Baseball

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Entry Category: Baseball

Sain, John Franklin (Johnny)

Johnny Franklin Sain was a star major league pitcher and is widely considered to have been the best pitching coach in major league baseball history. Sain had unique (and still controversial) approaches to working with pitchers, the success of which earned him the respect and affection of his charges. As a pitcher, he won 139 games, the third-highest total for an Arkansas native, right behind Lon Warneke, who had 192 wins, and Dizzy Dean, who had 150. Johnny Sain was born on September 25, 1917, in Havana (Yell County) to John Franklin Sain Sr. and Eva Sain. He had a sister, Agnes. His father, an auto mechanic, taught him how to throw a curveball, which Sain later said served him …

Schmidt, Charles “Boss”

Arkansas native Charles “Boss” Schmidt was a baseball player whose minor and major league career spanned most of the first two decades of the twentieth century. His nickname was a tribute to the toughness he exhibited, especially in fights during his baseball career (with other ballplayers, including his Detroit Tigers teammate Ty Cobb) and during a brief stint as a boxer. Charles Schmidt was born on September 12, 1880, in London (Pope County)—some sources say Coal Hill (Johnson County)—to German immigrants John and Mary Schmidt. It is unclear how many siblings he had, but a younger brother, Walter, played professional baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates. As a youth, Schmidt worked in the coal mines central to the region’s economy. While …

Smith, Harold Raymond (Hal)

Harold Raymond (Hal) Smith of Barling (Sebastian County) became the starting catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in his rookie season, 1956, and held that position until a heart valve condition caused his retirement as a player in 1961. Playing in 570 games, Smith had a major league batting average of .258 and hit twenty-three home runs. Known for his rifle-shot throwing arm, Smith listed superstars Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Roberto Clemente—Baseball Hall of Fame members and the best base runners of the era—among his “thrown out trying to steal second” victims. Hal Smith was born on June 1, 1931, to Katherine and Ronald Smith, who operated a grocery and gas station along Highway 22; he had three sisters …

Speaker, Tristram E.

Tris Speaker was one of the greatest players in baseball history. Fast, smart, and strong-willed, he reveled in the fierce competition that characterized major league baseball in the early days. Elected in the second class of honorees and formally inducted at the inaugural ceremonies that marked the grand opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in 1939, Speaker was one of the most outstanding performers in baseball, going head to head with greats such as Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. He was one of only a few players for the Arkansas Travelers who would be elected to the Hall of Fame. Tristram E. Speaker was born on April 4, 1888, in Hubbard, Texas. His father, Archie …

Surratt, Alfred “Slick”

Alfred “Slick” Surratt was a baseball player in the Negro Leagues in the late 1940s and early 1950s. After his playing career, he spent decades as a welder for the Ford Motor Company. He stayed involved in baseball, however, through his involvement in the creation and development of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Missouri. Alfred Surratt was born on November 9, 1922, in Danville (Yell County). A baseball player from his earliest days, he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to live with his father at the end of the eighth grade. Not yet twenty years old when the United States entered World War II, Surratt served in the South Pacific during the war but was able to continue playing …

Taylor Field

aka: Taylor Memorial Field
Taylor Field, located at 1201 East 16th Street in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), is a regulation-size baseball field featuring a U-shaped grandstand designed by architect Mitchell Seligman. Taylor Field was constructed in 1939 with assistance from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a Depression-era federal relief agency. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 21, 2010. The Pine Bluff Judges of the Pine Bluff Baseball Club played their games at Missouri Pacific Park, built in 1930, until fire severely damaged it a year later. A new structure was erected, but after seven years it was in serious disrepair, leading local baseball boosters to turn to the WPA for assistance in constructing a new field and grandstand. …

Tri-State League

The Class D Tri-State League was established in 1925 and comprised teams in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. In 1926, the league expanded into a fourth state, when Alabama’s Sheffield-Tuscumbia franchise joined the league. The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL), the administrative agency of minor league baseball from 1901 to the present, sanctioned the league. At the time, the NAPBL’s classification structure ranged from Class A to D, with Class D being the lowest level of competition in professional baseball. Memphis, Tennessee, attorney John D. Martin was the league’s president for both seasons of its existence. Martin was an established minor league baseball executive and president of the Class A Southern League. The goal of the league was to …

Valentine, Bill, Jr.

aka: William Terry Valentine Jr.
William Terry Valentine Jr. served as general manager of the Arkansas Travelers baseball team in Little Rock (Pulaski County) from 1976 until 2009. During his tenure, the organization underwent many changes that included leaving the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm organization for the Anaheim Angels’ and reaching an agreement to relocate the Travelers from historic Ray Winder Field, one of the oldest professional baseball parks in the country, to a new ballpark on the riverfront of downtown North Little Rock (Pulaski County). In his first five years as general manager, he instituted a new promotional program that dramatically increased attendance. Valentine was also a professional baseball umpire who was fired for trying to organize an American League umpires union. Bill Valentine was …

Vaughan, Joseph Floyd “Arky”

Joseph Floyd “Arky” Vaughan was a professional baseball player and one of six native Arkansans elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Considered one of the best shortstops in baseball history, Vaughan was also one of the premier hitters in the 1930s. Arky Vaughan was born on March 9, 1912, in Clifty (Madison County) to Robert Vaughan and Laura Denny Vaughan. He was one of six children. When he was an infant, the family moved to Fullerton, California, where his father became an oilfield worker. Vaughan never returned to Arkansas. Throughout much of his life, Vaughan was linked to the state because of his nickname, given to him as a child because he talked with an Arkansas accent acquired …

Warneke, Lon

Montgomery County native Lon (Lonnie) Warneke, known as the “The Arkansas Hummingbird,” was a major league baseball pitcher and umpire who later served as county judge for Garland County. He was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1961. Lon Warneke was born on March 28, 1909, to Luke and Belle Warneke in the small farming community of Owley (Montgomery County), about six miles south of Mount Ida (Montgomery County); he had four siblings. Warneke worked on the family farm. He attended the Owley public schools until the ninth grade, when he transferred to Mount Ida. The baseball coach there did not think Warneke was good enough to play on the high school team the first year. However, …

Winder, Ray

Ray Winder was a minor league baseball executive. After learning the ins and outs of the minor league baseball business through a decade of short-term stints with teams in the Southeast, Winder joined the Little Rock Travelers (now the Arkansas Travelers) for good in 1931. By the mid-1940s, he had become one of the team’s owners and was the driving force behind the team for the next twenty years. Ray Winder was born in Indian Springs, Indiana, on February 5, 1885. He moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) with his family in 1905 to run a livery stable. While the stable was the last in the city to close, it was still a dying business, and Winder was forced to …

Winkles, Bobby Brooks

Bobby Winkles’s career in baseball spanned over four decades. While he never played in the major leagues, he served an often pivotal role in the development of many who did. His influence was felt in the college ranks, where he turned Arizona State University (ASU) into a national powerhouse, as well as in all levels of the professional game, where he served as a coach, manager, front office executive, and broadcaster. Bobby Brooks Winkles was born on March 11, 1930, in Tuckerman (Jackson County) to Clifford Winkles and Devona Brooks Winkles. When he was nine years old, the family moved to Swifton (Jackson County), where he got his early education, graduating from Swifton High School before heading off to college. …