More on Hot Springs baseball, Babe Ruth and Spring Training

May 13, 2012

“I’d be the laughingstock of baseball if I changed the best lefthander in the game into an outfielder.”
— Boston Red Sox manager Ed Barrow to veteran outfielder Harry Hooper early in the 1918 season, after Hooper urged Barrow to play Babe Ruth everyday, as recounted in Robert Creamer’s Babe: The Legend Comes to Life.

There was a lot I had to leave out of my story on the Hot Springs Baseball Trail in this morning’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

For starters, there’s this Jay Jennings’ Sports Illustrated piece from 1993.

I spent several hours sifting through the information on two websites created by Caleb Hardwick, the amazing Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia and Arkansas Diamonds, which is a meticulously researched history of the state’s ballparks.

You can lose yourself in the Bill Jenkinson Basbeball website, which talks about Hot Springs here. I’d come across Jenkinson’s work in the past, but he’s now one of my favorite baseball historians.

Also, the official website for the Hot Springs Baseball Trail is excellent, one of the best sites of this kind that I’ve seen. Steve Arrison, the CEO of Visit Hot Springs, also provided invaluable assistance.

Also there’s a couple of footnotes I want to add to the story.

While it’s been widely reported that every extant Major League team trained at Hot Springs some time between 1886 and 1926, I can find no record of the St. Louis Cardinals ever basing their Spring Training camp there. (The Cardinals were, however, in Little Rock in 1909 and 1910.) I’d be pleased to be corrected, if anyone has any information to the contrary.

Oh, and here’s the box score of the March 17, 1918 St. Patrick’s Day exhibition game that Bill Jenkinson (and I) believe changed the course of baseball history:

Interestingly enough, Robert Creamer, in what is widely considered the definitive Ruth biography, Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, doesn’t seem to put emphasis on the St. Patrick’s day game. Here’s his matter-of-fact account of Ruth’s apothoesis:

“Although he was still a pitcher, [Red Sox manager Ed] Barrow let him play first base and bat fifth when the Red Sox opened their exhibition season against the Dodgers. [Actually, the Robins.] Ruth had a perfect day at bat, with two walks and two home runs.”

Interestingly, Creamer seems to think an incident that occurred several days later before a game held at Camp Pike (now Camp Robinson) near North Little Rock, was more important than Ruth’s blow into the Alligator Farm:

“The game was rained out,” he writes, “but the storm held off long enough for the players to take batting practice before a huge crowd of soldiers. Ruth put on a spectacular show by hitting five balls over the right field fence, People did not hit like that in those days, and he was uproariously cheered as each succeeding ball disappeared beyond the fence. The soldiers wanted more, but Barrow finally called a halt, protesting that baseballs were too expensive to be used up at such an extravagant rate.”


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.