HOT SPRINGS NATIONAL PARK, Arkansas — On February 19, 1923, the creator of “Guys and Dolls” turned his humorous attention to Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, and the minutely chronicled morning activities of the legendary Babe Ruth enjoying the thermal baths while attending baseball spring training in the Spa City.
Damon Runyon, a legend himself by that time, was a newspaper sports columnist in addition to writing the short stories chronicling the doings of the shady Broadway Prohibition characters who populated “Guys and Dolls” and other stories. His column that day appeared in newspapers across the country, including one in North Carolina, where this day’s column was found 97 years later.
Much like Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Lebron James and other present-day sports heroes, Babe Ruth’s every waking moment was reported by the sporting press and eagerly devoured by fans of The Bambin
Runyon’s column that day satirized this minute-by-minute scrutiny of Ruth’s activities as he went about his merry way in Hot Springs, which by then was the springtime home to other legends of the game as they tuned up for the coming Major League season. Hot Springs had already gained fame as the place where, in 1918, Ruth, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, hit a 573-foot home run from home plate in the practice field at Whittington Park into the Arkansas Alligator Farm across Whittington Avenue.
Here is how Runyon’s column that day began:
“Home Run Slugger Tunes Up With Bath”
Bulletin – 8:40 a.m. – The Babe Ruth opened his eyes, yawned six times in succession, arose and dressed.
Bulletin – 9:00 a.m. – The Babe Ruth repaired to the dining hall of the Hotel Majestic and made an order of ham and eggs look mighty silly.
Bulletin – 9:30 a.m. – The Babe Ruth sat down to a game of Hearts in the lobby of the Majestic Hotel with a bunch of traveling-looking men.
Bulletin – 9:35 a.m. – The Babe Ruth led the five of hearts and the deuce, trey and four were played on it by his companions.
Bulletin – 9:36 a.m. – This correspondent inquired of The Babe Ruth as follows: ‘How do you Feel Babe?’
‘Terrible,’ replied the Babe Ruth as he raked in the four hearts.
Runyon, whose creative stories and columns were turned into 20 Hollywood movies, including “Guys and Dolls” and “Little Miss Marker,” continued his humorous look at Ruth’s day in descriptions that also captured part of the charm that had made Hot Springs a worldwide mecca for enjoying the thermal waters as well as other less wholesome activities that attracted Babe Ruth’s fellow athletes as well as figures such as Al Capone.
Thus we discharge our duty to the waiting world. We have passed out all the immediate feed box into the doings of the Babe Ruth up to the hour of going to the typewriter.
It is rumoured that late yesterday afternoon the Babe Ruth was observed en route to the bath house connected with the Hotel Majestic arrayed in a trailing robe and flapping slippers, and breathing threats of taking a bath, but as this information came to us second-handed, we refrain from expatiating on it at length.
It is known that the Babe Ruth did purchase robe, slippers and a brace of fresh-laid Turkish towels soon after his arrival, but this is a formality required by law of every new arrival in Hot Springs. In fact, if a man goes around town without a robe, slippers and a pair of towels, he is at once an object of dark suspicion. Another requirement is a cane.
This writer has gone through life for many years without a cane, because he never needed a cane. We were brought up to believe that canes were only for the aged and decrepit, or for dudes, and back in our hometown, dudes were killed on sight, with the concurrence of the authorities.
We never believed that we would sink into the depths of cane-carrying, but soon after our arrival in Hot Springs we learned that a cane was almost as necessary to citizenship as a Turkish towel.
The activities of Ruth and the nearly 50 percent of the members of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame who trained and played in Hot Springs are chronicled in the Historic Hot Springs Baseball Trail as well as an acclaimed film by documentarian Larry Foley, “The First Boys of Spring.”
For more information call Steve Arrison at 501-321-2027.