The city that bills itself as the “Birthplace of Spring Training” has erected a 160-foot full-color mural showcasing baseball cards of five legends who honed their craft in the area.
The mural on the wall of a building in downtown Hot Springs incorporates a T206 Honus Wagner, 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth, 1953 Topps Jackie Robinson and a ’53 Topps Satchel Paige. A Lefty Grove card on the mural is a fantasy creation designed by the artists. All of the featured players had strong ties to Hot Springs.
Texas artists Chris Arnold and Jeff Garrison created the mural, which is an addition to the city’s Historic Baseball Trail, which traces some of the places where those players and others put the city on the big league map during their pre-season preparations.
The work is entitled “Playing Cards” which is a play on words as it depicts pitcher Grove at the far right, firing a baseball past and through the cards of Paige, Robinson, Ruth and Wagner. The ball then lands in a catcher’s mitt at the far left.
The mural is lighted so that it is easily visible at night, and two coats of a protective clear-coating were applied by Visit Hot Springs employee Toby Faust to protect the painting from harmful ultraviolet sun rays and the elements.
The artists say they used Robinson’s 1953 Topps card to highlight the design that transitions from black and white at the bottom to full color representing the groundbreaking moment in 1947 in which Robinson broke Major League’s color barrier.
The mural is lighted so that it is easily visible at night, and two coats of a protective clear-coating were applied by Visit Hot Springs employee Toby Faust to protect the painting from harmful ultraviolet sun rays and the elements. The clear-coating was furnished by Peters Paint Company.
Mike Dugan of Hot Springs, one of the five esteemed baseball historians who have consulted with Visit Hot Springs in establishing the Historic Baseball Trail, gave these explanations on the links to Hot Springs of the five players depicted on “Playing Cards”:
“Wagner was with the Pittsburgh Pirates on 20 different visits to Hot Springs between 1901 and 1926, with the post-1917 visits coming as a coach. Was very popular with the locals due to his friendly personality, he engaged people all over town, many locals considered him a friend.
“In 1908 he was joined by future Hall of Fame pitcher Walter “The Big Train” Johnson in teaching the Hot Springs High School boys how to play basketball. That team went on to go 10-1 with their only loss coming to Hendrix College. They were led by center Leo Mclaughlin, who later became an infamous mayor of the city, and forward Vern Ledgerwood, who was a notorious judge in the city.”
“Ruth loved Hot Springs. His first trip came as a rookie in 1915 with the Boston Red Sox and his annual trips as a player continued through 1925 spring training.
“On March 17, 1918, his 573-foot home run at Whittington Park off of Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Al Mamaux cleared not only the park’s fence and Whittington Avenue but also cleared the wall at the Arkansas Alligator Farm, landing in a pool. That swing not only convinced Red Sox ownership that pitcher Ruth’s bat should be in the lineup every day but it is universally accepted as the event that changed the game from the ‘inside game’ of a base hit or walk and then steal a base to a game of swinging for the fences. A week later several newspapers reported that Ruth hit an even longer shot in Hot Springs, also against the Dodgers.
“Ruth’s visits to Hot Springs were legendary. More than one season started with Ruth having borrowed his entire year’s salary from ownership before the team returned from Hot Springs to Boston.
“After Ruth’s trade to the New York Yankees he continued to start his own version of spring training in Hot Springs, usually joined by several of his Yankee teammates through 1925. During that 1925 visit the Babe enjoyed Hot Springs a little too much. Reports say the Yankee ownership got wind of this and ordered him to join the team in Florida. On the train trip Ruth became very ill and was hospitalized in Asheville, N.C., with an ‘intestinal excess’ in what quickly became known as ‘The Bellyache Heard ‘Round the World.’ The problem forced him to miss half of the season and gave cause for the team to add a clause in his contract that forbade him from returning to Hot Springs. That problem was remedied in retirement when Ruth once again returned to town to enjoy the golf, gambling and night life.”
“Robinson stopped in town, I believe, twice with his post-season barnstorming teams. We have quite a bit of info on his 1953 stop, which included Gil Hodges and Luke Easter. I think he was here in 1952 with Roy Campanella, Easter and Don Newcombe as they formed a touring team. It was during this 1952 trip that Campy and Jackie had a falling out on Campanella’s refusal to become active in the civil rights movement. During the 1953 trip the team played a group of Negro League all-stars on October 22 at Jaycee Park.
“Paige came often during the late 1920s and into the 1940s with various teams and apparently on his own. He enjoyed the thermal hot springs and gave the ht water credit for ‘keeping his juices jangling’ heading into the season. It has been reported that many famous black entertainers enjoyed his company so much that they made sure to schedule visits during Paige’s trips to Hot Springs. This included the legendary tap-dancing entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who was part owner of several Negro League teams through the years. Robinson famously tap-danced the length of Central Avenue during one of his trips to the city.’
“Grove was the starting pitcher of the great Philadelphia Athletics teams of the 1929-31 era. Grove was an overpowering strikeout pitcher who led a staff that included future Hot Springs resident George Earnshaw. While Ruth’s 1927 Yankee team is considered baseball’s best ever, the 1929 Athletics are a close second. In both 1929 and 1930 the Athletics trained in Hot Springs before beating the Cubs in the 1929 World Series and the Cardinals in the 1930 series.
“After being traded to the Red Sox in one of Connie Mack’s classic dumping of salaries, Grove became the star of the Red Sox staff. Problems began for Grove in 1935 went his arm went dead, leaving him with just eight wins and only 109 innings pitched. He returned to Hot Springs and praised the early morning thermal baths and 36 holes of golf each afternoon with bringing life back to his arm. He went on to win 20 games in 1935. Another bout of arm soreness in 1938 brought him back to town and saw him have a very successful 1939 campaign. He praised the hot waters for saving his career twice.”
The mural is at the intersections of Broadway, Convention Boulevard, Malvern Avenue and Bridge Street and covers the south wall of the Craighead Laundry Building.