” of that era, which banned Sabbath baseball, Connie Mack was never a wealthy man. Mack was forced to “sell off” his star players in those hard Depression times, and Al Simmons, his personal favorite, was the first to go. Sold to the Chicago White Sox at the conclusion of the 1932 season, Al still came back to Hot Springs to prepare for each baseball season.  Yet, he was no longer given the same latitude that Mack had provided. Accordingly, after spending over a month in The Valley bathing, hiking and taking batting practice, Simmons joined the White Sox for their spring schedule in Pasadena on March 7, 1933.

Baseball was never quite the same for Al Simmons after his glory days in Philadelphia. He remained a productive player for many years, but his greatness (both individually and collectively as a team member) would not return. For example, he compiled a .331 batting average for the Sox that first season, and hit fourteen home runs while adding 119 RBI’s, as Chicago finished sixth in the American League.

But, by then, Al Simmons’ love for Hot Springs was a staple in his life. He returned for more golf and conditioning in the fall of 1933, and came yet again in late January 1934. It is believed that Al normally stayed at the historic Majestic Hotel on his frequent visits to town. During a brief lull late in that ’34 season resulting from a hand injury, Al married a young beauty from Racine, Wisconsin. Almost predictably, when the couple left for their actual honeymoon to Hawaii at the conclusion of the Sox schedule, Simmons first brought his bride to Hot Springs.

And so it went for the remainder of Al Simmons’ baseball life. As he aged, his skills slowly diminished, and he moved from team to team. Yet, the one constant was his annual visits to the Valley of the Vapors. Even when Simmons returned to the Athletics in the 1940s as a coach for Connie Mack, he would still start each season with a visit to Hot Springs. In his quest to stay fit, it was reported that Al jogged the steep trails outside of town while wearing heavy logger’s boots. That insight should be a factor in any discussion of Al Simmons.

Despite enjoying an immensely successful career, Simmons fell seventy-three hits short of making it to the celebrated 3,000 Hit Club, and it troubled him deeply. After retiring, Simmons often publicly berated himself for missing so many games due to injury. He felt, probably with good cause, that he sometimes stayed out of action too long as he recovered from his various ailments. Taking their cue from the player himself, many modern fans now look upon Al Simmons as somewhat of a wastrel…a vastly talented player who never lived up to his potential. Yet, when reviewing his baseball life in detail, that seems unfair.

Al Simmons was one tough dude. Certainly, Connie Mack admired him and his work ethic. Why else, in his twilight years, would Mack have stated that a lineup of nine Al Simmonses would have been his dream team? Although Simmons’ medical profile is not definitive after the fact, it is certain that he suffered from chronic arthritis pain from 1928 onward. His history is replete with accounts of pain not only in his ankles but in his hips, arms and shoulders. When you combine those facts with his known record for strenuous conditioning at Hot Springs, it seems plausible that posterity has been unkind to Alois Szymanski.

Yes, Al liked to party, and he was known as a heavy drinker later in life. But, as in the case of Babe Ruth, partying hard and working hard were not mutually exclusive. Both men left a verifiable trail of prodigiously hard work. When all the facts are considered, it seems likely that Al Simmons, in keeping with his strict Catholic background, was overly judgmental about himself. Sure, he missed some games when he could have played, but he kept himself in Major League Baseball for over two decades as a player due to his dogged determination and arduous physical labor.

This is where Stan Musial enters the story. When young Stan joined the St. Louis Cardinals late in the 1941 season, Al was still hanging around as a part time player. In 1945, Simmons took over as the third base coach and de facto manager for the aging Connie Mack who remained as the nominal skipper in Philly.  Of course, during this same time, Musial’s fortunes skyrocketed in St. Louis. It was around this time that Al Simmons bonded with Stan, encouraging him to stay in the lineup and play every game to the hilt.  This was the nexus of their careers.

Al Simmons died of a heart attack in Milwaukee on May 26, 1956 at the age of fifty-four. Fortunately, he lived long enough to celebrate his induction into the Hall of Fame three years earlier. Baseball fans across the country mourned his passing, including superstar Stan Musial.

Stanislaw Franciszek Musial was born in Donora, Pennsylvania (on the banks of the Monongahela River just south of Pittsburgh) on November 21, 1920. His father, Lukasz, was a Polish immigrant, and his mother, Mary, traced her roots to the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe.

Donora was a typical, working-class town where folks earned their livelihoods by laboring long hours in one of the three steel-related foundries. That was the case with the Musial family where young “Stashu” was expected to do his part in helping to make ends meet. Fortunately, athletic activity was also encouraged, and Stanislaw was enrolled in a Polish gymnastics club (The Falcons) for four years as a child. His innate coordination was exceptional. By the time he was a teenager, Stanley (yes, he also adjusted his name to his local culture) was recognized as a rising star in both baseball and basketball. Eschewing a hoops scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, Musial agreed to a modest contract with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1937 before graduating from high school.

Despite being a good hitter, Stan was signed as a left-handed pitcher with the Cards. Although never regarded as the next Lefty Grove, Musial did well in the St. Louis farm system until falling on his left shoulder late in the 1940 season. When he reported to Florida the following spring, his velocity was gone, and his prospects were virtually non-existent. Yet, Stan Musial always seemed to have a guardian angel. In this case, it was Ollie Vanek who was the scout who had helped to sign the seventeen-year-old-pitcher back in ’37. At that pivotal moment, Vanek was the manager of the Cards’ Class-C team in Springfield, Missouri.

With essentially no other options, twenty-year-old Stanley Musial was reborn as a novice outfielder for the Springfield Cardinals in 1941. It proved to be one of the most miraculous transformations in the history of American sports. In eighty-seven games at Springfield, Musial tore apart Western Association pitching at a torrid .379 clip, whereupon he was promoted to Class-AA Rochester in the International League. There, in fifty-four contests, Stan batted .326 before returning home to Donora.

Settling in for the off-season, Musial was suddenly and unexpectedly summoned by the Cardinals who were making a late run for the National League pennant. Joining the big club in mid-September, the shy kid from the steel mills of Western Pennsylvania batted .426 over the final twelve games in that seemingly fictional series of events. In April 1941, Stan Musial had been a sore-armed pitcher who almost nobody wanted, and, by September of that same year, he was a slugging outfielder who was the envy of every franchise in Major League Baseball.

With Musial as their everyday left fielder in 1942, the St. Louis Cardinals accomplished something that had eluded them the preceding year. They won the National League pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers as Stan batted .315. In fact, that was the start of a decade-long Cardinal dynasty. For the remainder of the 1940s, St. Louis finished in either first or second place, winning the World Series three times along the way (1942, 1944 & 1946). Their biggest rival in that time was those Brooklyn Dodgers.

As for Stan Musial, his personal ascendency was extraordinary. In 1943, he won the first of his seven National League batting championships, hitting .357. When he missed the entire 1945 campaign due to his wartime service in the Navy, Stan won his second batting crown (.365) upon his return in 1946. It was in that same year that Musial acquired his famous nickname. Playing in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field versus the rival Dodgers, the hometown fans began chanting “Here comes the man” whenever Stan came to the plate. That refrain quickly morphed into one of baseball’s legendary sobriquets:  Stan the Man.

It was an amazing event when considered in its full context. In general, the folks in Brooklyn hated the St. Louis Cardinals. Plus, when Musial came to town, he was particularly effective in blasting baseballs over the nearby right field wall onto Bedford Avenue. Yet, even though Stan competitively tormented the Dodgers, their fans just could not dislike him. Stan Musial was simply too kind, too friendly and too classy for anyone not to like and admire.

When Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947, thereby breaking MLB’s Color Barrier, there were rumors that the somewhat Southern St. Louis franchise would not take the field with him. Musial would have none of that.  Coming from Donora where all races worked and played together in relative harmony, Stan couldn’t see it any other way (Ken Griffey, Jr.’s grandfather, Buddy, had been a high school teammate).  Although he was always reluctant to talk about it afterward, Stan the Man helped to defuse a potentially ugly incident by quietly leading his teammates into competition with Robinson.

By 1950, the Cardinals were no longer a National League power, but the baseball life of Stan Musial was still soaring. That was also the first year in which we know for sure that Al Simmons interacted with Musial. In his 1964 autobiography (The Man’s Own Story as told to Bob Broeg, Doubleday), Stan had this to say:

Although I still thought of 3,000 hits as only a hazy summit somewhere in the distance, I’d had encouraging advice from an old campaigner who had just missed–Al Simmons. In my boyhood, Aloysius Szymanski of the champion Philadelphia Athletics had been one of baseball’s greatest hitters. He was also a particular hero to kids of Polish ancestry. I had met Simmons in the spring and he said:  “Go after the 3,000 hits, kid. When I look back on games I missed that I might have played, times at bat I wasted carelessly, it was too late. I didn’t have enough left to make it, and just missed by 73. So stay in there and bear down all the way.”

By that time, Stan Musial (along with Ted Williams) was regarded as the best hitter in baseball.  Although not a large man, standing six-feet tall and weighing 180 pounds, Stan packed a mighty wallop from his unusual, coiled crouch from the left side of the plate. Back in 1948, Musial had reached his career high with thirty-nine home runs, and finished his time in the Big Leagues with an impressive total of 475 four-baggers. Apparently, he listened to Al Simmons as well.

Stan played as often and as intensely as he could, finishing his career with the Cardinals in 1963 at the age of nearly forty-three. In that time, he amassed a lifetime batting average of .331 and accrued the astonishing total of 3,630 hits (exactly 1,815 both at home and away), including 725 doubles and 177 triples.  Stan drove in 1,951 runs, and scored 1,949 times. He was also a speedy runner and dependable defender in either left field or at first base (where he often played according to team need).

Since Stan Musial came along after the glory days of Hot Springs baseball, he has no record of playing there (unlike his buddy, Al Simmons, who could easily find his way into the line-ups of teams playing actual games in the Spa City as part of their spring training).  Yet, there were other reasons for athletes to travel to Hot Springs.

After the 1950 season, Stan and good friend, Yogi Berra (a St. Louis native), came to the Valley for some winter conditioning and relaxation. Then, there was Musial’s close personal relationship with Arkansas native, Lon Warneke. “The Arkansas Humming Bird” had been a highly successful Big League pitcher (193 wins and 3.18 E.R.A.) and, later, a respected Major League umpire. In November 1951, both men spoke at a Lions Club meeting in Hot Springs, and Musial was known to have returned many times throughout his life to fish and hunt with Warneke in central Arkansas.

Stan also visited the Spa City with Cards owner Gussie Busch on numerous occasions (usually staying at the Arlington Hotel) where he took the baths, bet the ponies at Oaklawn Park, bowled, and hiked the mountain trails to stay in shape. It can reasonably be assumed that Simmons recommended such activity to Musial when giving him counsel for reaching his athletic potential. It should also be recalled that Stanley was no stranger to competition in the Natural State, having played many exhibition games in Little Rock.

Stan the Man Musial had a passion for living along with his love of baseball. He was an amateur magician as well as a devoted harmonica player, the latter activity being an annual ritual when Stan attended the Hall of Fame inductions in Cooperstown. Everywhere he went, people were drawn to him for his natural warmth and smiling countenance. When wearing his trademark Cardinals uniform, Musial played with a childlike joy which was infectious. After winning three Most Valuable Player Awards (1943, 1946 & 1948), appearing in twenty-four All-Star Games and setting countless records, Musial still had that gift. The day after the birth of his first grandchild on September 9, 1963, Stan walloped a home run and laughed all the way around the bases. Despite playing in over 3,000 Major League games, he was never ejected from any of them. There was only one Stan the Man.

As further testament to his lifetime of hard work and conditioning (much of it performed in the Valley of the Vapors), Stan Musial set the Major League record for home runs after the age of forty; that total stands at forty-six. He is still the oldest Big Leaguer to record three home runs in a single game which he did on July 8, 1962 at New York’s Polo Grounds, several months after his forty-first birthday. For the record, that made it four in a row since Musial had clubbed a homer in his final at-bat the preceding day. What a guy!

Stan was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969, and lived a long and happy life after retirement. He won too many honors to mention, but, of particular note, “The Man” was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2011. Stan Musial died peacefully in the company of his beloved family on January 19, 2013. After ninety-two years of productive and dignified life, Stan finally joined Al Simmons in death.

Hopefully, some kind-hearted local resident will light a candle for Al and Stan at St. Mary’s Church in the Spa City where, undoubtedly, they attended mass on numerous occasions. The two men shared many common bonds, including their love for Hot Springs. The city is honored to recognize these great sluggers by dedicating plaques in their names along the Hot Springs Historical Baseball Trail.


Written by Bill Jenkinson (2013)

Research assistance for this article provided by baseball historians Marl Blaeuer, Don Duren, Mike Dugan, and Tim Reid.

Snappy Aggregations: African-American Baseball in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

As Jim Crow laws were enacted in the late 19th century, major league teams began to bar African-American participation, a sad fact that would not change until Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Racial segregation was part of the minor league order, too, and in some areas this injustice persisted for years after Robinson’s promotion from the Dodger farm club in Montreal.

As a result, African-American baseball developed on its own terms.

The history of African-American baseball in Hot Springs goes back over 120 years, to when local hotels sponsored teams consisting of their African-American employees. The first recorded mention of this comes from the March 12, 1891 New York Age:  “The Eastman Base Ball Club crossed bats with the Park nine, resulting in a score of 3 to 2, in favor of the latter.” The Hot Springs Arlingtons competed regionally, going up against numerous Texas teams. Rube Foster, now enshrined at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, pitched for Waco and Fort Worth. Of a 1901 series here, the Ft. Worth Morning Register reported: “Foster was more than invincible. He allowed only one hit in the first game, and none in the third.”

An oft-told story from the same decade concerns Charlie Grant, slick-fielding second baseman for several African-American teams. In the spring of 1901 he was a bellhop at the Eastman, where future New York Giants manager John McGraw took notice. “Muggsy” tried signing him for his Baltimore Orioles. He introduced the light-skinned Grant as “Chief Tokahoma” (American Indians were allowed in “organized ball”), but the ploy failed.

By 1904 the Hot Springs Blues played games as far away as St. Louis.

In 1910 the Chicago Giants scheduled a jaunt to the Spa City. In 1911 the Kloethe Reds, a local team, hosted opponents like the Brooklyn Royal Giants and Kansas City Giants. There were also the Majestic White Socks, the Hot Springs Reds, and the Arlington Reds. In 1915 the Vapor City Tigers came into existence, formed by Hot Springs native Junie Cobb, a soon-to-be-famous jazz musician.

By the 1920s, the Chicago American Giants, Memphis Red Sox, and Kansas City Monarchs were traveling here for games and/or spring training. Players and coaches would stay at the Pythian and the Woodmen of Union hotels. By the 1930s, the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords entered the local diamond scene. These five teams included Hall of Famers Cristobal Torriente, Bullet Rogan, Smoky Joe Williams, Oscar Charleston, Cumberland Posey, Judy Johnson, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Jud Wilson, and Satchel Paige. Coming here alone in 1935, another Cooperstown honoree, Biz Mackey, attended to “a round of training chores,” probably including thermal baths, as many players did.

In the early years of Hot Springs baseball history, African-American teams often held games and practices at established locations, like Whittington Park, when these fields were not otherwise in use. By the 1930s, however, two other ballyards were frequented.

The first was Highland Park, on Grove Street. A talented local club, the Highland Giants, played there, and one of their players was Art “Superman” Pennington, who later played with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro leagues and with teams in the minors and in Latin America. According to Pennington, this diamond was definitely “in the rough,” with the grounds not even level. Other teams who used this field were the Baker Tigers and the Hot Springs Red Sox, the latter described in the Chicago Defender as “a snappy aggregation of baseball tossers.”

The second venue was Sam Guinn Stadium, built in 1935 on Crescent Street. The field, used for sporting events by the African-American high school in Hot Springs (Langston High School), was named for a player on the LHS football team. Guinn was fatally injured during a football practice session at Highland Park, in November 1933.

Negro league teams visiting Hot Springs during the 1940s were the Baltimore Elites (featuring Hall of Famer Roy Campanella), New York Black Yankees, Memphis Red Sox, Cleveland Buckeyes, and Houston Eagles. Hall of Fame twirler Hilton Smith took “treatment for an arm condition” here in 1949.

The 1950s saw Hall of Fame slugger Hank Aaron, and former Negro leaguers Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and Monte Irvin spend time in Hot Springs. Teams playing or training in the city included the New York Cubans, Birmingham Black Barons, Indianapolis Clowns, New Orleans Eagles, and Detroit Stars.

The 1950s also witnessed a controversy that splashed across newspapers nationwide. In 1953 the Hot Springs Bathers of the Class C Cotton States League attempted to integrate. A pair of African-American hurlers who had played for the Indianapolis Clowns, Jim and Leander Tugerson, were signed by the Bathers (who badly needed good pitching). The league office promptly kicked the Bathers out of the circuit. Four of the league’s teams that year were from Mississippi, with three from Arkansas and one from Louisiana. The other Hot Springs players favored the two pitchers being on the team, and most public sentiment in the U.S. matched the Bathers’ opinion. Shortly before opening day, the league reinstated Hot Springs, apparently expecting Bather management to toe the line. On May 20th, though, a Bathers lineup card revealed that Jim Tugerson was slated to start against the Jackson (Mississippi) Senators at Jaycee Park. The game was immediately ruled a forfeit to Jackson.

In his book Bathers Baseball: A History of Minor League Baseball at the Arkansas Spa, Don Duren wrote, “The Tugersons were tired of being in the middle of a squabble because they wanted to play baseball. Jim and Leander requested an option to play in another league.” The Tugerson brothers finished their season with the Knoxville (Tennessee) Smokies, in the Class D Mountain States League, where Jim won 29 games in 1953.

Jim Tugerson finally got to pitch in Hot Springs in the fall of 1953, when the All-Stars of the Negro American League played two exhibitions here in September and October. The All-Stars won both games, Tugerson toiling five innings in the September tilt.

Ironically, the CSL allowed integration the very next year, and the Bathers employed several African-American players in 1954: Uvoyd Reynolds, Joe Scott (a veteran performer with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro leagues), John Parker, and Bill “Double Thumbs” Mitchell.

The Negro leagues would fade as the majors and minors made room for African-Americans, but their legendary players added immeasurably to a rich baseball legacy in Hot Springs.

Mark Blaeuer (2013)

Baseball’s Golden Days in Hot Springs

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Where spring training got its start in preparing the boys of summer.

HSBaseball1Baseball purists know this time of year means more than just transi- tioning from winter to spring. Spring training camps in sunny Florida and Arizona are now in full swing for all 30 Major League Baseball teams.

However, there was a time in its infancy, when big league teams came to a small mountain town in Arkansas known nationally for its healing thermal waters.

Yes, Hot Springs was the first collective destination spot for baseball spring train- ing. It may be hard to imagine it now, but from 1886 through the early 1940s, the Spa City attracted most of the game’s best teams and brightest stars.

“The real cornerstone of Hot Springs niche in baseball history was in 1886 when Hall of Famer Cap Anson was the manager and first baseman of the Chicago White Stockings and brought his team south to prepare for the season,” said Hot Springs native and resident Mike Dugan. Dugan is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. He is the resi- dent expert on the city’s former connections to the national pastime. Sporting goods magnate A.G. Spalding owned the White Stockings (now known as the Chicago Cubs). He and Anson were working on a new way to get the team ready for the coming season. “Anson had learned about our mineral waters and spas and the reason he brought the team to Hot Springs was so they could, ‘boil out the alcoholic microbes’ in his hard- living players.”

The purpose was to get the players in shape by soaking in the spas, hiking the mountains and playing baseball in the more moderate climate. Spring training was born. In addition to Anson, the team included future Hall of Famers John Clarkson and Mike “King” Kelly. Another team member was Billy Sunday, who would later become a renowned evangelist. Stand today on the corner of Ouachita and Hawthorne streets in Hot Springs, look at the Garland County Courthouse and envision a baseball field once occupying the site.

HSBaseball2The White Stockings practiced and played there that first year. A giant oak tree on the courthouse lawn dates back to that time. The White Stockings won the pennant that year, and more teams joined them in finding spots in the south to train for the season. “By 1915, all of the big league teams in baseball had trained in Hot Springs at some point,” Dugan said. Other teams that quickly followed the White Stockings to Hot Springs included the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Spiders and Cincinnati Reds, plus a host of minor league clubs. The Spiders featured, arguably, the great- est pitcher of all time, Cy Young. “Cy Young also played for the Red Sox and loved Hot Springs so much he returned regularly after he retired,” Dugan said. Young, baseball’s all-time winningest pitcher with 511 career victories, announced his retirement from the game in Hot Springs before the season started in 1911, changed his mind, then quit at the end of the sea- son. In 1938, the city celebrated Cy Young Day and honored him with a parade down- town. Chicago sold its field on Ouachita Ave. in 1896. Soon, other fields sprang up at the end of the trolley lines on Whittington Avenue.

Two teams that adopted Hot Springs as their spring home in the early 1900s were the Pirates and Boston Red Sox. The Pittsburgh Pirates and its Hall of Fame short- stop, Honus Wagner, started in 1901 and had 22 spring training visits through 1926. During that time, the Pirates played and lost the first World Series against the Boston Americans in 1903.

The Americans adopted the name Red Sox during the 1907 season. After two years (1907-08) of spring training in Little Rock, the Red Sox switched to Hot Springs. The Red Sox trained 13 springs there from 1909 through 1923. That led to the greatest baseball player of all time regularly coming to Hot Springs. The young, talented Red Sox southpaw quickly embraced the town and all of its blessings and vices like no one before or since. Nineteen-year-old George Herman Ruth was one year removed from St. Mary’s Industrial School for Orphans, Delinquent, Incorrigible, and Wayward Boys. It was 1915 when he arrived in Hot Springs with his Red Sox teammates for spring training. He was a promising pitcher.

Dugan has a copy of a 1915 photograph of Red Sox and Pirates players and fans pos- ing with Hot Springs citizen William G. Maurice. The Maurice Bathhouse gets its name from him. “It’s easy to see Honus Wagner — per- haps the greatest shortstop of all time — Bill Carrigan, Tris Speaker, another future Hall of Famer for the Red Sox,” Dugan said.

“Now, if you look carefully in the back row, you can make out the head of a young Babe Ruth.” Ruth fell in love with the city and all it had to offer. Golf and gambling were two of the passions he enjoyed with great gusto. He would be at the Hot Springs Country Club at 7:00 a.m. every day for 36 holes of golf before baseball practice. Ruth had no regard for money. The first year he came to Hot Springs he lost his entire big league salary before playing his first regular season game. He found the casi- nos and Oaklawn Park racetrack irresistible.

Early in his career, he was the best left- handed pitcher in baseball. He was a com- bined 47-25 during 1916-17 seasons. But Ruth was an even better hitter. He proved it with a long home run in a spring training game in 1918 against the Brooklyn Robins at Whittington Park. Ruth got to play first base that day. He responded with two home runs in two at bats, the second one a mammoth blast that landed across the street in the Arkansas Alligator Farm. The Red Sox traded Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920. He continued visit- ing Hot Springs for a few weeks prior to joining the team’s spring training site. A big man, Ruth always seemed to be battling extra pounds packed on during the winter. He claimed the restoring waters at the bath houses helped him do that.

The Yankees began sending other veteran players to join him. But the undisciplined Ruth had a vora- cious appetite for food, alcohol and women. He partied continually and frequently left the spa city in worse shape than when he arrived. Finally, after missing the first half of the 1925 season due to poor health, the Yankees forbade him to return to Hot Springs. A habitual gambler, Ruth continued to frequent the city after his retirement fol- lowing the 1935 season. The story goes that in 1941, Ruth got involved in a high stakes poker game in Hot Springs that was rigged. He lost all of his money. The Bambino felt cheated and never returned.

The Alligator Farm across from Whittington Park, where the Babe launched that prodigious shot, is still in business. The Whittington Park baseball diamond is long gone, entombed beneath a parking lot at a Weyerhaeuser corporate office. Broken foundation slabs and long con- crete bleachers, large trees growing among them, are all that remains of the grandstand once tucked into the side of a mountain. If you know what you’re looking for, there’s evidence of a field of dreams where Hall of Famers once played.

The first mention of Whittington Park was in 1894. In 1895, the St. Louis Browns came to use the field, but quickly retreated to Little Rock due to a smallpox outbreak in Hot Springs. By 1909, the Sox, Pirates and Brooklyn all trained regularly in Hot Springs, creating a need for another baseball field. The Red Sox usually stayed at the Majestic Hotel. The team built another ballpark at the other end of the trolley line, where the Boys and Girls Club now sits. They named it Majestic Field. The Red Sox, Reds and Brooklyn all trained there. A year later the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Washington Senators of the newly created American League came to the spa city and trained at Whittington Park. In 1912, Brooklyn, along with the Philadelphia Phillies, built a new ball field on ground behind the Alligator Farm, across the street from Whittington Park.

HSBaseball3It became Fogel Field, named for Horace Fogel, owner of the Phillies. The baseball diamond is gone, but the field is still there. Other big league teams that later trained in Hot Springs included the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Athletics. Unlike players today who sign auto- graphs at the ballpark but seldom mingle publicly with fans, the early stars often lounged in hotel lobbies or walked along Central Avenue and bathhouse row posing for photos with fans. “They were accessible to the public,” said Steve Arrison, chief executive officer of the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission. “Though some, like Ruth, were larger than life, they enjoyed their celebrity status and didn’t shy away from their fans.” Arrison says it was a historic time in the city’s past when movie stars, entertain- ers and celebrities regularly visited Hot Springs. According to Dugan, Arrison and other historians of that period, the national pastime ruled the city from late February through March.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has a little more than 200 player members. More than half of them trained in Hot Springs at some time during their careers. They include such greats as Satchel Paige, Walter “Big Train” Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, “Lefty” Grove, Carl Hubbell, Johnny Evers, Al Simmons, Casey Stengel and Rogers Hornsby, just to name a few. “The players liked coming to Hot Springs so much that in 1932, Ray Doan devised a plan to open a baseball school at the park on Whittington,” Dugan said. The month-long school opened Feb. 15, 1933. During the school’s tenure, instruc- tors included Arkansas native sons Dizzy and Paul Dean, “Schoolboy” Rowe and Lon Warneke, as well as Hack Wilson, George Earnshaw, George Sisler, Johnny Evers, Al Simmons, Grover Cleveland Alexander and Cy Young, among others. Rogers Hornsby eventually bought the school from Doan and relocated it to Majestic Park, where it operated until 1952. “My dad, Pat Dugan, grew up across the street from the field on Whittington,” Dugan said, “He told the story of how he used to mow the grass at the school and got to meet many of the legendary players of that era. “He told me one of the neatest things that happened was when Jimmie Foxx of the Philadelphia Athletics and later with the Red Sox, who was his favorite player, would play catch with him in the mornings. The future Hall of Famer gave my dad a first baseman’s mitt which he kept for years.” The Pirates’ Wagner was another base- ball great who fell in love with the city and invested in its youngsters.

Wagner owned a sporting goods store in Pittsburgh. In 1909, he read in the local paper that Hot Springs High School was trying to form a basketball team. Wagner had a traveling team of baseball players who played basketball during the off- season to stay in shape. He and some of his Pirate teammates volunteered to teach the boys at Hot Springs High how to play basketball. Wagner had uniforms and shoes shipped from his store in Pittsburgh for the team to wear. One of the members of that first Hot Springs High School team was Leo P.

McLaughlin, who was the city’s mayor dur- ing the “mob era” of the 1930s and ‘40s. Though its weather was better than the bitter cold and snow to the north where most teams were located, Hot Springs was often rainy and not ideal for training. Following the 1926 season, most major league teams had relocated further south to places like Florida. The golden days of Major League Baseball teams having spring training in Hot Springs was finished. While entire teams didn’t return, numerous players already familiar with Hot Springs continued to train there on their way south before their team’s spring training offi- cially opened. Minor league teams and some Negro League teams began filling the void left by big league team departures.

As individual careers ended and World War II began, the last of the major leaguers were gone after 1942. In its place, minor league baseball began flourishing in Hot Springs. Now future stars were get- ting their start there. The Hot Springs Bathers of the old Cotton States League played at Whittington Park. Later, the team had its own facility, Bathers Park, next to the old Majestic Field (later renamed Dean Field and Jaycee Park). The Bathers kept organized baseball going in Hot Springs from 1938-41, until the outbreak of World War II. Many play- ers went to fight in the war, and play didn’t resume until 1947. The Bathers’ last season was 1955. To commemorate and maintain the his- tory of the time when baseball thrived for six weeks each year in Hot Springs, Dugan and other fans formed a committee within the Society for American Baseball Research known as the “Deadball Era” (1900-1920). Meeting every other year in March, some 25-50 members travel to the spa city dur- ing the same time the old teams once con- verged on the city for spring training. They give presentations and visit the old parks, reliving the “golden days,” as Dugan refers to them, when baseball brought the world to Hot Springs.

Babe Ruth Signs for Three Years At the Toss of a Coin

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Babe Ruth had been coming to Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, since his first training camp in 1915, so it was no surprise that the Bambino was in town on March 5, 1922 when he entered into contract negotiations with Colonel T. Huston, the co-owner of the New York Yankees.

Ruth was coming off the best season of his career. The previous year, 1921, he hit 59 home runs, batted .378, had a slugging percentage of .846, and led the Yankees to their first league championship. The Babe’s previous contract had paid him $10,000 per season for three years and had been signed with Boston before he moved to New York.

Colonel Huston met with Ruth at The Eastman Hotel at 8 p.m. that night and they could not reach an agreement on the new contract. They had narrowed down the amount and were both in the same range when discussing salary. Ruth wanted $52,000 a year for three years and Huston wanted to pay him $50,000 a year for three years with a two-year option. After much discussion and still no agreement the Babe offered to toss a coin for the salary figure. The Colonel was all for it but asked that Ruth wait until he had a chance to run it by his partner the co-owner and president of the Yankees, Colonel Jacob Ruppert. Ruth went back to his hotel to wait.

Colonel Huston immediately hit the telephone line after Ruth departed and put in a call to Ed Barrow, the Yankees business manager, to see if Ruppert would agree to the coin flip. Barrow, who was in New York City, then had to contact Ruppert who was in Tarrytown, N.Y. This almost certainly took some time given the telephone service in 1922. Ruppert agreed to settle the deal by a flip of the coin so Colonel Huston sent for the Babe who arrived back at The Eastman Hotel at 11 o’clock that same night.

Ruth arrived and before he could remove his bear-rug overcoat the Colonel had sent a half-dollar piece flying into the air, at the same time warning the Babe to call it. “Tails” bawled Ruth and when the coin finally came to rest under an easy chair “tails” faced the Colonel and the Home-Run King. “That ends it, Babe,” said the Colonel. “I’m glad it’s over and proud to have you a Yankee for the next three years.” The coin flip did not take five minutes time. The Babe was now making $1,000 per week.

The New York Yankees officially announced from Hot Springs that same night that they had signed Babe Ruth to a three year contract with the option for renewal. They did not reveal the terms of the contract but the press suspected that he would be getting at least $50,000 for his work with the Yankees next year along with a $500 bonus for each homerun that he hit. That bonus would be worth $29,500 to Ruth if he just matched his homerun total from the year before. No wonder Colonel Huston upon announcing the new deal referred to the Babe’s new salary as “worthy of a railroad president!”


“Hot Springs” Some Points About a Famous Resort…

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Some Points About a Famous Resort for Ball Players by One Who Has Been There Many Times.

The following article first appeared in Sporting Life, an American weekly newspaper that in 1890 had the largest circulation of any sporting or baseball newspaper. The article appeared in the April 12, 1890 issue and was written by Edward Nagle Williamson. Williamson, better known as Ned Williamson, was a steady infielder on the Chicago White Stockings for a decade, 1879-1889. He was the perfect person to write this article because he had been coming to Hot Springs with Cap Anson and the White Stockings since 1886.

View article here:

Hot Springs- Some Points About a Famous Resort for Ball Players by One Who Has Been There Many Times.

This article was transcribed from microfilm by noted baseball historian Roy Kerr. Kerr is an expert on 19th Century baseball and has written three biographies about 19th century players: Billy Hamilton, Roger Connor and Buck Ewing. He is currently working on a biography on slugger “Big Dan” Brouthers.


VIDEO: “The Birthplace of Spring Baseball”

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Dedicated to the Many Scores of Baseball Luminaries Who Trained & Played in Hot Springs, Arkansas, from the 1880’s through the 1950’s – in Baseball’s Golden Age.


VIDEO: “Hot Time In The Hot City”

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Musical Slide-Show History of Negro Leagues Baseball in Hot Springs, Arkansas – “The Birthplace of Spring Baseball” by Frank Wilson & Tim Reid.

A Browns Spring Training Favorite

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Browns camp was once host to as many as four clubs.

From an article written by Dick Farrington in 1942.

“The expected convergence of the Browns and Pirates from California on Hot Springs, Arkansas, as a training site, will find them treading ground where many of the great players of the past flashed their spikes.”

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