Hot Springs: The Birthplace of Spring Training Baseball and the 500ft Home Run

Hot Springs: The Birthplace of Spring Training Baseball and the 500ft Home Run

Recently, many of Babe’s descendants visited Hot Springs, Arkansas for a Baseball History event that had an emphasis on Ruth. Going into the weekend, I wasn’t fully aware of what Babe Ruth’s connection was to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Turns out, it’s actually fairly significant.

Within Hot Springs National Park, there is a source of therapeutic, thermal waters that made it a major destination for visitors from across the country (even international visitors) starting in the late 1800’s. In addition to a number of bathhouses and spas, Hot Springs began hosting horse racing at Oaklawn Park starting in 1905 and the surrounding area provided a lot of outdoor recreational opportunities. The city also offered an energetic nightlife with multiple casino venues. It was Vegas before Vegas.

For baseball players at the turn of the century, it was an opportunity for fun and rehabilitation. Starting in 1894 when Whittington Park was built, many Major League teams brought their player to Hot Springs to prepare for the upcoming season, including: the Cleveland Spiders, Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Over 100 members of the Hall of Fame trained at some point in Hot Springs. In fact, almost 60% of all catchers in the Hall of Fame had played and trained in Hot Springs at some point in their career.

It was also the site of some of the more significant milestones for Babe Ruth, in particular 1918 when Ruth was a member of the Boston Red Sox. At that time, Ruth was still predominately a pitcher; however, he was becoming determined to hit more often, to hit for distance. At that time, however, strong pitching was much more highly valued than strong hitting because of the overall strategy of the game (visit our site to learn more about how Babe Ruth changed the game of baseball: http://www.baberuthcentral.com/babesimpact/babe-ruths-legacy/babe-ruths-impact-on-the-game-of-baseball/). As a result, the Red Sox insisted that Babe remain a full-time pitcher (this difference in opinion on how to use Babe was also big reason why the Red Sox ultimately chose to sell Babe to the Yankees). That didn’t mean that Babe didn’t take full advantage of his opportunities at bat when he got them, however.

On March 17th 1918, the Red Sox were playing against the Brooklyn Dodgers in a spring training game. In Babe’s second at-bat of the day, Ruth hit a home run that sailed out of the stadium and into the Alligator farm across the street. That Alligator farm is still in business today and based on reports of where spectators saw it land, it went approximately 574 feet – the first home run over 500 feet. A week later, Babe hit another home run even farther. It’s home run feats such as these from the Babe that attracted the attention of fans and ultimately the New York Yankees. We all know what happened then! It was also these home runs that the Ruth Family, along with many notable baseball historians, including Bill Jenkinson and Tim Reid, helped celebrate with the town of Hot Springs a few weeks ago.

While the venue for spring training changed over the course of time (first Florida and then Florida and Arizona), pplayers still went back occasionally to Hot Springs for some rest and rehabilitation. For many years as a Yankee, Ruth visited Hot Springs before joining up with the team at spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida. He also gave some credit to Hot Springs for his ability to effectively get ready for each season when he visited. As a baseball and history fan, it was great to walk down the streets and visit multiple venues where Babe Ruth and other baseball greats once set foot. It has just as much history and significance when it comes to the mobsters of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. In addition, Hot Springs was denoted as a National Park by the Federal Government back in 1921 so many of Hot Springs hotels, bathhouses and districts have been maintained and are listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. It feels like you’re taking a step back in time as you walk into some of these buildings. I would definitely recommend a trip to Hot Springs for any baseball or general history buff!

If you do visit Hot Springs, make sure to visit the Hot Springs Baseball Trail: http://www.hotspringsbaseballtrail.com/

For those interested, you can also view the Home Run ceremony and speeches here:

Babe’s grandson Tom Stevens – https://youtu.be/9KaZOR4zzsg
Babe Ruth Historian Tim Reid – https://youtu.be/jIp-F5zUWO4
Babe Ruth and Author Historian, Bill Jenkinson – https://youtu.be/LEm1RqQHWPY