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Backroads and Ballplayers #18
Stories of the famous and not-so-famous men and women from the days when baseball was "Arkansas' Game." Always free and always short enough to finish in one cup of coffee.
See you Saturday, The “Kid” is 30, and a Tribute to the Girls
Robinson Kell SABR meeting Saturday, August 12, noon- 4:30 Southern Baptist Church of Bryant, Arkansas - 604 South Reynolds Road
Last week we invited all of you who love the history of Arkansas baseball to join us Saturday at the August 12 meeting of the Robinson-Kell Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). If you share our affection for the game and like stories about those men and women who played “Arkansas’ Game” in the 20th century, you belong at this meeting. Although Robinson-Kell is a SABR Chapter, guests are not only invited but encouraged to attend. You will not be required to join, only to come and enjoy the company of folks who share your love for America’s Pastime. I promise you will be glad you came.
I attended my first meeting of Robinson-Kell SABR ten years ago as a guest of my friend Mike Dugan. I had no idea what to expect. A former major league player spoke, not a major league star, but an Arkansas-born big leaguer nonetheless. Afterward, he asked for questions. He must have been surprised that there were dozens of hands raised, and some members of the group knew more about his career than he did.
After a break, various members presented their research. Most of those in attendance were from the “Dizzy Dean Game of the Week generation,” but the president was a 40-something, and the resident expert looked to be about 18. Almost all the presenters stopped somewhere in their talk to ask, “Is that right, Caleb?” The teenager usually nodded or politely corrected the information. After all, Caleb Hardwick had literally “written the book.”
Hardwick created, published, and wrote most of the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia before he graduated from high school. The online reference remains the most reliable source of information about the history of Arkansas baseball. Before I knew “the Kid’s” name, I knew he was the MVP of Arkansas baseball history. Caleb is now 30 and lives in Boston, but his research remains one of the most significant contributions to saving the history of our baseball heritage.
It took about two years for me to get the nerve to present. I paused a couple of times to “ask Caleb,” but it went reasonably well. So well, that I became some sort of amateur writer. I don’t know if you will be inspired as I was to dig up some stories long forgotten about Arkansas baseball history or just enjoy the association with others afflicted by a nostalgic love of our grandpa’s game. I do know you will love Robinson-Kell meetings.
Ronny Clay finds Mid
Caleb Hardwick will be in Boston Saturday, but there are still stories to tell. Among those presenting Saturday will be Ronny Clay, a native of Russellville who now lives in Fayetteville. A few years ago after reading about Sue Kidd and Delores "Dolly" Brumfield White, who are both former players in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, Ronny discovered a more obscure Arkansas AAGPBL star. Her name was Mildred Earp (pronounced Arp) and she may have been the most successful Arkansan to play in the women’s pro baseball league. Ronny not only discovered that there was plenty of published information about the player whose teammates called “Mid,” but that her family still had the collection of memorabilia Mid accumulated as a player. Come hear Ronny tell this story Saturday. It is an amazing tale.
The presentation schedule for the meeting is listed below:
Our guest speaker will be Mark Tolbert, who as a kid in 1967 was the Atlanta Braves batboy during their second season in Atlanta. He has lots of stories to tell, including his interactions with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.
Following Mr. Tolbert, the following presentations will take place…………
· Kent Faught – Bad Management 2.0: How MLB Replicated the Nonsense of the Steroid Era with the Houston Astros Sign Stealing Scandal
· Ronny Clay – Mildred Earp of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
· Jim Yeager – Discussions from his new book Hard Times and Hardball.
· Tom Van Hyning – Three Arkansans – Gene Bearden, Solly Drake, and Brooks Robinson – played in Cuba’s Winter League
· Johnny Mullens – Jerry Adair: Teammate of Eddie Sutton and Brooks Robinson.
Choctaw Arkansas’ Glenna Sue Kidd, A League of Her Own
Are you crying? Are you crying? There’s no crying. There’s no crying in baseball!
–Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan – A League of Their Own (1992)
Ronny and his cowriter, Joe Miles wrote the Mid Earp chapter in Hard Times and Hardball, and that saga reminded me of the story I wrote in my first book a few years ago about Van Buren County’s Sue Kidd. Her family also had photographs and their contributions were an important part of the Sue Kidd story.
One of the most popular movies in the summer of 1992 was a comedy/drama about baseball. Although there have been dozens of memorable baseball movies, A League of Their Own was not the usual period film about a well-known major league hero. The classic baseball movie fictionalized the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which existed for a dozen seasons from 1943 until 1954. Among the stars of the league was a schoolgirl from Van Buren County, Arkansas.
Dr. Earl Williams of Greenbrier, Arkansas, was the most respected individual in Arkansas baseball circles in 1949. He had recommended scores of young country boys to professional baseball scouts over the previous 30 years, and if he said the player was a professional baseball prospect, baseball men listened. When he heard about professional baseball teams playing exhibition games in Little Rock over the coming week, he immediately contacted Choctaw postmaster, Marvin Kidd. Williams was sure one of Marvin’s children was a special baseball talent, and this was Mr. Kidd’s best chance to get the youngster to a tryout. Marvin Kidd Jr. was a good player, as was his younger son, Tommy, but there were many good baseball players around the area. Marvin Kidd’s daughter, Glenna Sue, was exceptional.
On Tuesday, June 21, and Wednesday, June 22, Little Rock’s Travelers Field would be the site of an exhibition between the Chicago Colleens and the Springfield Sallies, two traveling developmental teams from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Based on Dr. Williams’ good word, 15-year-old Sue Kidd not only got her tryout but was signed to a contract by the Sallies and actually pitched an inning in the Wednesday night game.
After assurances that Sue would be properly supervised, the Kidd family rushed home to Choctaw, packed her bags, and drove the wide-eyed teenager back to Little Rook to catch the Sallies’ bus out of town.
Glenna Sue Kidd was born on September 2, 1933, the youngest daughter in a family of three boys and three girls. Closer in age to her brothers, Sue followed the boys to their baseball games and practices and even played a few innings against male competition for the Choctaw town team coached by her father. A quiet, shy teen, she was an outstanding athlete at nearby Clinton High School, but in the remote rural area where she grew up, Sue Kidd had no concept of the existence of professional girl’s baseball.
The Springfield Sallies and Chicago Colleens could be generally described as the “minor league” of professional women’s baseball. The two teams signed new players regularly as they traveled around the country playing each other. Sue Kidd’s record for the remainder of 1949 is not part of the official statistics of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, but she remained with the Sallies throughout the tour. Newspaper accounts document several outstanding games Sue pitched for the Sallies later in the summer, including a no-hitter in August at a tour stop in Montgomery, Alabama.
In 1950, Kidd was promoted to the regular AAGPBL but struggled mightily in a year that saw her play for four different teams. Still just 16 years old, Kidd posted a dismal 1 win, 10 loss, record, in a season that saw her dominated by older, more experienced players.
The 1951 season would be very different for the 17-year-old Arkansas farm girl. Kidd had ended the 1950 season as property of the South Bend Blue Sox. She flourished in South Bend, where she spent the remainder of her successful career. In 1951, Kidd posted an 11 – 7 mark with the Sox and followed with a 13- 7 record in 1952. The Blue Sox won the AAGPBL Championship in both seasons.
Although Kidd’s record slipped to 13 -15 for the Blue Sox in 1953, she pitched well and often for the pitching-starved Sox. Kidd posted a sparkling 2.37 ERA and led the team with 258 innings pitched. One of the highlights of the 1953 season occurred on July 4th, when Kidd pitched complete-game victories in both ends of a doubleheader against the Cedar Rapids Chicks.
Kidd was just 19 years old during the 1953 season, and perhaps her youth contributed to her status as a local favorite in South Bend. On July 8, 1953, she was honored by the team with a “Sue Kidd Night” at South Bend’s Playland Park. A publicity photo from the previous season featured Kidd on a mule with her suitcase, “riding in from Arkansas,” so naturally, on “Sue Kidd Night,” she would be expected to ride onto the field on a mule. Apparently, the plan was not acceptable to the mule, who balked at the foul line. The stubborn animal added to the fun on a night that saw Sue receive numerous gifts from fans and the team.
The 1954 season would be the last for the AAGPBL and, consequently, the last professional season for Sue Kidd. She won nine and lost six for the Blue Sox. In a modified league, depleted by financial problems, that included only five teams, Fort Wayne, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Rockford, and South Bend, Kidd pitched in just 18 games.
When her years in professional baseball ended abruptly at age 20, Kidd returned to Choctaw and enrolled at Arkansas State Teachers College in nearby Conway, Arkansas. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physical education, and in 1965, Kidd began a 25-year career in teaching and coaching in Logansport, Indiana, about an hour’s drive south of South Bend where she had played in the AAGPBL. Sue Kidd is still remembered around Logansport. A beloved teacher and coach, she moved from baseball to fast-pitch softball, where she excelled as a pitcher.
Two other women with Arkansas ties distinguished themselves in the AAGPBL. Delores “Dee” Brumfield White was an outstanding hitter in the early 1950s and later a beloved professor at Henderson State University. The softball field at Henderson bears her name.
Mildred “Mid” Earp, pronounced “Arp,” a native of West Fork, was one of the outstanding pitchers in the league in the late 1940s. She posted a 20 – 8 pitching record in 1947.
After she retired from teaching, Glenna Sue Kidd returned to Choctaw and settled near her family. After the 1992 film, A League of Their Own, introduced new generations to the AAGPBL, the former women’s professional baseball players enjoyed renewed attention. Kidd made several appearances with former teammates, including a quick glimpse of her pitching in the background of a scene in the movie. Sue Kidd died in Choctaw, Arkansas on May 4, 2017. Her gravestone bears the famous line from the movie, “There’s no crying in baseball.”
Photos courtesy of Jim Sargent, Winthrop University, and Becky Kidd Shannon.
On the road with Hard Times and Hardball
I love meeting new folks on my “Book Signing Tour.” On a recent stop in Searcy for the White County Historical Society meeting, I met a young fellow named John Henry Roberson. In case that name doesn’t ring a bell, the name “Rube Robinson,” might be more recognizable. Young John Henry is the great-great-grandson of Arkansas’ winningest pitcher. The older John Henry played most of his baseball under the name Rube Robinson. I wrote about the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame pitcher in the Backroads and Ballplayers issue #6.
On my visit to Heber Springs last Saturday, I spent two enjoyable hours in what has to be the smallest bookstore in Arkansas. But, DO NOT judge a book by its cover or a hometown bookstore by its size. We loved the Heber Springs Bookish Emporium of Arkansas, and owner Stacy Simpson is an amazing story. She has maintained her “real job” most of the week, but Friday and Saturday she runs a charming little nook of a shop that won our hearts immediately. Susan wants to go back already. If you find yourself near Heber Springs, you owe it to yourself to take a look!
Did you miss an earlier issue? Link to posts 1-17.
Interested in ordering a signed book? Link to ordering information.
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