Arkansas has been home to quite a few all-world caliber baseball players who swoop into the state for a year or two before jumping off to far bigger stages – and achievements – in the major leagues.
Without a doubt, Mike Trout is the poster boy for this kind of star in the 21st century. Big boy starred with the Arkansas Travelers in 2011 before breaking out as an All-Star rookie outfielder with the Los Angeles Angels last season.
A hundred years before Trout, the 5’7″, 150-pound pitcher Dickey Kerr was tearing it up in Paragould in the ol’ Northeast Arkansas League. His ascent into major league stardom wasn’t as fast as Trout’s, but at one point in the 1919 World Series Kerr was the most celebrated athlete in the United States. His unstained hands during the biggest scandal in baseball history would make him an even more revered figure.
Who, though, were the best non-Arkies* to play with an Arkansas team besides Kerr and Trout?
After conferring with sportswriters Jim Harris and Jeff Reed, as well as the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia‘s Caleb Hardwick, here are some top candidates, in no particular order:
*Although Bill Dickey was born in Louisiana, I consider him an Arkie.
1. Ferguson Jenkins – pitcher
Played in Arkansas 1963, 64, 65 before heading to Philadelphia, Chicago, Texas and Boston. A three-time All-Star and the 1971 Cy Young Award winner. In 1991, Jenkins became the first Canadian to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
2. Ray Lankford – centerfielder
Played in Arkansas in 1989 before heading to St. Louis for a 14-year career with the Cardinals. A one-time All-Star, Lankford posted five seasons of 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases with the Cardinals (1992, 1995-1998) – the only player in franchise history to accomplish the feat more than once, according to Wikipedia.
3. Richie Allen – third baseman
Played in Arkansas in 1963 before absolutely blowing the ceiling off what rookies were thought to be able to accomplish in Philadelphia. Led the league in runs (125), triples (13), extra base hits (80) and total bases (352); he finished in the top five in batting average (.318), slugging average (.557), hits (201), and doubles (38), says Wikipedia. A seven-time All-Star, winner of the 1972 AL MVP.
4. Tris Speaker
Played in Arkansas in 1908 a year after making his major league debut for the Red Sox.
“Compiled a career batting average of .345 (sixth all-time), and still holds the record of 792 career doubles. Defensively, his career records for assists, double plays, and unassisted double plays by an outfielder still stand,” says Wikipedia. Was a three-time World Series champion with Boston (as a player) and Cleveland (as a manager).
5. Jim Bunning
Played in Arkansas in 1953 and 1954 before a 16-year career in the majors, most notably with Detroit and Philadelphia. A nine-time All-Star, he pitched one of only 23 perfect games in major league history.
Bunning was twice the AL’s strikeout champ. He entered politics after retiring.