Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Thoughts turn to baseball

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Pitchers and catchers are about to report for spring training in Florida and Arizona.

The Super Bowl is over, and thoughts turn to baseball.

For decades, Seattle’s professional baseball team played in the Pacific Coast League. Prior to this season, that’s about the only thing Seattle had in common with the Arkansas Travelers.

And even that’s a stretch.

Few people remember it, but the Travelers were members of the Pacific Coast League during the 1964-65 seasons. After attracting fewer than 68,000 fans during a 77-game home schedule in 1958, the Travelers moved to Shreveport for the 1959 season.

Then-general manager Ray Winder never lost faith that professional baseball would return to Little Rock.

Indeed, the team returned to the Southern Association in 1960 following the purchase of the New Orleans Pelicans. Winder was determined not to lose the team again. Thanks to a decision he made 57 years ago, fans of the Travelers don’t have to worry about the club being sold and moved outside of Arkansas.

Winder formed the Arkansas Travelers Baseball Club Inc. in 1960 and led a public stock drive to buy the New Orleans franchise. Each share of stock in the Travelers was worth $5. The price of that stock has never changed, and no dividends are paid to shareholders.

Even though the purchase of the Pelicans was successful, the Southern Association was on its last legs, forcing Winder to scramble yet again. The Travelers affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies and were scheduled to play in the Class AAA American Association in 1963. That league folded prior to the beginning of the season. Arkansas played instead in the Class AAA International League. In 1964-65, Arkansas was in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League as a Phillies affiliate.

Now, Arkansas finds itself as an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.

The Seattle Indians were a Pacific Coast League member from 1903-06 before spending the 1907-18 seasons in the Class D Northwest League. The Indians returned to the Pacific Coast League from 1919-37 and stayed in the league as the Seattle Rainers from 1938-64 and the Seattle Angels from 1965-68.

A bid to move the Cleveland Indians to Seattle had failed in 1965, but a consortium led by William Daley won an expansion franchise known as the Seattle Pilots for the 1969 season. Due to financial problems, the Pilots were sold and became the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970.

A long-running lawsuit was filed by the city, the county and the state of Washington against the American League for breach of contract. King County built the Kingdome in hopes of attracting a team, but NFL football came first when the Seattle Seahawks began playing in the stadium in 1976.

Finally, the American League offered Seattle an expansion team in exchange for dropping the lawsuit.

On April 6, 1977, Major League Baseball returned to Seattle when the Mariners took on the California Angels in front of a Kingdome crowd of 57,762.

The Mariners finished that inaugural season with a 64-98 record and then went on to finish 56-104 in 1978 and 67-95 in 1979. The Mariners hosted their first MLB All-Star Game in 1979.

Advance the clock 37 years — from 1979 to 2016 — and one would find a new era of Mariners baseball as general manager Jerry Dipoto took over and hired Scott Servais as his manager. There were numerous roster changes and a new philosophy as the Mariners made a 10-game improvement from the previous season to 86-76 while staying in the hunt for an American League Wild Card berth up until the final weekend of the regular season.

As their season wound down, the Mariners signed a two-year player development contract that made the Travelers their Class AA affiliate. The Travelers had spent the previous 16 seasons as an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Traveler officials had worked closely with Dipoto and Servais when Dipoto was the Angels’ general manager from October 2011 until July 2015. Servais was the team’s assistant general manager.

Dipoto calls the Travelers “a franchise with great fans, a great staff and a great ballpark, as well as a long and storied history in professional baseball. Both organizations are committed to the community, good baseball and an entertaining ballpark experience.”

In 2016, the Mariners’ seven minor league affiliates combined for a 451-314 record, the best winning percentage in baseball. All seven teams had winning records and qualified for their league playoffs. Jackson, Tenn. — the Mariners’ former Double-A affiliate — won the Southern League championship.

In the Travelers, Seattle finds itself affiliated with a club with one of the richest traditions in minor league baseball. The Travelers first played in the Southern League in 1895, competing against Atlanta, Chattanooga, Memphis, Nashville, Evansville, Montgomery and New Orleans. The club posted a 25-47 record that inaugural season.

After the Southern League folded, professional baseball was absent in Little Rock for five years. The Travelers returned in 1901 with the formation of the Southern Association and finished second, just one game behind Nashville. They finished second again in 1902.

The first championship came in 1920 as the Travelers concluded the season with an 88-59 record. Their final season at Kavanaugh Field (located where Little Rock Central High School’s Quigley-Cox Stadium now stands) was in 1931. The Travelers attracted 113,758 fans that year, their second-highest attendance since the 1920 title. Land near the Arkansas State Hospital was given to the Travelers by the city of Little Rock in 1932, and Travelers Field became the team’s home.

In 1966, the stadium was renamed for Winder, who had started as a ticket taker for the Travelers in 1915 and rose to the rank of general manager. Winder spent more than five decades with the team.

The first official affiliation with a Major League team came in 1937 when the Travelers affiliated with the Boston Red Sox. The Travelers were affiliated with the Red Sox for three seasons. Later affiliations came with the Chicago White Sox in 1946, the Boston Braves in 1947, the Detroit Tigers from 1948-55, the Kansas City A’s in 1957-58 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1961.

Following the period spent in Triple-A baseball as a Phillies affiliate, Winder moved the Travelers to the Texas League in 1966. The long Pacific Coast League trips to places such as Salt Lake City and Portland had taken their toll. The Travelers now would have far shorter trips, and there was a new affiliation with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Arkansas long had been Cardinals country. Major League Baseball had half a century of stability from 1902-52 with the Cardinals (along with the less poplar St. Louis Browns) being the westernmost and southernmost team. Because of this, the Cardinals developed a huge following in the Deep South and in states west of the Mississippi River. The Cardinals won two pennants in the 1920s, three in the 1930s and four in the 1940s while developing the largest radio network in American sports. The Travelers were a Cardinals affiliate for 35 years, the second-longest active affiliation when it ended.

The Texas League was a Class D League in 1902, moved to Class C in 1904, moved to Class B in 1911 and moved up to Class A in 1921. Among current Texas League clubs, the Travelers have been in the league the longest.

Terry Turner writes in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture that the team found “immediate success. With shorter trips and players provided by the Cardinals, the Travelers placed first in 1966 and 1968.”

During their 16 years as an Angels affiliate, the Travelers won Texas League championships in 2001 and 2008 and also captured five division championships. Mike Trout, Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana, John Lackey, Bobby Jenks, Jered Weaver and Juan Segura all spent time in Arkansas uniforms during their time with the Travelers.

The Mariner era now begins for this historic Arkansas baseball club that has played on only three fields in more than 120 years, is one of the few teams in professional sports in which fans were able to buy ownership shares, is the first professional team to be named for an entire state and is among only a handful of minor league baseball teams to have its own museum.

The nickname Travelers is the second-longest-running nickname in minor league baseball, trailing only the Buffalo Bisons.

Truly, it’s a franchise that’s unique in the annals of professional sports.

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Remembering the AIC

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Look through the list of inductees into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and you will find dozens of people who either played or coached at schools that once were members of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference.

Want to hear some great sports stories?

Just attend a Hall of Fame event and get “the old AIC guys” talking.

It was a conference with quite a colorful history. For those of us who grew up with it, it’s hard to believe it has now been gone for more than 18 years.

What became the AIC was formed in 1928. The league disbanded in the spring of 1995. Most of the state’s four-year colleges and universities were members of the AIC at one time or another during its existence.

During most of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the AIC consisted of five state schools and five private schools.

The state schools that were members of the conference were Arkansas Tech University at Russellville, the University of Central Arkansas at Conway, the University of Arkansas at Monticello, Henderson State University at Arkadelphia and Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia.

The private schools that were AIC members were the University of the Ozarks at Clarksville, Harding University at Searcy, Hendrix College at Conway, Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia and Lyon College at Batesville.

Most of those schools had name changes during that period.

Lyon (Arkansas College at the time), Hendrix and Ozarks had dropped football by the mid-1960s but continued to compete in the AIC in other sports.

The AIC was affiliated nationally with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which was headquartered at Kansas City.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff was a member of the AIC from 1970-72 and 1983-87.

By the early 1990s, many of the NAIA schools across the country that played football were moving to NCAA Division II. UCA, which at the time had a much larger enrollment than the other AIC members, decided to make the move to NCAA Division II beginning with the 1993-94 school year. Henderson’s board of trustees also voted to move in the fall of 1993 into NCAA Division II. UCA and Henderson joined the Gulf South Conference, which also had member institutions in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

The defections of UCA and Henderson left the AIC with just five football-playing schools — UAM, SAU, Arkansas Tech, Ouachita and Harding.

UAM, SAU and Arkansas Tech were admitted to the Gulf South Conference beginning with the 1995-96 school year. The Gulf South refused to admit Ouachita and Harding, the only two private colleges playing football in Arkansas at the time. Ouachita and Harding wound up in the Lone Star Conference, which also had member institutions in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Harding and Ouachita were admitted to the Gulf South Conference beginning with the 2000-01 school year.

UCA, meanwhile, left the Gulf South Conference to move into NCAA Division I as enrollment continued to soar, becoming a Southland Conference member in 2006.

Beginning with the 2011-12 school year, six former AIC members — Henderson, UAM, SAU, Ouachita, Harding and Arkansas Tech — became charter members of the new NCAA Division II Great American Conference. Several former members of the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Conference also are affiliated with the Great American Conference, which is headquartered at Russellville.

The AIC was organized in 1928 as the Arkansas Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. What’s now Arkansas State University at Jonesboro and what’s now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock were among the original members.

The first champions of the conference in men’s sports were UCA in basketball in 1928, UCA in baseball in 1928, Hendrix in track and field in 1928, SAU in football in 1929, Ouachita in tennis in 1948, Henderson in golf in 1948, UCA in cross country in 1962, Arkansas Tech in bowling in 1963 and Hendrix in swimming and diving in 1964.

The AIC began sponsoring women’s sports during the 1983-84 school year. The first women’s champions that school year were Lyon in cross country, Arkansas Tech in volleyball, UCA in basketball, Hendrix in swimming and diving, Harding in softball, Lyon in track and field and UCA in tennis.

In 1957, the AIC began presenting the Cliff Shaw Scholar-Athlete Award. It was given annually for the remainder of the conference’s existence to the senior male athlete who posted the highest academic grade point average and earned at least two athletic letters in AIC-sponsored sports. The first recipient of the award was John Clem of Ouachita.

In 1984, the AIC began giving a similar award for female athletes known as the Downing-Swift-Wallace Award. The first recipient was Marci Crump of Harding.

The AIC began awarding an all-sports trophy in 1964. UCA won the award the first four years it was presented. SAU captured the all-sports trophy in five of the next seven years.

Cliff Shaw of Little Rock generally is regarded as the most important figure in conference history. He became the AIC commissioner in 1956, replacing Gen. H.L. McAlister of Conway. Shaw served as commissioner until 1971, when he was replaced by Charles Adcock of Little Rock.

The commissioner’s job was an unpaid, part-time position for Shaw, but he devoted many hours to the conference. His main job was with Coleman Dairy in Little Rock.

Shaw, who was born in 1908, was a four-sport letterman at Little Rock High School, earning 10 letters during his high school years. He signed a pro baseball contract with the Little Rock Travelers in 1927 as a shortstop.

In 1930, Shaw began officiating athletic events and later became one of the most respected football and basketball officials in the country. He officiated for 35 years in the Southwest Conference, the Big Eight and the Big Ten. He worked a number of football bowl games, including the Cotton Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. Shaw also officiated in the finals of the NCAA basketball tournament in 1953.

Shaw was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Arkansas Officials Association Hall of Fame in 1996. Under Shaw’s direction, the AIC became known for having the finest officiating corps of any small college conference in the country.

Adcock, who was Shaw’s successor, was replaced as commissioner by Leroy Nix Jr.

Nix, in turn, was replaced in 1978 by Sid Simpson. After just one year as commissioner, Simpson was replaced by Harry T. Hall, who served in the role until the conference disbanded.

Hall, a retired Army colonel, was a building supervisor for the Little Rock School District when he was named commissioner. He had spent two decades as a college basketball official and was age 46 when he was hired by the AIC in July 1979.

Hall, a Dyess native, had received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Henderson and had played basketball for the Reddies.

The conference’s first recognized All-Americans were Raymond “Rabbit” Burnett of UCA in football in 1937, Ken Stephens of UCA in outdoor track in 1951, E.C. O’Neal of Arkansas Tech in basketball in 1954, Bill Tiner of UCA in baseball in 1960, Cliff Clark of Harding in cross country in 1965, Tom Bateman of Harding in indoor track in 1966, Charles Burt of Harding in bowling in 1967, Jim Saucedo and Mike Pelizza of Ouachita in tennis in 1967, John Bumpers of Hendrix in swimming in 1971 and Stan Lee of UCA in golf in 1972.

The first three AIC-connected individuals to be inducted into the national NAIA Hall of Fame were former coaches — Ivan Grove of Hendrix for football in 1957, John Tucker of Arkansas Tech for football in 1960 and Sam Hindsman of Arkansas Tech for basketball in 1965.

The first two former AIC athletes to go into the NAIA Hall of Fame were Eddie Meador of Arkansas Tech for football and E.C. O’Neal of Arkansas Tech for basketball in 1967.

The AIC is gone, but its imprint on the sports history of Arkansas is permanent.

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Why the Travelers are still here

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Earlier this summer, Forbes published an article on minor league baseball’s most valuable teams.

The article began this way: “On July 9, 2011, the Dayton Dragons drubbed the South Bend Silver Hawks, their Class A Midwest League rivals, by a score of 9-1. Though the game’s attendance number might not seem remarkable — at fewer than 9,000 fans it was a fraction of what even the MLB’s worst teams draw nightly — it marked the Dragons’ 815th consecutive sellout, a streak that stretched back to the team’s inaugural season in 2000 and, as of that July day, one that set a pro sports record.

“It’s a streak still going strong in 2013 at well over 900 games. That remarkable drawing power is just one example of the potential financial success that minor league baseball teams can generate even in smaller markets like Dayton.”

Forbes estimated that the Dragons are minor league baseball’s sixth-most valuable team at $31 million. Dayton is one of two teams on the list not in Class AAA, the highest level in the minor leagues. The other non-AAA team on the list is Frisco of the Class AA Texas League, which ranked No. 11 with an estimated value of $28 million.

Dayton and Frisco are owned by Mandalay Baseball Properties, a partnership of Mandalay Entertainment and a private equity fund known as Seaport Capital. Mandalay Entertainment founder Peter Guber has part ownership in the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Golden State Warriors.

Mandalay Baseball also owns Class AAA Oklahoma City, Class AA Erie and Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Minor league baseball teams have become a hot commodity in recent years. It’s not the big leagues, but it is big business with teams regularly being sold for millions of dollars and often moving to other cities.

The five Mandalay Baseball properties, which will generate an estimated $40 million in revenue this year, have been for sale since April.

Thanks to a key decision a man named Ray Winder made 53 years ago, fans of the Arkansas Travelers don’t have to worry about their club being sold and moved outside of central Arkansas.

Winder had worked as a ticket taker for the then-Little Rock Travelers in 1915, eventually rising to the position of general manager. During his more than five decades with the team, Winder had to use extreme tactics from time to time to keep professional baseball in Arkansas.

In 1960, for instance, Winder had to take full advantage of his relationships with major league teams just to have enough players to field a club. He had formed Arkansas Travelers Baseball Inc. that year and led a public stock drive to buy the New Orleans franchise and move it to Little Rock. Each share of stock in the Arkansas Travelers was worth $5.

Potential investors beware: The price of that stock has never changed, and all dividends go back to the club.

There are more than 2,000 stockholders, and the Travelers don’t accept public requests for stock ownership. In other words, it would be almost impossible for any outside entity to buy the team.

Ol’ Ray Winder knew exactly what he was doing.

There’s a reason that the main concourse of Dickey-Stephens Park has a museum, something rarely found at other minor league parks. The fact is there aren’t many franchises with a history as rich as that of the Travelers. The Dickey-Stephens museum contains artifacts ranging from the team’s 1901 charter into the Southern Association to all team photos from the years as an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals (1966-2000) and the Los Angeles Angels (2001-present).

Visitors to the Travelers museum can learn about team officials, players and fans such as Winder, Judge William Kavanaugh, Jim Elder, Ferguson Jenkins, Jim Bunning, Travis Jackson, R.C. Otey and even Walter “Hookslide” Bradshaw.

There are baseballs, game equipment, uniforms and photos of Kavanaugh Field and Ray Winder Field.

There are team photos from 1901, 1903, 1904 and 1905.

Through the years, people have donated items ranging from Western Union telegrams to player contracts, baseball cards and game tickets. Considering the instability that infects so many other professional sports teams, it’s amazing that for parts of three centuries this team has had just one nickname and played on only three fields.

When the team name was changed from the Little Rock Travelers to the Arkansas Travelers in 1957, the Travs became the first professional team to be named for a state.

The Travelers first played in the Southern League in 1895. Other league members were Atlanta, Chattanooga, Memphis, Nashville, Evansville, Montgomery and New Orelans. The Travs posted a 25-47 record in their inaugural season.

After the Southern League folded, professional baseball was absent in Little Rock for five years. But the Travelers returned in 1901 with the formation of the Southern Association and finished second, just one game behind Nashville. They were second again in 1902.

Enter W.M. Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh, an Alabama native and the son of a minister, moved to Clarksville in Johnson County following his graduation in 1885 from the Kentucky Military Institute. He worked for a banker and merchant in Clarksville before moving to Little Rock in 1886 to work for the Arkansas Gazette.

Kavanaugh was the Gazette managing editor from 1890-96, the Pulaski County sheriff from 1896-1900 and the Pulaski County judge from 1900-04. In 1913, the Arkansas Legislature selected Kavanaugh to finish the term of deceased U.S. Sen. Jeff Davis. Kavanaugh was even a member of the Little Rock School Board for a dozen years.

In 1902, Kavanaugh was asked to become the Southern Association president. As a member of the National Association of Baseball Clubs, representing the Western and Southern leagues, Kavanaugh was called “the squarest man in baseball” by Capt. C.T. Crawford.

Poor attendance and financial difficulties caused the Travelers to drop out of the Southern Association as the 1910 season approached, but Kavanaugh continued to work as the league president. He never gave up hope that professional baseball would return to Arkansas’ capital city.

Kavanaugh announced the return of the Travelers on Feb. 20, 1915. He died the next day following an hourlong attack of acute indigestion. He was just 48.

West End Park, the Travelers’ home, immediately was renamed Kavanaugh Field. When the ballpark closed in 1931, the property was sold to Little Rock High School (now Little Rock Central). Quigley-Cox Stadium is now at that location.

In 1936, Kavanaugh Boulevard in Little Rock was named in honor of the man some had called “Arkansas’ foremost citizen.”

Kavanaugh hadn’t lived to see the Travelers’ first championship, which came in 1920. They finished that season with an 88-59 record.

In their final season at Kavanaugh Field in 1931, the Travelers attracted 113,758 fans, the second-highest attendance since that 1920 title.

Land near the state hospital was given to the Travelers by the city in 1932, and Travelers Field became the team’s second home. The stadium was renamed for Ray Winder in 1966.

After attracting fewer than 68,000 fans during a 77-game home schedule in 1958, the Travelers were moved to Shreveport for the 1959 season. But just as had been the case with Kavanaugh decades earlier, Winder never lost the faith that baseball would return. Thanks to Winder, the team returned to the Southern Association in 1960 following the purchase of the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Southern Association was on its last legs, however, and Winder again had to scramble. As in 1959, there was no professional baseball in Little Rock in 1962.

The Travelers were scheduled to play in the Class AAA American Association in 1963, but that league folded prior to the beginning of the season. They played instead in the Class AAA International League in 1963.

In 1964-65, Arkansas was in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League as a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate, making trips to places such as Salt Lake City and Portland.

There has been remarkable stability since the Travelers joined the Class AA Texas League in 1966. They were a Cardinals affiliate until 2001, when the current affiliation with the Angels was signed. The move to Dickey-Stephens Park, only the third home of Travelers baseball in more than a century, came in 2007.

Because of Ray Winder’s foresight in 1960, it’s likely that the ballpark on the banks of the Arkansas River in North Little Rock will be the home of a professional baseball team called the Travelers for decades to come.

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Happy birthday Brooks Robinson

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Brooks Robinson turns 76 Saturday.

Perhaps you can wish him a belated happy birthday when he returns home to Arkansas next month.

Robinson, the Little Rock native who was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, will be at Lamar Porter Field on June 15 to draw attention to revitalization efforts at the historic complex.

The field is owned by the Boys & Girls Club of Central Arkansas. Those associated with it want to make sure it doesn’t meet the same fate as nearby Ray Winder Field.

Do you get as sick as I do each time you travel down Interstate 630 and see the ghastly UAMS parking lot that occupies the site that was long the home of Ray Winder Field?

“The sadness of witnessing the demise of Ray Winder fills me with gratitude that Lamar Porter doesn’t suffer the same fate,” says Little Rock businessman Jay Rogers. “Lamar Porter is now the oldest usable field in the state of Arkansas.”

In late 2011, the Lamar Porter Complex Revitalization Committee was formed. In addition to renovating the baseball field, the committee hopes to fund improvements at the Billy Mitchell Boys and Girls Club, the Woodruff Gardens and adjoining recreational areas.

Lamar Porter Field was built between 1934 and 1937 by the Works Progress Administration as part of the Roosevelt administration’s efforts to put people to work during the Great Depression. It was an impressive concrete-and-steel facility that could seat 1,500 people. It was also the only baseball field in the state that had electric lights at the time.

The 10-acre site that includes the baseball field was given to what was then known as the Little Rock Boys Club in honor of Lamar Porter. The Little Rock native was a junior at Washington and Lee University in Virginia when he was killed in an automobile accident on May 12, 1934.

In addition to donating the land, the family contributed money for construction. The first anniversary of Porter’s death coincided with Mother’s Day. The donation was announced that day by his mother, Louise Skillern Porter.

Lamar Porter’s nephew, who shares his name, is among the trustees for the revitalization committee.

“A memorial serves no purpose if it ceases to exist,” says the younger Porter. “This complex needs revitalization soon or it will meet the same fate as Ray Winder Field.”

The June 15 event will begin at 5:30 p.m. and is scheduled to end by 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 each and are available at The SportStop on Rodney Parham Road. The business is owned by Rogers. Each ticket will be good for admission to the event, a hot dog, a soft drink, popcorn and a chance to get Robinson’s autograph.

Robinson remains a legendary figure in Baltimore, where he spent his major league career. Following his retirement at the end of the 1977 season, Robinson began a 16-year career as a television announcer for the Orioles. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He’s one of only six former Orioles to have had a number retired by the team.

Was Brooks Robinson the best third baseman ever to play the game?

Many baseball historians think so. He began playing baseball almost as soon as he could walk. Robinson’s father, a fireman, had played semipro baseball and also was a member of the 1937 International Harvester softball team from Little Rock that played in the finals of the World Softball Championship in Chicago.

“Brooks Robinson began playing baseball at the grammar school level as a catcher for the Woodruff School,” Jeff Bailey wrote for the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “He spent much of his time practicing at the facilities of the Arkansas School for the Deaf, which was across the street from his home. He also worked the scoreboard and sold cold drinks during games played at Lamar Porter Field. While a student at Pulaski Heights Junior High, Robinson played quarterback for the 1951 junior high state championship football team and was an honorable mention on the all-state team.”

Robinson played basketball and ran track at Little Rock High School. During the summer, he played American Legion baseball for the M.M. Eberts Post No. 1’s team, the Doughboys. The Doughboys won American Legion state championships in 1952 and 1953.

As soon as Robinson graduated from high school in 1955, he signed a contract with the Orioles. Having just turned 18, he first played for the Orioles’ farm team in York, Pa., in the Piedmont League. Late in the season, Robinson earned a promotion to the big leagues. By the 1958 season, he was the Orioles’ regular third baseman.

Known as the Human Vacuum Cleaner, Robinson won an amazing 16 consecutive Gold Glove Awards (1960-75). His best season offensively came in 1964 when he batted .317 with 28 home runs and 118 RBI. He was the Aemrican League MVP that year, receiving 18 of the 20 first-place votes. Mickey Mantle was second in the voting.

In 1966, Robinson was the MVP at the All-Star Game. He finished second that year behind teammate Frank Robinson in the American League MVP balloting as the Orioles defeated the Los Angeles Dogers in the World Series.

The Orioles would win two World Series while Brooks Robinson was playing for them. The second came in 1970 when he was the World Series MVP against the Cincinnati Reds.

The Orioles had lost the World Series to the New York Mets the previous season. In 1970, however, it was almost as if Robinson willed them to a championship.

Robinson had a .583 batting average in the 1970 American League Championship Series against the Minnesota Twins. In the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Robinson had a .429 batting average with two home runs and some incredible defensive plays.

“I’m beginning to see Brooks in my sleep,” Reds Manager Sparky Anderson said. “If I dropped this paper plate, he would pick it up on one hop and throw me out at first.”

As the World Series MVP, Robinson was awarded a new Toyota.

Reds catcher Johnny Bench said, “Gee, if we had known he wanted a new car that bad, we would have chipped in and bought him one.”

Robinson played in his last World Series in 1971 as the Orioles lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games. Baltimore would win division titles in 1973 and 1974 but lose in the American League Championship Series.

Robinson was selected for the American League All-Star team for 15 consecutive years from 1960-74. His career batting average was .267 with 2,848 hits, 268 home runs and 1,357 RBI. He led the American League in fielding percentage 11 times. He retired with a .971 fielding average, the highest ever for a third baseman.

At the time of his retirement, Robinson also had the records for a third baseman for games played at third (2,870), putouts (2,697), assists (6,205) and double plays (618). Only Carl Yastrzemski, Hank Aaron and Stan Musial played more games during their careers for one franchise.

Yet another Robinson record came from hitting into four triple plays during his career.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing someone erase my record of hitting into triple plays,” he later said.

How popular was Brooks Robinson in Baltimore, even after he retired?

In 1982, WMAR-TV’s on-air announcers had been on strike for two months leading into the baseball season. When Robinson refused to cross the picket line as opening day approached, station executives began new negotiations. The strike ended the next day, and Robinson was on the air for the season opener.

Robinson and Baltimore Colts’ quarterback Johnny Unitas had plaques in their honor in Balimore’s venerable Memorial Stadium. The two men were saluted on the field when the Orioles played their last game there on Oct. 6, 1991.

In 1999, The Sporting News placed the native Arkansan on its list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players. He also was named to the All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove team.

Veteran Associated Press sportswriter Gordon Beard was the emcee for the ceremony that marked Robinson’s last game at Memorial Stadium in 1977. Beard reminded the crowd of Reggie Jackson’s remark: “If I played in New York, they would name a candy bar after me.”

“Around here,” Beard said, “nobody has named a candy bar after Brooks Robinson. We name our children after him.”

Now, Robinson is coming back to Little Rock to lend a hand to those who are saving Lamar Porter Field.

Little Rock’s Catholic High School for Boys and Episcopal Collegiate High School use Lamar Porter Field for home games. The field and an adjoining space also are the Arkansas home of a national program known as Reviving Baseball in the Inner City, which is sponsored by Major League Baseball.

Portions of the movie “A Soldier’s Story,” starring Denzel Washington, were filmed at the field in 1984. In December 1990, the facility was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

There are other positive things going on in the neighborhood.

The Woodruff Community Garden allows novice and experienced gardeners to have plots in the city. The renovation project will add lights, security updates, a more secure gardening shed, a gate and fencing to the community garden.

There also will be restoration work on historic stone walls and bridges.

Other improvements will take place at the Billy Mitchell Boys & Girls Club, which is named after the man who became associated with the club in 1922 and began heading the organization in 1928. Mitchell, who had played basketball at Texas A&M, was connected with the club for more than 50 years. Construction of the current facility was completed in 1982.

In December 2011, the revitalization committee announced that an anonymous donor had given a significant gift to begin the process of planning the renovation effort.

In January 2012, representatives of the Little Rock architectural firm Witsell Evans Rasco met with the committee. Last August, the firm’s initial renderings for renovating the complex were approved.

Robinson agreed in September to become the honorary chairman of the revitalization committee.

“Not only did I sharpen my baseball skills at Lamar Porter, I even once won a bubble-blowing contest there and proudly rode a new bicycle home,” he said. “The memories of playing there and the friendships that I made have lasted all my life.”

In October, the Boys & Girls Club of Central Arkansas and the Lamar Porter Complex Revitalization Committee announced a partnership with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation of Baltimore. The foundation was founded in 2001 by Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. and his brother, Bill Ripken, who also played for the Orioles.

Cal Ripken Sr., who died in 1999, had a 37-year career working for the Orioles. The Ripken Foundation seeks to help kids from low-income families, using baseball as the hook to reach boys and softball to reach girls.

The revitalization committee’s website contains the words “heading for home.”

With a master plan now in place, it’s a fitting motto as the great Brooks Robinson heads home to Little Rock, determined that the city won’t see another historic treasure turned into a parking lot.

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Sporting Life Arkansas

Monday, November 26th, 2012

I knew big changes were afoot when Jeff Hankins left the Arkansas Business Publishing Group.

Jeff was a fixture at Arkansas Business, one of those people I thought might be there until retirement.

Now that Jeff has landed at the Arkansas State University System offices here in Little Rock, I have a feeling he will be happier than ever. He has long had a passion for ASU, his alma mater. There’s nothing like getting paid to do something you’re passionate about. Take it from a guy who is passionate about our state’s private colleges and universities and now has the chance to work full time for those 11 schools.

I hate to date myself, but I first met Jeff more than 30 years ago. He was a high school student in Pine Bluff working part time at the Pine Bluff Commercial. I was a college student in Arkadelphia, holding down a full-time job as the sports editor of the Daily Siftings Herald. The Commercial and the Siftings Herald were owned at the time by the Freeman family of Pine Bluff, and we worked closely together.

I became friends in the late 1970s with a Commercial sportswriter named Jim Harris, who was working for the newspaper’s well-known sports editor, the late Frank Lightfoot.

Let’s just say that Jim and I have covered a lot of miles together through the years — from the Liberty Bowl in Memphis to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville (how many of you remember the fog that descended on the Arkansas-North Carolina game there in December 1981?) to the late (and not so great) Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham.

Within days of Jeff’s departure from Arkansas Business, it was announced that the vehicle for Jim Harris’ outstanding reporting and commentary on sports in our state — Arkansas Sports 360 — would be shut down by the Arkansas Business Publishing Group.

Fortunately, Jim was not without a vehicle for long.

Enter Simon Lee.

Simon, another longtime friend, was once an Arkansas Business employee. He’s an Internet whiz who has now made a career of doing web-based work for the health care industry. With most of Simon’s and business partner Jon Davis’ clients based outside the state, Simon has kept a low profile in Arkansas. But this Dumas native loves our state. He loves sports. He loves hunting and fishing. He loves the people and events that make Arkansas unique.

So two ol’ southeast Arkansas boys — Simon Lee from Dumas and Jim Harris from Pine Bluff — have hooked up to launch a go-to website at The site went live last week.

Here’s what Simon had to say in his introduction letter on the site: “If you understand that sports in Arkansas is even more than tackles and blocks and dunks and homers and includes tee-ball, volleyball, swim meets, deer woods and eating some great food with good people, welcome. We are happy to launch a new online publication that features Jim Harris and a cast of other sports journalists and opinion makers from around the state.

“We want to bring you writers who will report and write about all levels of Arkansas sports, from the Razorbacks and Red Wolves to the Bears and Reddies. … We are going to work to be an outlet for sportswriters and aspiring sportswriters from high school through college. Part of the excitement of this for us is building a platform and outlet for the next generation of journalists and writers in our state.”

I’m happy to be part of the initial cast of characters at Sporting Life Arkansas.

Arkansas Business Publishing Group had a large audience for Arkansas Sports 360 but never could figure out how to make money off the venture. Simon thinks he can put his past business experience to work and find a way to monetize the site.

Sporting Life Arkansas won’t ignore hunting and fishing, which are so much a part of who we are as Arkansans.

“The sporting life in Arkansas is fun,” Simon writes. “The site should reflect that fun.”

Go to and check it out.

I like what I see so far.

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Razorback baseball: Hot, hot, hot

Friday, March 30th, 2012

University of Arkansas baseball has never been hotter than it is right now.

Large crowds show up on a regular basis in Fayetteville for games at Baum Stadium.

People in all 75 counties talk about the diamond Hogs.

Fans drive in from central Arkansas, east Arkansas and south Arkansas for weekend series.

A statewide radio network allows Arkansans in every corner of the state to keep up with the team.

In researching an article on Razorback baseball that will run in the May edition of Arkansas Life magazine, I came to realize just how far the program has come.

When Norm DeBriyn agreed to take charge of the Razorback baseball program in December 1969, few people other than the players paid attention. The stadium was at the old Washington County Fairgrounds. There were rocks in the infield, holes in the outfield and broken boards in the fence.

The team didn’t even have a full-time coach.

DeBriyn moved his squad from that cow pasture to George Cole Field in 1975. With financial assistance from former star players Kevin McReynolds, Johnny Ray and Tim Lollar, lights were added in 1985, making it possible to host the Southwest Conference Tournament for the first time.

The Razorbacks were 567-142-2 at George Cole Field.

With the construction of Baum Stadium in time for the 1996 season, Razorback baseball advanced to the next level. Without Baum Stadium, it’s doubtful that Dave Van Horn would have left his job as head coach at Nebraska to replace DeBriyn at Arkansas.

Baum, considered by many baseball experts to be the finest college stadium in the country, is a key. It was a key to getting Van Horn, and it’s a key to recruiting the current players in the program.

Razorback fans everywhere have Norm DeBriyn, Charlie and Nadine Baum, and Pat and Willard Walker to thank.

Charlie Baum and Willard Walker were among Sam Walton’s first store managers and became investors when Wal-Mart Stores went public. The Baum and Walker families, among the many so-called Wal-Mart millionaires in northwest Arkansas, became close to DeBriyn through the years.

DeBriyn, working with then-athletic director Frank Broyles, convinced the two couples to help fund Baum Stadium.

The stadium was designed by the nationally known firm HOK. It has room for more than 10,000 spectators with amenities that are better than those found at most minor league professional ballparks.

In 1998, Baum was named by Baseball America as the nation’s top college facility.

Five years later, it ranked second.

“Since its construction, Arkansas officials have received numerous solicitations by coaches and administrators from across the country for blueprints and tours … in an attempt to capture some of its charm,” the university’s baseball media guide states. “Even though Baum Stadium has been replicated to some degree, no other place in the country has the atmosphere that Baum Stadium brings to college baseball, which is why it has been host to five NCAA regionals and an NCAA super regional. Baum Stadium was one of the nation’s best facilities when it was constructed, but since then has undergone three renovations, making it the envy of visiting teams.”

Yes, that sounds like public relations hype.

But those who attend big games at Baum will tell you the atmosphere at the corner of Razorback Road and 15th Street is unlike anything else in college baseball. With Van Horn’s arrival following DeBriyn’s 2002 retirement, upgrades to what was still a relatively new stadium began as interest in the program continued to increase.

Prior to the 2003 season, hitting and pitching cages were enclosed and 2,600 chair-back seats were added.

Prior to the 2004 season, the university added 12 luxury boxes, coaches’ offices and a scoreboard with a video screen and message center. The original turf was torn out and replaced with rye grass. That, in turn, was replaced by hybrid Bermuda grass prior to the 2005 season. Arkansas now has one of the best playing surfaces in the country.

Prior to the 2007 season, another 20 luxury boxes were built, restrooms were added, 1,000 more chair-back seats were put in, the picnic area was expanded and new lights were erected. Capacity went up to 10,737 seats with 8,237 of those being of the chair-back variety.

In 2007, the Razorbacks became the first team in NCAA history to average more than 8,000 tickets sold per game. The actual attendance average was 6,007 per game, a school record.

No. 1 Arizona State came calling in April 2009 for a two-game midweek series. In the second game, 11,014 people were in attendance with 11,434 tickets sold. Both numbers set stadium records.

“It’s an incredible facility,” DeBriyn says. “There’s not one like it anywhere in the country. There’s no way to describe the excitement our players and coaches have when they take the field.”

“It’s a family atmosphere,” Van Horn adds. “It’s so nice to walk onto the field and see all of that red. It’s also nice to know people are now coming from all over the state to see Razorback baseball games.”

That rocky field at the fairgrounds DeBriyn inherited 42 years ago has become a distant memory.

DeBriyn had come to Arkansas in 1969 from Colorado State College (now the University of Northern Colorado) to teach first aid, driver’s education and other courses in the College of Education.

As a first aid specialist, he was on the sideline at Razorback Stadium when the Arkansas football team fell to Texas, 15-14, in the Big Shootout in December 1969.

“The football program was first class all the way, but none of the other sports at Arkansas measured up to what we had back in Colorado even though it was a smaller school,” DeBriyn says.

Wayne Robbins, who had played baseball at Mississippi State in the 1950s and later played in the Baltimore Orioles organization, coached the Razorback baseball team on a part-time basis from 1966-69 while pursuing his doctorate and serving as an associate to the dean of arts and sciences.

In December 1969, Robbins announced that he had accepted the position of press secretary for U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

“I knew I wanted to coach,” DeBriyn says. “I had coached the freshman baseball team for one year at Northern Colorado and had five years of high school experience. I applied for the baseball job when Wayne left. They gave the job to somebody else, and he quit after one day.

“George Cole called me in and gave me the job. He said, ‘Here’s the baseball file.’ Everything was in one file folder. That’s how important baseball was back then.”

Cole, a Bauxite native who had starred in football at Arkansas in the 1920s, was about to replace the legendary John Barnhill as athletic director.

The school had fielded its first baseball team in 1897, but the sport was discontinued from 1930-46.

Deke Brackett was the coach for three seasons once baseball resumed in 1947. Athletic trainer Bill Ferrell took the job in 1950 and compiled a 139-149 record in 16 seasons.

Robbins was 50-51 in his four seasons as the Razorback baseball coach.

DeBriyn, a fiery native of Ashland, Wis., took over a program that long had competed as an independent. Due to the lack of an adequate travel budget and the lack of interest in baseball, the school hadn’t been a part of the Southwest Conference in baseball since 1926.

DeBriyn’s first team went 19-13 in 1970. During the next three seasons, the Razorbacks were 23-18-1, 16-16 and 23-7-1 with the 1973 team earning an NCAA tournament bid as an independent. Arkansas lost two consecutive games at the regional tournament in Arlington, Texas, but it was obvious DeBriyn was building something that soon would be more than an afterthought in Fayetteville.

By the 1974 season, DeBriyn had accomplished one of his major goals: Returning Arkansas to the Southwest Conference in baseball. The Razorbacks were 22-21 overall and 9-15 in the SWC that spring.

Arkansas had another losing record in conference play as the Hogs went 8-14 in the league in 1975. They were 12-12 in SWC play a year later.

The 1977 Razorback team improved to 33-18 overall and 14-10 in the conference, the start of 14 consecutive seasons with winning conference records for DeBriyn.

Razorback baseball had begun attracting a fan base in northwest Arkansas while earning statewide media attention for the first time.

Arkansas made its first trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., in 1979. The Hogs had records of 49-15 overall and 19-5 in the SWC as they finished as the national runner-up to Cal State-Fullerton.

The Razorbacks won four games at the NCAA East Regional in Tallahassee, Fla., to earn their way to the CWS.

Arkansas posted three more wins in Omaha in what at the time was a double elimination event. Fullerton, which already had a World Series loss, beat the Hogs, 13-10. Fullerton won the second game between the two teams, 2-1.

Still, it was clear that Arkansas baseball had arrived.

Another landmark moment in the program’s history came in 1985 when Arkansas hosted the Southwest Conference Tournament and took home the trophy with three consecutive victories. A win over Baylor was followed with back-to-back wins over traditional national power Texas.

Arkansas made the College World Series that season and finished third. The Hogs ended the 1985 season with a 51-15 record.

In 1987, Arkansas won the Southwest Conference, finished fifth in the College World Series and ended the spring with a 51-16-1 record.

In 1989, Arkansas won another conference championship and found itself in the College World Series for the third time in five seasons. The Razorbacks finished fifth in the CWS and concluded the ’89 season with a 51-16 record.

Van Horn had played at Arkansas for one season in 1981. In his lone season as a Razorback, he earned All-SWC honors and was the conference’s newcomer of the year.

After three years as a player in the Atlanta Braves organization, Van Horn joined DeBriyn’s staff as a graduate assistant. The Razorbacks were 184-71-1 in the four years Van Horn coached with DeBriyn, making it to the College World Series twice.

“I had talked to Norm in the spring of 2001 and really felt he was ready to step down,” says Van Horn, who was at Nebraska at the time. “If they wanted me as the head coach at Arkansas, I was willing to go at that point. Norm called me while we were at the Big 12 Tournament in 2001 and said he was going to coach another year.”

Nebraska went to the College World Series in 2001, the school gave Van Horn a lucrative contract extension, a new stadium opened in March 2002 and Nebraska returned to the CWS later that year.

“Suddenly, it became a lot harder to move,” Van Horn says.

DeBriyn says Van Horn “was going to be my recommendation whenever I decided to retire. I made that known to Coach Broyles, and Coach Broyles had begun to follow his career closely after Dave went to Nebraska. … In retrospect, things have worked out.”

Van Horn accepted Broyles’ offer. Almost a decade into the Van Horn era, college baseball has never been hotter at Arkansas.

DeBriyn, now a vice president of the Razorback Foundation, must smile these days when he thinks about where things stood at the start of 1970 and how far they’ve come.

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Hot Springs: Birthplace of baseball spring training

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Baseball spring training is drawing thousands of people this week to Florida for Grapefruit League games and to Arizona for Cactus League games.

Let this fact sink in: It really started in Hot Springs.

Finally, the folks in the Spa City are capitalizing on that heritage with what’s being called the Historical Baseball Trail.

“What began as our curiosity about why there are so many photos of Babe Ruth at various locations in Hot Springs wound up unearthing a treasure trove of historic associations between the world’s most famous baseball players and Hot Springs,” says Steve Arrison, the always innovative head of the Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Things really got rolling in the spring of 2011 when we were able to document that Ruth hit the first 500-foot-plus home run while playing spring baseball at Whittington Park.

“Bill Jenkinson, one of the preeminent baseball historians in the world, came to Hot Springs and helped us authenticate Babe’s legendary 573-foot shot that zoomed over Whittington Park’s fence, across Whittington Avenue and into the Arkansas Alligator farm.”

I can just picture the alligators inspecting that baseball.

My friend Mike Dugan of Hot Springs — who hails from an old Garland County family with a rich Irish-American history of operating taverns and other establishments — has studied the city’s baseball heritage for years. He has been joined by Mark Blaeuer of Hot Springs, Don Duren of Texas (who has written well-researched books on Hot Springs baseball), Tim Reid of Florida and others in unearthing that history.

A.G. Spalding and Cap Anson brought the Chicago White Stockings (they eventually became the Cubs) to Hot Springs to train in 1886. The team used a field on Ouachita Avenue behind the current site of the Garland County Courthouse.

On March 28, 1887, Anson hit three home runs against a team from Des Moines.

The baseball historians were able to document more than 300 players, managers, owners and baseball writers who spent time in the city.

“We need to let Americans know about the people, places and events that made Hot Springs a key element in the growth of the nation’s pastime,” Arrison says. “What we decided to do was gather as many names as could be historically authenticated and try to locate the places where these legends played or relaxed in Hot Springs.”

The best spot to start down the trail is the Hill Wheatley Plaza downtown. Plaques will be placed across the city. There also will be a digital tour allowing people to use their smartphones for additional information.

Arrison believes that 134 of the 295 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame spent time in Hot Springs.

As far back as 1993, Little Rock native Jay Jennings was chronicling the history of baseball there. He wrote an article for Sports Illustrated titled “When Baseball Sprang for Hot Springs.”

“Hot Springs has drawn media attention as the boyhood home of President Bill Clinton, but few people know that it also played a crucial role in the early years of baseball,” Jennings wrote. “It was the place where spring training came of age. From 1886 to the 1920s, Hot Springs was baseball’s most popular preseason training spot.

“Though National Association teams began traveling south as early as 1869 when the New York Mutuals visited New Orleans to play exhibition games, manager Cap Anson is widely credited with creating the first organized spring training camp, for his 1886 Chicago White Stockings, in Hot Springs.

“By 1890 players for Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, Cleveland and other teams were in Hot Springs in such numbers that The Sporting News called it ‘the Mecca of professional baseball players.’ Anson, Home Run Baker, Ty Cobb, Rogers Horsby, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Dizzy Dean and Cy Young all worked out there.”

Jennings, who is living back in Arkansas these days while turning out quality books and articles, helped educate a national audience on the prominence of Hot Springs in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“The choice of site was not so odd as it may seem now,” he wrote. “In the last two decades of the 19th century, Hot Springs was a celebrated spa. Though its population was only about 10,000, there were always between 3,000 and 6,000 tourists in town. The town’s popularity stemmed, as you might guess, from its waters. Hydropathy — ‘the water cure’ — was in its heyday, and with pure mineral water bubbling up from the earth at 143 degrees and huge bathhouses to serve its visitors, Hot Springs promoted itself as America’s Baden-Baden, after the famous German spa. To help bathers fill leisure time between their therapeutic dips, entrepreneurs built theaters and casinos. And they staged sporting events.

“To Anson in the late 1880s, the site seemed ideal. Accommodations were plentiful and, for the most part, plush, and he could house his White Stockings at the Plateau Hotel for less than $20 a week per room.”

Jennings noted that the surrounding Ouachita Mountains “proved challenging for the long runs on which he liked to lead his players. Afterward they could relieve any aches and pains — or sweat off winter weight — by ‘boiling out’ in one of the 17 bathhouses in town. The cost of a regular three-week series of 21 baths was only $3.

“After first training in Hot Springs in 1886, the White Stockings went on to win the National League championship. They returned to the Valley of the Vapors in 1887, and the town gave them special considerations: The mule-drawn street trolley line was extended to the site of the ballpark, and a canopy was constructed over the grandstand to give spectators some shade. At the Plateau Hotel, according to The Sporting News, ‘genial Col. Rugg,’ the hotel’s manager, ‘placed at their disposal the billiard hall and the ladies’ library.”’

Things had really taken off by the early 1900s. The Red Sox signed a five-year lease for Majestic Park in 1909 and agreed a year later to share Majestic with the Cincinnati Reds.

Pittsburgh signed a 10-year lease on Whittington Park and agreed to share it with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Jennings wrote: “Then in 1913 and ’14, … other factors conspired to further diminish the allure of spring training in Hot Springs: a major fire, the rising popularity of Florida as a training area and Hot Springs’ own obliging personality.”

A fire in September 1913 destroyed 50 blocks and almost 1,000 buildings.

In his book “The American Spa,” Dee Brown wrote: “Many regular visitors, hearing of the disaster, stayed away for one or two seasons and few new people came.”

A Sporting Life headline told of “red lights and wide open policy” in Hot Springs. Owners and managers decided they would rather have their players in places with fewer distractions.

Jennings said that choosing Hot Springs as a spring training site in those days was like “setting up camp in Las Vegas today.”

He ended the article this way: “This faded history deserves to be remembered for the images it evokes: an irascible Cap Anson arguing over gate receipts; an aging Walter Johnson scaling a hill to play catch; Babe Ruth swaddled in towels on a bathhouse bench. When baseball left Hot Springs, it gained a more temperate climate and smoother fields, but it left behind a glamorous and exciting past.”

Now a series of 26 markers and the latest digital technology will allow visitors to Hot Springs to relive those days.

The 26 cast aluminum plaques are spread across the city: The location where Ruth hit that long home run, the site of the hotel where Ruth flipped a coin with his manager to determine his salary for the next year and much more.

In addition to the Hill Wheatley Plaza (where brochures about the trail will be available), designated entry points to the trail will be Oaklawn and Whittington Park.

The city’s importance to Negro League baseball also will be celebrated.

“Although there were still major leaguers to be found there throughout the ’20s, the influx of players to Hot Springs eventually slowed to a trickle, and the big league game quietly faded away,” Jennings wrote back in 1993. “The town’s memory of its baseball heritage faded too.”

Hot Springs will now properly celebrate that part of its colorful past.

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Dolly Brumfield: A league of her own

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

I pass it each morning on the way to my office in downtown North Little Rock: A traffic control box at the intersection of Broadway and Maple near Dickey-Stephens Park with a painting on it that honors Dr. Delores Brumfield White from my hometown of Arkadelphia.

At North Little Rock’s Laman Library at 28th and Orange streets, there’s an exhibit running until March 18 titled “Linedrives and Lipstick: The Untold Story of Women’s Baseball.”

The exhibit features photos, game programs and postcards that focus on women’s baseball, dating back to the late 1800s.

That’s right, baseball — not softball.

Brumfield White played a role in that story.

On April 21 of last year, she was inducted into the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame in her native state of Alabama.

Tommy Hicks wrote in the Mobile Press-Register: “Walking down the street to a local playground and ballpark led Dr. Delores “Dolly” Brumfield White places she never dreamed of visiting and on an adventure she is still a part of. It was, she says, simply meant to be.

“Playing baseball at a Prichard diamond led her to a career in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Then there was the time she stopped in a small Arkansas town to get gas and — by way of a telephone booth and a dare — wound up a few days later with a job she held for 31 years until her retirement.

“White ended up teaching in Mississippi because Alabama schools didn’t have organized sports for girls at that time and she wanted to coach. She went on to earn her master’s degree and doctorate at Southern Miss, which led her to a job interview in Arkansas.”

The AAGPBL was popularized by the movie “A League of Their Own.”

Brumfield White spent seven seasons in the league and finished second in hitting her final season.

The movie, which was released in 1992, was directed by Penny Marshall. The cast included Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Tea Leoni, Jon Lovitz and others.

The film was No. 1 by its second weekend in July 1992 and ended up making (on a $40 million budget) $107 million in the United States and $25 million in other countries.

The “there’s no crying in baseball!” quote by manager Jimmy Dugan (played by Hanks) was rated 54th on the list of greatest film quotes of all time by the American Film Institute.

Although AAGPBL is commonly used to describe all 12 years of the baseball league, that name was only utilized in 1949-50.

The league was founded as the All-American Girls Softball League and was changed in 1943 to the All-American Girls Baseball League. The name was changed again in 1949 to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and was changed yet again in 1951 to the American Girls’ Baseball League.

Operations ceased in September 1954.

Chewing gum magnate Philip Wrigley owned the league from 1943-45. It was owned from 1945-51 by Arthur Meyerhoff. Teams were individually owned from 1951-54.

Just two teams — the South Bend Blue Sox and the Rockford Peaches — stayed in the same city for the entire 12 years.

Brumfield White decided to try out for the professional baseball league when she was just 13.

Hicks wrote: “Growing up in Prichard, White said baseball appealed to her, even though she was the only girl playing the game with neighborhood boys and even some older guys from the shipyards. Those shipyard workers told her about tryouts in Pascagoula for a girls baseball league, although at 13 she was too young. At 14, though, she got her chance and made the league.

“After baseball and earning her college degree, she went to Mississippi to teach because she also wanted to coach. She found a job with the help of an uncle. Later, she went to Arkansas looking for a job. She was heading to Monroe, La., for another interview, accompanied by a friend, when they stopped in Arkadelphia for gas. The city had two colleges and she picked the state school, Henderson State, and decided to make a phone call.”

Brumfield White told Hicks: “I told my friend, ‘I kind of like the looks of this place. I’ll see if they’ve got a job.’ So my friend dared me to call. I went to the telephone booth on the corner and looked up Henderson State. I told them who I was, and that I was passing through, and that I was looking for a job in my field and asked if they had a job in my field.

“The secretary said, ‘Yes, we do.’ She invited me up and said the president would be in any time and to come on up. I met with the president, talked with him, and he took me to the P.E. department and showed me around.

“He said, ‘If you’re interested in the position, send us your paperwork.’ I got home, sent in paperwork and within a week I got a call offering me the job. I’ve been here ever since.”

I realize now that I was surrounded as a child by true pioneers in the area of women’s sports — Delores Brumfield White, Bettye Wallace and Jane Sevier at Henderson; Carolyn Moffatt and Tona Wright at Ouachita.

In an extensive biography of Brumfield White that’s posted on the Henderson website, Fred Worth of the Society for American Baseball Research wrote: “In the spring of my first year on the faculty at Henderson, I went to an intramural softball game involving a couple of faculty teams. One of the teams was the one from ‘down the hill,’ the Health, Physical Education and Recreation faculty. Not surprisingly, they had a pretty good team.

“But the thing I remember most was not the players or even the game. One of the fans sticks out in my memory. As is common, there was one particularly vocal fan. What was not common, though, was the type of things said by this fan. Usually such vocal fans are using volume to hide the fact that they have no idea what they are talking about. This fan, a woman, was vocal but also knew exactly what she was talking about. This was my introduction to Dr. Delores Brumfield White, better known as Dee or Dolly.”

Brumfield White was born in Prichard, which is near Mobile, on May 26, 1932. The area produced or was the home of Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee and Satchel Paige.

In other words, baseball was big.

Worth wrote: “As was the case with many youngsters, Dee began to dream of being a baseball player. Such a dream was surely unrealistic — but something happened in 1942 that made it less far-fetched. As World War II began to demand a greater commitment in manpower, many minor league teams went out of business due to a lack of able-bodied players. To fill the void, Philip Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs, decided to form the AAGPBL. His theory was that there were sufficient quality female players to satisfy the public’s desire to watch baseball. The league began play in 1943.

“In 1946, the shipyard workers heard about tryouts for the AAGPBL and encouraged Dee to try out. They even volunteered to drive her to Pascagoula, Miss., for the tryouts. Her mother was open to the idea of tryouts but was not open to the idea of the workers taking Dee. She said that if anyone was going to take Dee to Pascagoula, she would.

“Dee impressed league officials at the tryouts. Afterward she spoke to Max Carey, the league president and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. When Carey found out Dee was ‘almost 14,’ he told her she was too young. But he also encouraged her to continue working on her skills, encouraging her to join a local team. Returning to the Mobile area, Dee joined a softball team made up of women from the area military base.

“Not long after the end of the 1946 season, Carey contacted Dee, inviting her to join the AAGPBL. A few weeks later, a letter from Carey arrived, asking Dee to report to Havana, Cuba, for spring training in 1947.”

Her mother was not excited about the idea of a young daughter going to Cuba.

“One of the league’s players visited with the family,” Worth wrote. “She assured them that the players were well taken care of and explained the role of the chaperones that traveled with each team. This conversation allayed Mrs. Brumfield’s fears, and Dee was permitted to go.

“Dee left but, as she got on a train for Miami, homesickness hit very strongly. However, once she arrived in Havana, the focus on baseball made everything easier for her. The players were always under the watchful eye of their chaperones, as well as armed military officials in Cuba.”

She played in Indiana for the South Bend Blue Sox in 1947. The team was managed by a former Notre Dame assistant football coach named Chet Grant.

The league expanded to 10 teams in 1948 and split into two divisions. Brumfield White was traded to the Kenosha Comets in Wisconsin. She played for Kenosha through the 1951 season, when the team folded.

She spent the 1952 season with the Fort Wayne Daisies, who were managed by Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx and won the league championship. Her last season in the league was 1953, again playing in Indiana for Fort Wayne.

Brumfield White attended college during the offseason and graduated from Alabama College for Women (now the University of Montevallo) in 1954. Her first teaching job was for two years at Shaw, Miss., in the Delta followed by seven years at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi.

The move to Arkadelphia came in 1963.

On Oct. 13, 2007, the softball field at Henderson was named the Dr. Delores “Dolly” Brumfield White Softball Field.

She once told an interviewer: “I think that we as young women baseball players all those years ago sort of forged the way for girls today to be able to do the things they do. It makes me really proud to know that I had a part in making it easier for women to be involved in sports. I’m so proud.”

She has a right to be proud. She’s a remarkable woman.

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Top 10 sports stories of 2011

Monday, December 19th, 2011

On the “Sunday Buzz with Bill Vickery” on KABZ-FM, 103.7, I unveiled my list of the top 10 sports stories in Arkansas in 2011.

I’ve been asked to post that list.

Let me know what you think.

What should be added?

What should be deleted?

Which ones should be moved higher or lower?

1. The University of Arkansas football team wins 10 regular season games for a second consecutive season, moves as high as No. 3 in the polls at one point and receives a Cotton Bowl invitation.

2. John Pelphrey is fired and Mike Anderson is hired as head basketball coach at the University of Arkansas.

3. Gus Malzahn is hired as head football coach at Arkansas State University.

4. Hugh Freeze’s Arkansas State Red Wolves go 10-2, win the Sun Belt Conference championship and receive a bowl invitation.

5. The University of Arkansas locks in head football coach Bobby Petrino with a long-term contract with unprecedented buyout provisions and also breaks ground on a $30 million football operations center.

6. UALR makes the NCAA Tournament in both men’s and women’s basketball by winning its conference tournament, one of the few schools in the country to do so.

7. The six NCAA Division II schools in the state begin competition in the new Great American Conference after leaving the Gulf South Conference; Ouachita Baptist University wins the first GAC football championship but Henderson State University wins the Battle of the Ravine in a game that comes down to the final play.

8. The University of Central Arkansas makes the FCS football playoffs for the first time since moving from NCAA Division II to Division I.

9. High school football: Pulaski Academy goes undefeated while receiving national attention for its unorthodox style, while Fayetteville upsets nationally ranked Bentonville in overtime to win the Class 7A state championship.

10. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals and the Arkansas Travelers both win a half of the division title and advance to the Texas League playoffs; the Travelers defeat the Naturals in the playoffs before losing to San Antonio in the championship series.

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Forrest City’s Elmer “B” Lindsey: Hall of Famer

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

When Frank Broyles became the head football coach at the University of Arkansas following the 1957 season, he was told by influential boosters to do one thing when it came to recruiting — head to Forrest City and sign Elmer “B” Lindsey.

“B was the first player I recruited to play football for the Razorbacks when I came to Arkansas,” Broyles says. “I had been told that he was, by far, the best athlete in the state. So for my first recruiting trip, I got in my car and drove to Forrest City to recruit B to play for the Razorbacks. Immediately upon meeting him, I offered a full scholarship. His credentials as a four-sport athlete in high school were so impressive that I could envision him forming the foundation of the Razorback backfield corps.”

Lindsey never played a down for the Razorbacks.

Instead, he signed a baseball contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Broyles had faced a similar situation a year earlier when he was the head coach at the University of Missouri. He was hoping to build his team around Mike Shannon, who had starred in multiple sports at Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis. Shannon was the first person to be named the Missouri Prep Player of the Year in both basketball and football.

Shannon headed to the University of Missouri but soon signed a baseball contract with the Cardinals. Broyles later said he believed Shannon might have won the Heisman Trophy had he stayed in school.

Lindsey would end up playing baseball for Memphis in the Southern Association with the likes of Shannon and Tim McCarver for part of the 1960 season.

“Coach Broyles spoke at our football banquet after the 1957 season at Forrest City, but there was never a question where I was going to school,” says Lindsey, who now operates family farming and cotton ginning operations in east Arkansas. “Coach Broyles later sent Coach George Cole down to visit with me, and I told him just that. I was going to Arkansas.”

Then came the baseball contract with the Cardinals.

For years, Lindsey wouldn’t talk about the size of his signing bonus. He didn’t want it to sound like he was bragging. It long was believed to have been more than $50,000, the most money ever offered to an Arkansas player to that point.

“It was $60,000 over five years plus $1,200 a month guaranteed for three years,” Lindsey now says. “My dad always loved baseball. He had been a pretty good baseball player himself. He said to me, ‘You would be crazy not to do this.’ I agreed and signed the contract. It would have been nice to see how it would have turned out if I had played football at Arkansas, but I couldn’t do both.”

In recognition of his accomplishments, Lindsey will be inducted Feb. 3 into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. Tickets for the annual induction banquet are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

Lindsey is among 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Hall of Fame Class of 2012. The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship basketball team.

Lindsey’s younger brother, Jim, was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1987 for his football accomplishments at the University of Arkansas and in the NFL. He played for the 1964 national championship team at Arkansas and played in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings from 1966-72.

“B weighed 188 pounds, had 10-flat speed and could cut on a dime,” Jim Lindsey says of his brother. “It has been said by the thousands who watched him play that he was the best high school halfback they had ever seen in Arkansas. … When my time came along, I was not in B’s shadow because the difference between his talent and mine would have been like comparing me to Gayle Sayers or Jim Brown.

“His baseball skills were overshadowed by his football talent. His baseball skills earned him a ‘bonus baby’ contract, and he went on to play in Tulsa and Memphis. … But his football skills far exceeded his baseball talent.”

B Lindsey says his first love as a child was baseball as he participated each summer in the Little League program at Forrest City. His father raised cattle and cotton at Caldwell and would drive him into Forrest City for practice. Beginning in the seventh grade, however, football began to capture his heart.

“I was fortunate enough to be the fastest person in the sixth grade,” says Lindsey, who had three older sisters, a younger sister and a younger brother (Jim). “But I didn’t think I would go out for football in the seventh grade. I was more interested in getting on the bus back to Caldwell so I could fish and hunt. I was watching seventh grade practice one day, though, and decided to give it a try. They gave me a uniform that didn’t fit.”

Lindsey ended up playing football in high school on teams that lost only two games in three years. Both losses were to DeWitt Dragon teams led by Harold Horton, a 1989 Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee. DeWitt won 13-0 in 1955 at Forrest City and 14-13 in 1956 on its home field. Horton scored both of DeWitt’s touchdowns in the 1956 game.

“Every time I talk around Harold about how good we were, he says, ‘You never beat us,'” Lindsey says.

By Lindsey’s senior year in high school, Horton was a freshman at Arkansas. Forrest City went undefeated in 1957. DeWitt fell, 21-0, marking Forrest City’s first win over the Dragons since 1951.

Lindsey scored 22 touchdowns that season despite having a broken bone just behind his thumb.

“I broke it in a scrimmage the Friday before the season opener against Conway,” he says.

His father took him to the famed Campbell Clinic at Memphis, which had opened in 1909 and is today recognized as a world leader in sports medicine. Doctors there put a cast on his hand.

Returning to school with the cast, Lindsey went to the principal’s office to get a slip to be admitted to class. Seeing the cast, the principal told Lindsey to go to the office of the Mustang head football coach, Jim DeVazier.

DeVazier would coach from 1954-64 at Forrest City, compiling a 77-36-7 record with five conference championships and two undefeated seasons.

“Coach DeVazier looked at that cast,” Lindsey remembers. “He didn’t even ask me how I felt. He just said, ‘You can’t play in that.'”

Lindsey went back to the doctor, who replaced the plaster cast with a lace-up leather cast to wear in practice. In games, he wore a sponge pad that the officials would check before each contest.

“I only had one fumble that season,” Lindsey says. “I also returned punts.”

With Sonny Holmes at quarterback and Lindsey as the main running back, the Mustangs scored 351 points that season.

Largely because of Lindsey’s talents, Forrest City began a high school baseball team his senior year. The summer before his senior year, Lindsey had attracted the attention of numerous pro scouts during the state American Legion baseball tournament at Fort Smith. He played in the outfield, at shortstop, pitched and was even the catcher at times. In that first year of high school baseball in the spring of 1958, the Mustangs advanced to the finals of the state tournament at Lamar Porter Field in Little Rock before losing to Mountainburg.

“If I had come along a bit earlier, I don’t think I would have ever been signed to a baseball contract,” Lindsey says. “If you received a signing bonus of more than $4,000, you had to stay on the roster of the big league club for two years. I wasn’t good enough for them to have me on that roster. But they changed the rule in 1958.”

The bonus rule had been instituted by major league baseball in 1947. Any team that failed to comply with the rule, which required that a player signed to a contract in excess of $4,000 be assigned to the 40-man roster, would lose the rights to that player’s contract.

Lindsey played at Keokuk, Iowa, in the Midwest League in 1958. He was in Hobbs, N.M., in 1959 and then played at Memphis; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Columbia, S.C., during the 1960 season.

Lindsey was in Billings, Mont., in 1961 and played for Tulsa of the Texas League for two seasons before retiring from baseball at the conclusion of the 1963 season.

“The Cardinals gave me every opportunity,” he says. “My fielding was never an issue. My hitting was the problem. I’ve always been told that you can tell after about five years whether you’re going to make it to the big leagues or not. I knew it was time to hang it up after six years.”

Lindsey remains a Cardinal fan, going to games several times each season. After his retirement from baseball, he took over the farm that had been operated by his father and three uncles. In 1987, Lindsey began a farming partnership with his younger brother. He raises about 4,000 acres of cotton and operates two gins.

“While I never had the privilege of coaching B because of his decision to play professional baseball after high school, I had the utmost admiration and respect for him as an athlete and as a person,” Broyles says. “He had all the qualities of leadership I looked for in a member of our team. He was and is a man of character and integrity, a born leader.”

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