THE FINAL SEASON
Since 1950, the Hot Springs Bather had not won a Cotton State League Championship. Flash-forward to 1955. A ticket campaign called “Operation Baseball” kicked of the season on March 14. The plan this year was to fill the entire city with advertisement of the Bathers. Their goal was to sell 400 books of Bathers’ season tickets for $25.00 per book. Each book contained 59 tickets, one grandstand ticket for each home game, excluding opening night. “Local car dealer, Charlie Williamson, 1955 Bathers owner, said he needed $27,000 in the bank by the Bathers first game of the season on April 26. Mr. Williamson operated at a loss during the previous season; however, he secured a limited working agreement with the Kansas City Athletics for the 1955 season, (Duren).”
In 1955, Joe Lutz, a former Triple-A play, began the role as the Bathers manager while teaching during the off season in Iowa. On March 23, the Bathers began training in Savannah, Georgia at the Kansas City Athletics training center. This was the first time in the post-war era that the Bathers traveled away from the Spa for spring training. The agreement with the Athletics “guarantees five players and a manager, but the A’s are expected to assign more as soon as their spring training program jells.” The Sentinel-Record were releasing gloomy headlines as the ticket campaign was taking off. The financial condition of the Bathers swarmed the city. Financially, the club was better off when other teams such as the White Sox owned it.
In 1950, the club began to be privately owned. Major league money was no longer pouring into the team. It was not long before Mr. Williamson saw an opportunity to sell the club. “Williamson sold the Bathers to George “Mickey” O’Neil, a 38-year veteran of baseball. O’Neil, a native of St. Louis, spent nine years as a catcher in the majors and several years in the minors, (Duren).” O’Neil received an outpour of support from the community and franchise.
New rules rose from the Cotton State League, one major rule to be exact. The Cotton State League limited each team to only four experienced veteran players. There were two type of veteran players, a limited-service player and professional payers. A limited-service player was a player who was in professional baseball at the time he entered the military. If the player returned from the military duty, he was then allowed to play professional baseball as long as he made the team. The league did not consider a limited-service player a “veteran” in the rule change. The CSL wanted to give as many limited service members and rookies a chance to make it to the major league.
On April 1, the Jaycees formally leased the baseball park to Mickey O’Neil. The Bathers were officially ready to start their season. The CSL consisted of 6 teams, Hot Springs, Pine Bluff, El Dorado, Greenville, Vicksburg and Monroe. On April 25, the day before opening night the Bathers held workouts at Jaycee Park. “The morning workout began at 10:00 and the afternoon practice began at 7:00 and finished at 8:30. Manager Lutz wanted the players to feel comfortable with the lighting. Following the night practice, the Bathers journeyed to radio stations KWFC to broadcast a 30-minute program called ‘Meet the Bathers.’ On Tuesday afternoon, several hours before game time, the Bathers paraded down Central Avenue, (Duren).”
Several business men were partaking in the pregame festivities. They decided to have a pretend game to get the crowd ready for the Bathers. These men included Mayor Floyd Housley, Circuit Judge C. Floyd Huff Jr., Sheriff Leonard Ellis and Municipal Judge M.C. Lewis Jr. Jewel Thomas had run the the concession stand since 1951 as the assistant concession manager, and this year was no different. The Bathers ended up beating the Judges 12-6. The 2,240 fans that were there were officially fired up. “The Spa Boys outhit Pine Bluff by a 14 to 8 margin as Bathers third baseman Howard Warrell led all batters with three safeties, including a round tripper. Outfielder Bill Brashear, the bespectacled leadoff hitter and ‘speed merchant’ went 2-4 at the plate including a three-run homer, five RBIs, and scored twice. The spamen scored a combined seven tallies in the seventh and eighth innings to help their cause as they used four tossers to connect with the win. Starter Rodney Tangeman, a rookie from Iowa, showed good arm speed until the fifth frame when he was touched with four runs. With two outs in the fifth, left Don ‘Spook’ Miller tok over on the mound followed shortly by Jim Williams. Lefty ‘Fireman’ Joe Graham doused the flames in the eighth and ninth frams to allow the Williams win, (Duren).”
The very next night, the unexpected happened, the Bathers got a win over Pine Bluff. The first game was difficult. They fought long and hard for over three hours. For the second game only 509 people showed up in comparison to the 2,240 the night before. The story of Jim Tugerson, showed that the Cotton State League did not want any black players in the league a few years before the Bathers final season. Pine Bluff had three black players on their roster in 1955. Although Pine Bluff was not to be kicked out of the league, like they attempted to do with Hot Springs, they were told by the officials to not play the black players. However, this time Trautman did not interfere with the leagues’ ruling. The black players were held out of the game with Greenville. Pine Bluff considered pulling out of the league. Their attendance was extremely low so they were not making much money. They officially decided that was the best course of action, so they pulled out of the league.
On May 7, the three black players sat in the stands at the Pine Bluff game. Just like at Hot Springs, the umpires had to call forfeit if any black players stepped onto the field to play. CSL President, Judge Emmet Harty, dismissed the fact that Pine Bluff said they had to forfeit the game if there were black players. The Cotton State League was playing dirty. On Sunday, May 8, Hot Springs was on fire and ladies day was occurring. “The Bathers (10-6) were up by half a game in the first place over El Dorado. The Spa team was second in club batting with .265, behind Monroe’s .295 average. In club fielding, Hot Springs was in first place with a .949 clip, .001 point better than El Dorado. Five Bathers were hitting over .300 as Rudy Mayling was in second place in the league with a rousing .391. ‘Gabby’ Hays had .333, Brashear posted a .324 figure, Howard Warrell was batting .314 and Larry Good stood at .306. No Hot Springs pitcher had more than one win; however, Ed White was undefeated at 1-0, (Duren).” On May 16, the Bathers beat Pine Bluff again with a 9-0 win. The attendance had lowered with only 407 attendees. Hot Springs stayed at around third place in the CSL. On June 2, the Bathers grabbed another win against Pine Bluff by a five run lead, making the final score 16-11.
In 1955, players came and went throughout the year. The Bathers decided to try another attempt at raising attendance. They came up with an idea called “Baseball Day.” The Lions Club of Hot Springs planned a picnic and afterwards the group attended a Bathers game. Since the attendance was still only averaged around 500 people, O’Neil made an announcement that the Bathers would most likely have to close their doors. “It was football weather out at Jaycee Park on June 10; however, about 600 fans braved the 50-degree weather to watch Lutz slam three home runs as the Spa Boys divided a twin bill with the Billies of Vicksburg. The Bathers took the first game 7-4, but lost the nightcap in a come-from-behind victory by the Billies 8-7, (Duren).”
On June 15, the Bathers were able to beat Monroe 16-2. They were officially tied for second place with El Dorado. The Hot Springs Elks Lodge No. 380 made Jaycee Park a busy day on June 22. They sponsored an event that made admission free for kids under 12. They also had a pregame between the Elks Athletic Committee and The Elks Entertainment Committee. The Cotton State league decided they would have a split season. The first half would end on June 24 and the second began on June 25. The Bathers were only three and a half games from first place. Their winning didn’t last long as they quickly started the second have with a 1-4 record. Hot Springs was hurting. The Bathers were aching for money. After talking to business men in the community, O’Neil announced to the city that pledge money of $1,275 arrived and was ready for bank deposit as soon as possible. Also within 24 hours, the fans came through with $1,700 to pay the back salaries of the players.
The Bathers went on the road for their last two games of the season against the Meridan Millers losing both contest 4-3 and 9-6. The Cotton State League still put them in the playoffs at the number four position. Hot Springs did not win the Championship their final year. “The 1955 Bathers may have been one of the most underrated teams in the history of the organization. In fact, at one point, the players played without receiving paychecks, but eventually were paid. They survived two managers as well as two owners. The Bathers attempted to play black players, but the league muffled that idea, (Duren).” The team tried their hardest to push through the grit of life’s’ circumstances. They fought the good fight.