Ray Doan School of Baseball
Ray Doan’s 1937 Baseball School in Hot Springs
By the 1930s, baseball’s heyday in Hot Springs had waned, although individual players and a handful of teams still came here for spring training, mountain hikes and thermal baths.
Into this milieu strode Ray Doan, a sports promoter from Muscatine, Iowa. He organized his All-Star Baseball School here for youngsters dreaming of the big leagues or at least hoping to win a minor league berth. This was 1933-1938. In 1939-1941, Doan shifted his operation to Mississippi and then Florida, where it faded amid the abundance of other baseball schools. In addition, major league teams held mass tryout camps to stock their farm systems. Doan tried reopening his school here in 1961, but the effort failed.
Doan hired players and coaches from organized ball as instructors. His 1937 staff in Hot Springs consisted of Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, Lon Warneke, Charlie O’Leary, Hank Severeid, Johnny Mostil, Germany Schultz, Walter Holke, Lew Fonseca, George Sisler, Wid Matthews, Bob Feller, Schoolboy Rowe, Spike Hunter, Rip Schroeder, Homer Cole, Dr. Homer Wright, Jack Ryan and Pat Monahan. Most had big league careers, and some were now scouts hunting for talent. Three fields were used: Ban Johnson at Whittington Park (current site of Weyerhaeuser offices and parking), Older (above the Alligator Farm) and Dean (current site of the Boys & Girls Club grounds).
National League umpire George Barr also taught here, 1935-1940, appealing to would-be diamond arbiters. Barr used lectures and films, and the men practiced by calling Doan’s intramural games. (There were sufficient pupils to form teams, allowing the boys to show off in competition what they’d absorbed in class.) Half of Barr’s novices became paid umpires. In 1941 Barr moved his school to Florida.
When Doan left town, Hornsby steered his own Base-
ball College here: 1939-1941, 1948-1951, and 1955-1956. (His 1942 school was in Fort Worth.)
Some journalists and baseball grandees looked askance at these schools pocketing fees from teens of suspect aptitude. Commendably, Doan never guaranteed fame and fortune. In fact, most students were frankly told upon “graduation” that they had no future in pro ball. About a third received tryout contracts from minor league clubs; very few attained the majors. Students came from all over the U.S. and Canada. In 1937, 373 adolescent males journeyed to the Spa City via bus, Pullman car, freight-hopping, hitchhiking and “one group from Wisconsin rolled in on a dilapidated truck, while two from New York arrived in style, driving a Packard.” Full tuition for the six-week course was $60, with room and board in hotels or private homes.
Ever alert regarding publicity, Doan utilized the Sporting News, the “Bible of Baseball.” The paper ran ads for his school, described school activities, and sponsored mail-in voting campaigns to send a dozen or so boys to the school each year.
On the first day of the 1937 term, February 15, after loosening-up exercises and one-on-one work with every boy, a mountain hike ensued. That evening a banquet and formal opening took place at the Eastman Hotel, broadcast by KTHS. Next day, a photographer snapped a souvenir image of each lad with O’Leary, Dean, Hornsby, and Warneke. Later that week, rain confined everybody to Hot Springs High School’s gym, rented by “Professor Doan.” Sunshine prevailed much of the time, however, and the session continued till March 27.
Doan drove back to Iowa. For most of his neophytes, that photo they carried home was as close as they’d get to a brass ring — but it would always remind them of an All-Star ride. A longer article by Mark Blaeuer about Doan’s Baseball School is in The Record 2013, the GCHS yearly journal.
4 1 Chamber of Commerce press release, 1936: “Hot Springs High School band out to welcome Professor Dizzy Dean on Dean Field, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, where the Cardinal ace is instructing students in the Doan Baseball School.” (GCHS) 2 Ray...
5 3 Left to right: Charley O’Leary, Dizzy Dean, Doan School student Vince Richardson, Rogers Hornsby, Lon Warneke, February 16, 1937. Richardson earned a tryout with the Class D Northern League’s Duluth Dukes but did not play for them. (National Park...
7 7 Bennie Huffman went almost directly from student at the Doan School to starting catcher with the St. Louis Browns in 1937. (Courtesy Jim Sargent and Nancy Waldo)
6 6Ray Doan (left) and Dizzy Dean seated at Dean Field, registering hundreds of students at the beginning of the 1936 school term. (GCHS)