Those who visit this blog on a regular basis (thank you, by the way) probably get more than enough of what I write.
I do, however, want to alert those of you who love sports and those of you who love Arkansas to a fun project I’ve taken on in recent months.
I’ve long been a member of the board of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. In an attempt to take that organization to the next level, we’ve recently upgraded our website, added a Facebook page, the whole social media nine yards.
If you get a chance, visit the website at www.arksportshalloffame.org and check it out. It’s a work in progress, but you’ll find a lot of fresh content there.
I’ve been writing an e-newsletter for several months that you can sign up to receive. We won’t bombard you with e-mails. I promise you that much. Three or four times each month, you’ll get something I’ve written that pertains to famous Arkansans who made their names in the world of sports.
I also would urge you to join the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. Regular memberships are $50 annually. Membership allows you to vote on the inductees each year, gives you an opportunity to purchase tickets to the induction banquet and, as we take things to the next level, provides another benefit — a quarterly magazine called Legends that we’re now publishing. Steve Brawner is doing an outstanding job as the publisher of this magazine, and a subscription comes with your membership.
Also, if you’ve not visited the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Museum in the Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, you should do so. The museum is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. each Monday through Saturday. The cost for adults is $6. Seniors (those ages 62 and above) can get in for $4. Kids and active military personnel with proper identification are charged $3. It’s well worth it. Tell Ray Tucker, who does a tremendous job as executive director, I sent you.
As I have dug deeply into the history of sports in our state, I’ve been amazed at the number of nationally known sports figures we’ve turned out.
Did you realize that seven members of the Baseball Hall of Fame also are members of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame — Bill Dickey, Brooks Robinson, Dizzy Dean, Lou Brock, George Kell, Arky Vaughan and Travis Jackson?
Bill Dickey might just be the most famous baseball player to ever come from Arkansas. In fact, some baseball historians consider Dickey the best catcher in the game’s history. He was a member of the first class of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1959.
Famed sportswriter Dan Daniel once said, “Bill Dickey isn’t just a catcher. He’s a ballclub.”
Dickey actually was born in north Louisiana at Bastrop as one of seven children, but he always considered himself an Arkansan. When he was just 3, his family moved to Kensett in White County. The Dickey family moved to Little Rock when Bill was 15.
Dickey was assigned by the Yankess to the Little Rock Travelers for the 1928 season, but he was moved up to New York later in the season. He became the Yankees’ regular catcher in 1929 and batted .324. His longevity from that point forward was amazing. Dickey would play for the Yankees until 1946. He was an All-Star selection in 1933, ’34, ’36, ’37, ’38, ’39, ’40, ’41, ’42, ’43 and ’46.
Dickey’s best friend on the team was Lou Gehrig. Dickey was the only Yankee teammate to be invited to Gehrig’s wedding and the first Yankee that Gehrig told of the disease that would end his life. Dickey played himself in the move about Gehrig, “Pride of the Yankees,” that starred Gary Cooper.
Inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1979, Little Rock native Brooks 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 1983 in his first year of eligibility. He’s one of only six former Orioles to have had a number retired by the team.
Was Robinson the best third baseman to ever play the game? Some baseball historians think so. He began playing about 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.
Known as the Human Vacuum Cleaner, Brooks Robinson won an amazing 16 consecutive Gold Glove Awards (1960-75) during his career. His best season offensively came in 1964 when he batted .317 with 28 home runs and 118 RBI. He was the American League MVP that year, receiving 18 of the 20 first-place votes. Mickey Mantle was second in the voting.
Dizzy Dean was born on Jan. 16, 1910, in the small, rural community of Lucas in Logan County. Lucas no longer exists on the official state map put out by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. He was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1983. On the same night, his brother, Paul Dee “Daffy” Dean, also was inducted.
Dizzy’s real name was Jay Hanna Dean.
He once said, “The dumber a pitcher is, the better. When he gets smart and begins to experiment with a lot of different pitches, he’s in trouble. All I ever had was a fastball, a curve and a changeup, and I did pretty good.”
Pretty good indeed. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953, Dean posted a career pitching record of 150-83 and went on to be one of the country’s most famous and beloved sportscasters from 1941-74. He led the National League in strikeouts four times in 1932, ’33, ’34 and ’35. He won 30 games in 1934, earned National League Most Valuable Player honors and led the Cardinals to a World Series championship against the Detroit Tigers.
Arkansas has always been St. Louis Cardinals territory, and few Cardinals were more popular with fans in this state than native Arkansan Lou Brock. Brock, who turned 71 last month, was born in El Dorado as the seventh of nine children. His father left the family when Brock was just 2. After the father’s abrupt departure, Brock’s mother moved her family to a cotton plantation near tiny Collinston in Morehouse Parish in north Louisiana.
Brock’s mother worked long hours as a field laborer and a domestic employee. Beginning at a young age, her seventh child worked alongside her in the fields. He was quiet and introverted. No one could have guessed at the time that Brock would retire as baseball’s all-time stolen bases leader, a record that stood until 1991.
Born in Swifton in August 1922, George Kell began playing baseball at an early age. His father, a barber, loved baseball and played for a local semipro team. Kell graduated from high school and attended what’s now Arkansas State University in Jonesboro for one year. In 1940, however, he was offered a contract with the Newport team in the Northeast Arkansas League.
With many major league players serving in World War II, Kell (who had been rejected by the military due to a bad knee) was called up to the Philadelphia Athletics. He played there for Athletics Manager Connie Mack before being traded to the Detroit Tigers during the 1946 season. Kell blossomed in the Motor City. As a player and later a longtime broadcaster in Detroit, Kell always made sure people knew he was from Arkansas. He loved the state and its people.
When baseball statistical wizard Bill James finished rating major league players at all positions, he wound up with Joseph Floyd “Arky” Vaughan as the second-best shortstop in the history of the game. The top spot went to Honus Wagner. It’s quite an achievement for a man from tiny Clifty in the hills of Madison County.
Vaughan was one of six children. When he was an infant, his father became an oilfield worker and the family moved to Fullerton, Calif. But the nickname “Arky” stuck, and the people of this state have long claimed this native Arkansan as one of their own. Vaughan was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.
Travis Jackson, meanwhile was born in Waldo and died in Waldo. Jackson was widely considered the best shortstop in the National League during the Roaring ’20s when major league baseball captivated the attention of Americans. He earned the nickname “Stonewall” for his defense. Jackson was a member of just the second class of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1960. In 1982, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Jackson, the son of a storekeeper, was born in November 1903. He excelled early in baseball and played for a time for the state’s college baseball powerhouse at Ouachita. Manager John McGraw of the New York Giants eventually would sign Jackson even though the Giants had a shortstop, Dave Bancroft, who would later be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Jackson was just 5-foot-10, 160 pounds but was known for his range as a shortstop.
All of these stories are are archived at www.arksportshalloffame.org. I hope you will check them out. While you’re at it, sign up to have future stories e-mailed to you.
There are some amazing sports stories to tell in Arkansas.