One of Pine Bluff’s most successful athletes returned to his “own back yard” in 1936. Don Hutson returned to play outfield for the Pine Bluff Judges after a successful rookie season playing receiver for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers in which he led the league in receptions (34), receiving yards per game (46.7), receiving touchdowns (6), and touchdowns (6).
Hutson was a multi-sport athlete for the Pine Bluff Zebras, excelling at basketball, baseball, football, and track. As a teenager he played baseball for the local town team. In 1932 Hutson would leave Pine Bluff to play football for the University of Alabama with another Arkansas legend, Paul “Bear” Bryant. Even Bryant had heard of Hutson’s sports feats. He once remarked, “…he was something to see even then. We’d hitchhike to Pine Bluff just to watch him play. I saw him catch five touchdown passes in one game in high school.”. Hutson would be named to the 1934 All-American team, and the Crimson Tide would win the 1934 National Championship.
In the summer of 1936 Don Hutson returned home to Pine Bluff to play outfield for the Pine Bluff Judges. Hutson entered the season with high expectations from locals. With a 9.7 second 100 yard dash, Hutson was perhaps the fastest man in southern baseball. Though, manager of the Pine Bluff Club L.L. “Cowboy” Jones confessed he didn’t know Donald Hutson. “But,” he said, “if he can snag that baseball the way he did that football for Alabama, he should have no worry. I understand he’s a good hitter, too.” As with any field he played, Hutson found success on the baseball diamond, and would help the Judges to a 77-62 3rd place record in the Cotton States League. His popularity in town helped the Pine Bluff Judges lead the Cotton States League in attendance with over 50,000 home fans during the season. Hutson would play 132 games for the Judges, hitting .312, collecting 167 hits, with 4 home runs. He would be named to the 1936 Cotton States League All-Star Team.
Don Hutson returned to the Green Bay Packers that fall, where his football career took off. Hutson would go on to play 10 years in the NFL for the Packers and be one of the greatest players in NFL history.
Don Hutson was one of the first of many great athletes to come out of Pine Bluff. The summer of 1936 was Pine Bluff’s chance to watch their home town legend, who Sportswriter Zipp Newman referred to as “the Ty Cobb of the gridiron” play for the town they loved.
If you would like to learn more about Don Hutson’s life and career, check out his upcoming biography on Facebook.
The game officially ushered in the 1936 baseball season for the Pine Bluff Judges and transformed Missouri Pacific Park and Pine Bluff into a magnet for baseball fans from every nook and cranny in South and Southeast Arkansas.
After 8 seasons at Missouri-Pacific Park, the Pine Bluff Judges would open the 1939 season in a new ball park thanks to President Teddy Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) program grant. In 1938 Pine Bluff Real Estate Developer Pinchbeck Taylor donated land at 17th & Ohio Street. At a construction cost of $40,000, the soon to be Taylor Memorial Field (which was named in honor of Taylor) would be one of the nicest fields in the Cotton States League. The 1939 Judges would go on the finish 57-76 (7th Place) in their inaugural season in the new park.
The Pine Bluff Judges entered the 1939 season trying to improve on a 6th place finish (60-73) in the Cotton States League in 1938. The team’s major league class C affiliation had also changed from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Brooklyn Dodgers, bringing in a whole new team of young prospects looking to make their way to the big leagues.
One of those Brooklyn Dodger prospects was 28 year old pitcher Stan “Betz” Klopp. Entering his 3rd professional season, Klopp arrived in Pine Bluff after 2 seasons with the Clinton Owls of the class B Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League.
Klopp appeared in 28 games, pitching 194 innings for the Judges and accumulating 13 wins, 8 loses, with a 3.53 ERA. He would lead the Judges in wins in 1939.
After a successful season baseball became less important to Klopp and most of America as World War II started. Klopp decided to give up baseball and go to work to support his family. As he worked to support his family, Klopp still loved baseball, and he would find his way back to a baseball diamond in the form of semi-pro baseball. In June of 1944, playing baseball for fun led to a Boston Braves scout to stumble upon Klopp. The scout would sign Klopp to a contract for $850 per month.
4 years after giving up the game of baseball, 33 year old rookie Stan Klopp found himself on the field for Boston Braves of the National League. Pitching in relief, Klopp appeared in 24 games, pitching 46.1 innings for the Braves and accumulating 1 wins, 2 losses, with a 4.27 ERA. Klopp would pitch for the Braves until August of 1944 when they sent him down to the minor leagues. At 33 years old, Klopp decided it was time to go home and left the game of baseball for good.
SABR.org Oral History Collection has a 1973 interview with Stan Klopp.
Born: February 22, 1929 Cazenovia, Wisconsin
Died: January 6, 2011 (Aged 81-318d) Lake Wales, Florida
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Teams Pine Bluff Judges 1950
Baltimore Orioles 1954
Kansas City Athletics 1957
New York Yankees 1958-1961
Los Angeles Angels 1961-1962
Philadelphia Phillies 1963-1964, 1965
Cincinnati Reds 1964
Washington Senators 1965
In 1950 the 21 year old hard throwing Ryne Duren arrived in Pine Bluff with high hopes and his thick tinted coke bottle glasses, which would become his trademark. He developed vision problems at age 14 caused by rheumatic fever, which confined him to bed for almost six months. Along with vision problems, he battled poor depth perception and an acute sensitivity to light which would make life difficult for him in the minor leagues. Duren was quoted as saying “The combination of my eyesight and the poorly lighted minor league ballparks made it very difficult for me to see the catcher’s signs.”. That combination would put fear in hitters. Duren was one of the hardest pitchers in the game but with little to no control.
The Judges in 1950 were coming into the season looking to carry over the success from 1949 which saw Pine Bluff finish 4th in the Cotton States League with a 72-66 record. Duren, who was already considered a top prospect for the St. Louis Browns, appeared in 37 games and won 15 games with a 3.17 ERA for the Judges. Ryne Duren’s success on the field was mirrored by The Judges; they would go on to win the Cotton States League with a record of 84-54.
With his success in Pine Bluff, Duren was promoted to the Dayton Indians in the Class A Central League where he won a career-high seventeen games in 1951 and led the league with 238 strikeouts in only 198 innings. Three years later, after quickly moving through the St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles minor league system, Duren would make his major league debut in 1954 for the Baltimore Orioles. The last game of the season, pitching in relief, the 25 year old Duren pitched 2 innings allowing 3 hits, 2 earned runs, along with 2 strike outs versus the Chicago White Sox. Duren’s time in the majors was over as soon as it started as he was sent back to the minor leagues after his debut. It would be his only appearance for Baltimore. He didn’t make it back to the majors for almost three more years.
Although he had loads of natural talent, Duren’s love of alcohol would keep him from reaching his full potential. His drinking would contribute to the ending of his baseball career, his family, and his money from his playing days. After years of battling alcoholism and a suicide attempt, he would enter DePaul Hospital in Milwaukee where he underwent twenty-two-months of treatment and miraculously turned his life around.
From 1968 until his death in 2011, Duren served as an addiction counselor for numerous agencies, foundations, and hospitals where he worked with adolescents and adults and taught them about the dangers of alcohol from his own personal and tragic perspective.
Ryne Duren is one of the most, if not the most, successful ball players to ever come through Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Duren died in 2011. “Ryne could throw the heck out of the ball,” Yogi Berra said upon hearing of Duren’s death. “He threw fear in some hitters. I remember he had several pair of glasses, but it didn’t seem like he saw good in any of them.”