Visit Hot Springs has wrapped up its "Playing Cards" baseball mural in downtown Hot Springs in time for Christmas.
The 160-foot mural, which depicts five legendary players who helped make Hot Springs the birthplace of Major League Baseball spring training, was completed with the installation of lights at each end of the mural on Nov. 29, according to Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison.
The lights will allow for easy visibility at night.
Work on the mural by Dallas muralists Chris Arnold and Jeff Garrison of Eyecon Studios began Sept. 17. "Playing Cards" is a play on words, as the mural features the players on baseball trading cards that tie into the action taking place across the piece, the artists told The Sentinel-Record in September.
The mural features Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige and Lefty Grove, who had "intimate ties to Hot Springs in the late 19th and 20th centuries when the city was known worldwide as the place where Major League players got ready for the baseball season," Arrison said in a news release.
The mural is considered a "significant addition" to the city's Historic Baseball Trail, which traces the places where spring training had its birth, Arrison said.
The mural, located on the south wall of the Craighead Laundry Building near the intersection of Malvern, Convention and Bridge, depicts Grove at the east end pitching a baseball past and through cards of Paige, Robinson, Ruth and Wagner, landing in a catcher's mitt on the west end of the building.
The trading card depicting Robinson is unique in that the lower edge of the card is in black and white, and transforms into full color toward the top.
Arnold and Garrison said in the release that the transition represents "the groundbreaking moment in 1947" when Robinson broke Major League's color barrier by becoming the first African-American player who was allowed to play on a Major League team -- the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In addition to the lights, two coats of a protective clear coating, provided by Peters Flooring & Paint, were applied by Visit Hot Springs employee Toby Faust to protect the mural from harmful ultraviolet sun rays and the elements.
"We are extremely grateful to Peters Paint Co. and the Best Court Motel on Ouachita, which helped us house artists Chris Arnold and Jeff Garrison while they completed the mural," Arrison said in the release.
In the release, Mike Dugan, of Hot Springs, one of five baseball historians who consulted with Visit Hot Springs on the Historic Baseball Trail, discusses the significance of the five players depicted in the mural.
The T206 Honus Wagner card from 1909 is one of the most iconic cards in the card collecting hobby, from the first large set ever issued, Dugan said.
"It consisted of 524 different cards issued between 1909 and 1911," he said. "The story behind the Wagner card is that he asked for it to be pulled because he didn't want kids buying cigarettes to get the cards. There are only about 50 to 55 known examples of the card and a nice copy would sell at auction for over a million dollars."
Dugan said 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. He was very popular with the locals due to his friendly personality; he engaged people all over town, and 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," Dugan said, adding the 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," he said.
"Wagner led the National League in batting average eight times, stolen bases five times and triples three times. In the 'deadball era' of baseball only Ty Cobb was considered Wagner's equal in the game."
The Babe Ruth card, circa 1933, is a Goudey gum card from the "first large gum card set ever issued."
"The Goudey Gum Co. put out a set of 240 different cards," Dugan said. "Reflecting Ruth's popularity there were four Ruth cards in this set. A nice example would sell for about $1,500 today."
Dugan said Ruth "loved Hot Springs," with his first trip as a rookie in 1915 with the Boston Red Sox. Annual trips as a player continued through 1925 spring training, he said.
"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," Dugan said. "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."
Dugan said Ruth continued his own version of spring training in Hot Springs through 1925 after his trade to the New York Yankees. During his 1925 visit, Ruth "enjoyed Hot Springs a little too much" and was ordered by Yankee team ownership 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,'" Dugan said. "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."
Both the Robinson and Paige cards are from the 1953 Topps set, which was the second year for Topps to issue large card sets, Dugan said.
"These are the most cards for each player. Paige was only on three regular gum cards. These cards go for between $200 and $400 each," he said.
According to Dugan, Robinson stopped in Hot Springs twice with his postseason barnstorming teams and there is quite a bit of information 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," he said. "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, Dugan said the team played a group of Negro League all-stars on Oct. 22 at Jaycee Park.
Dugan said Paige frequented Hot Springs during the late 1920s and into the 1940s with various teams and on his own.
"He enjoyed the thermal hot springs and gave the hot water credit for 'keeping his juices jangling' heading into the season," he said. "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's card on the mural is a design by the mural artists as a left-handed pitcher was needed for the piece. The card is, however, based on the 1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack cards.
"Grove was the starting pitcher of the great Philadelphia Athletics teams of the 1929-31 era," Dugan said. "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."
Dugan said Grove became the "star of the Red Sox staff" after being traded in one of Connie Mack's classic dumping of salaries. However, problems began for the pitcher in 1935 when 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 said. "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."Local on 12/05/2018
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