Play ball

African-Amer­i­can base­ball has rich his­tory in Spa

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Ask Liz -

NOTE: This month’s ques­tion was fielded by Gar­land County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety Board mem­ber Mark Blaeuer.

Just ask Liz. Elizabeth Rob­bins and the staff of the Gar­land County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety are ready to tackle your ques­tions about Hot Springs’ rich his­tory each month. Just write Ask Liz, P.O. Box 580, Hot Springs, AR 71902, or e-mail ed­i­[email protected]­spring­son­

What can you tell me about the his­tory of African-Amer­i­can base­ball in Hot Springs?

Late in the 19th cen­tury, as Jim Crow laws were en­acted, ma­jor league teams be­gan to bar African-Amer­i­can par­tic­i­pa­tion, a sad fact that would not change un­til Jackie Robin­son joined the Brook­lyn Dodgers in 1947.

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

The his­tory of African-Amer­i­can base­ball in Hot Springs goes back more than 120 years to when lo­cal ho­tels spon­sored teams con­sist­ing of their African-Amer­i­can em­ploy­ees.

The first recorded men­tion of this comes from the March 12, 1891, New York Age: “The East­man Base Ball Club crossed bats with the Park nine, re­sult­ing in a score of 3 to 2, in fa­vor of the lat­ter.”

The Hot Springs Ar­ling­tons com­peted re­gion­ally, go­ing up against numer­ous Texas teams. Rube Fos­ter, now en­shrined at the Hall of Fame in Coop­er­stown, pitched for Waco and Fort Worth. Of a 1901 se­ries here, the Fort Worth Morn­ing Reg­is­ter re­ported: “Fos­ter was more than in­vin­ci­ble. He al­lowed only one hit in the first game, and none in the third.”

An oft-told story from the same decade con­cerns Char­lie Grant, slick-field­ing sec­ond base­man for sev­eral Ne­gro teams. In the spring of 1901, he was a bell­hop at the East­man, where fu­ture New York Giants man­ager John McGraw took no­tice.

“Mug­gsy” tried sign­ing him for his Baltimore Ori­oles. He in­tro­duced the light-skinned Grant as “Chief Toka­homa” – Amer­i­can

In­di­ans were al­lowed in “or­ga­nized ball” – but the ploy failed.

By 1904, the Hot Springs Blues played games as far away as St. Louis. In 1910, the Chicago Giants sched­uled a jaunt to the Spa City. In 1911, the Kloethe Reds, a lo­cal team, hosted op­po­nents like the Brook­lyn Royal Giants and Kansas City Giants. In 1915, the Va­por City Tigers came into ex­is­tence, formed by Hot Springs na­tive Ju­nie Cobb, a soon-to-be-fa­mous jazz mu­si­cian.

By the 1920s, the Chicago Amer­i­can Giants, Mem­phis Red Sox, and Kansas City Monar­chs were trav­el­ing here for games or spring train­ing. Play­ers and coaches stayed at the AfricanAme­r­i­can Pythian and the Wood­men of Union ho­tels on Malvern Av­enue.

By the 1930s, the Homestead Grays and Pitts­burgh Craw­fords en­tered the lo­cal di­a­mond scene. Th­ese five teams in­cluded Hall of Famers Cristobal Tor­ri­ente, Bul­let Ro­gan, Smoky Joe Wil­liams, Os­car Charleston, Cum­ber­land Posey, Judy John­son, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gib­son, Jud Wil­son, and Satchel Paige.

Coming here alone in 1935, an­other Coop­er­stown honoree, Biz Mackey, at­tended to “a round of train­ing chores,” prob­a­bly in­clud­ing ther­mal baths, as many play­ers did.

Ne­gro league teams vis­it­ing Hot Springs dur­ing the 1940s were the Baltimore Elites, fea­tur­ing Hall of Famer Roy Cam­panella, New York Black Yan­kees, Mem­phis Red Sox, Cleve­land Buck­eyes, and Hous­ton Ea­gles.

Hall of Fame hurler Hil­ton Smith took “treat­ment for an arm con­di­tion” here in 1949. The 1950s saw Hall of Fame slug­ger Hank Aaron and former Ne­gro lea­guers Jackie Robin­son, Larry Doby, and Monte Irvin spend time in Hot Springs.

Teams play­ing or train­ing in the city in­cluded the New York Cubans, Birm­ing­ham Black Barons, Indianapol­is Clowns, New Or­leans Ea­gles, and Detroit Stars.

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

Art “Su­per­man” Pen­ning­ton grew up in Hot Springs. He was an out­stand­ing all-around per­former in the 1940s and 1950s, most notably with the Chicago Amer­i­can Giants.

Kansas City Monar­chs at Hot Springs, 1928.

Homestead Grays at Hot Springs, 1930.

Os­car Charleston (Homestead Grays), Hot Springs, 1931.

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