This Week in Arkansas Sports History: July 14-20

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Editor’s Note: Welcome to the latest This Week in Arkansas Sports History by Evin Demirel. In this column you will find tidbits of sports news from years gone by, pulled from sources and newspaper archives from around the state. Our hope is that we will remind you of a sports story you may have forgotten and share some you never knew.

If you have tips for us to check out, let us know in the mailbag form at the bottom of the post. Our objective is to make this column interactive. So if you have a suggestion or feedback, send it our way!

10 Years Ago:

Pine Bluff native Torii Hunter celebrated his 28th birthday with a game-saving catch to give the Minnesota Twins a 3-2 win over the Oakland Athletics. Ramon Hernandez’s ninth-inning liner was sinking toward the center field turf when Hunter leapt to make the spectacular grab for Minnesota.

With his cap next to him on the carpet, Hunter popped to his feet and pumped his fist as the crowd of 21,852 celebrated…

“Painfully, it ranks No. 1,” Hunter said of his latest Gold Glove-caliber catch. “I said, ‘Forget it, let me get it.’ My buttons and my jersey are melting. I’ve got to get a new one.”
Arkansas Sports history torii hunter

The 2003 season was the third of nine consecutive in which Hunter won a Gold Glove Award. Hunter is playing well again this summer, leading Detroit to the top of the American League Central and securing his fifth All-Star Game appearance on the cusp of turning 38 years old. [July 18, 2003; Associated Press]

Hunter happens to share the same birthday as yours truly. Which means he also shares a b-day with Nelson Mandela, Penny Hardaway and John Glenn. Not a bad foursome.

Who are the most historic figures/best athletes you share a birthday with?

Scottie Pippen signed to play with the Chicago Bulls, the franchise with which he won six world championships and was voted one of the top 50 NBA players of all time. The University of Central Arkansas graduate left Chicago in 1998 after Michael Jordan retired to join the Houston Rockets with the goal of helping Charles Barkley get his first title.

That experiment didn’t go well;  the Rockets lost in the first round  3-1 to the Lakers. Pippen spent the next four years in Portland, where Los Angeles again barred the door to a Finals return.

2003-04 season would turn out to be the 38-year-old Pippen’s last. He didn’t contribute much in only 18 minutes a game but there was sentimental value in his returning to end a great career with the franchise where he’d made his name. Similar return-to-home themes have played out before the retirements of Allen Iverson and Ken Griffey, Jr.

When Pippen joined Hall of Fame teammates to start the 1998-99 season, everything was giggles and laughs…it didn’t exactly end that way.

50 Years Ago:
Arkansas Sports History faubus with kennedy at greers ferry lake

Despite political reservations, Governor Orval Faubus agreed to appear with President John F. Kennedy at an upcoming dedication of the new Greers Ferry Dam.

A delegation from Heber Springs visited Faubus, a Democrat, to discuss the program and seek his help in raising money to pay for the event.

Faubus isn’t a fan of Kennedy, also a Democrat, but said he would direct the State Police and the Arkansas National Guard to allay security concerns during the visit. Faubus said the president is due every courtesy and consideration and politics should be kept out of sight for the ceremony.

He added, though: “Right now, you could raise more money to keep Kennedy out of the state than to bring him in.” (July 16, 1963; Arkansas Gazette)

Greers Ferry Dam was dedicated in October, 1963 before about 10,000 people. The lake it created has become one of Arkansas’ premier sites for outdoor sports and recreation. Greers Ferry Lake features 18 recreational areas offering camping, swimming, and boat access, three nature trails and good trout fishing.

The dam’s dedication was Kennedy’s second visit to Arkansas as president. The president most portrayed as Kennedy’s heir, Barack Obama, has yet to visit the state as chief executive.

Arkansas Travelers pitcher Billy Smith accepted a bases-loaded assignment in the seventh inning of a 1-1 road game and emerged the winner in a 5-1 win over the Jacksonville (Fla.) Suns. It is the Travelers’ 14th win in 16 games.

For Smith, the win is the latest feather in an 11-game cap the likes of which few Traveler pitchers have worn before. Consider that in his last 11 games, Smith has pitched 27 innings with a 0.33 earned run average. Throw in 19 strikeouts, four wins, no losses and you have a recipe for one of the all-time great pitching streaks in franchise history. (July 16, 1964; Arkansas Democrat)

Indeed, has a Travs hurler ever been hotter over the course of a couple weeks?

100 Years Ago:
Arkansas sports history Southern_League_Main_Logo_Color

It’s been three years since the Arkansas Travelers dropped out of the Southern League because of lagging attendance, but league president Judge W.M. Kavanaugh is angling to get his city’s team back in it – possibly as an affiliate of the major league St. Louis Browns.

That speculation was fueled on Tuesday night when Browns president Robert Hedges made a sudden visit to Little Rock and spent hours conversing with his personal friend Kavanaugh. It’s not known what was said, but the guess here is that Hedges wants the Travelers to be a Browns affiliate in the Southern League. Central Arkansas is warmer than St. Louis and could also serve as an early spring training ground for St. Louis’ most popular team.

Kavanaugh has a history of getting things done, so don’t discount his ability to get the Travs into the Southern League for the third time in their 18-year history. Kavanaugh, after all, is the same ex-Gazette editor, county sheriff and current U.S. Senator fill-in who captained construction of a road linking Little Rock with the suburban community of Pulaski Heights.

His integrity in all fields led to the nickname “the squarest man in baseball.” (July 16, 1913; Arkansas Democrat)

The street leading westward from downtown Little Rock up to Pulaski Heights was named Prospect until 1936, when it was renamed Kavanaugh Boulevard in W.M.’s honor.

In 1953, the Browns franchise moved and became the Baltimore Orioles.

Last night, a great crowd attended the tennis games of the Little Rock Tennis Club. It is claimed the site of the matches is the only electrically lit court in the South or Southwest. Two games were played. In the first, spectators saw Nolan Blass and W.J. Tharp defeat H.M. Hess and A.J. Mercer 6-5 in light that was as bright as day. Hess and Tharp also beat D.D. Terry and Gordon Campbell.

The court was illuminated by twenty four 250-watt Mazda lamps installed by the Little Rock Railway and Electric Company. (July 18, 1913; Arkansas Democrat)

Any surprise that this electric company was one of six businesses run at one point by “Arkansas’ Foremost Citizen” – William Marmaduke Kavanaugh?

Can’t get enough sports, society and history? Neither can Evin. That’s why his pen overfloweth here.


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