This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Joe Frank Wood was commonly called Joe Wood Jr., even though his father — Smoky Joe Wood — had the given name of Howard Ellsworth Wood. “Joe Jr.” even sometimes referred to his father as “Joe Wood Sr.”1 He was also not to be confused with another Joe Wood, who played in the American League in 1943, one year before his own debut. Joseph Perry Wood played second base and third base for the Detroit Tigers, and batted .323, but it was his only year in the big leagues. “Joe Jr.” spent only one year in the big leagues, too — in fact, just the first two weeks of May 1944.
Bob Wood, Joe Junior’s brother, explains about the nickname: “He wasn’t really a junior. My father’s name wasn’t really Joe, either. He legally had his name changed to Joe Wood. Joe. Never Joseph.” And, while we’re at it, Bob Wood explains, it was always Smoky. Never Smokey. And, he further adds, “My brother was Joe. Not Joseph. His birth certificate was Joe. Joseph Frank Wood? No, that’s not right.”2
Joe Junior was called Joe Junior, whatever his given name, but he was hardly a chip off the old block. His brief three-game career took place in one of the war years, 1944, when he was 28. Let’s see how he got there, and then how he fared.
His father was indeed the legendary Smoky Joe Wood, whose 34-5 season helped propel the Boston Red Sox to the 1912 pennant, and whose three wins in that year’s World Series made a huge difference in winning the world championship. His league-leading 1.49 ERA and 15-5 record helped the Sox win the pennant again in 1915. An injury cost him the chance for an extended career, but he left off pitching with a career 2.03 earned run average. He reinvented himself as an outfielder with the Cleveland Indians and batted .297 over six seasons.
Joe Wood and his wife, Laura, had four children. The eldest was Joe, born in Shohola, Pennsylvania, on May 20, 1916, while his father was sitting out the season in a pay dispute.3 After his playing career, Smoky Joe became a coach at Yale University and his children were raised in New Haven, Connecticut.
Joe went to the Nathan Hale School, a pre-k-to-8 school in New Haven, for his first eight grades, then to New Haven High School, Hopkins School, and Deerfield Academy (graduating in 1937), and eventually on to get a B.A. from Yale, graduating in 1941. Right after graduation, Joe married Wheelock College graduate Harriet E. Rice on July 12, 1941. Two months later, he pitched a no-hitter in pro ball.
Joe had played American Legion ball and played several positions while in college. He also played football, basketball, and track. And he’d played in the Hartford Industrial League during the summers; for instance, the Adley Express team of New Haven in 1937. He was right-handed, grew to an even six feet tall, and was listed at 190 pounds when in the majors.
Joe had actually thrown a two-hitter in high school, on May 4, against Yale’s junior varsity team. Joining the Yale team itself meant playing under Coach Wood, his father. As for making it to the majors, “I don’t know if I’m good enough,” he said on first making the Yale varsity.4 Nepotism clearly wasn’t a problem at Yale; not only did the baseball coach have his son on his team, but so did the tennis coach, the fencing instructor, and the swimming coach.5
He had his ups and downs, detailed by Smoky Joe Wood biographer Gerald C. Wood.6 And he contributed with his bat, too. Playing left field against Princeton on June 3, 1939, he drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.7 Joe’s younger brother, Stephen, was a pitcher at Colgate at the time, which set up a game on May 9, 1940, when Joe pitched for Yale and Steve for Colgate. Steve homered off Joe in the third; Joe singled in two in the bottom of the seventh. Steve was relieved one batter later. Yale tied the game in the ninth, and won it, 5-4, in the 10th. Joe got the win. Steve had a no-decision. Father and Yale coach Smoky Joe Wood must have been glad, in a way, to have that game over and done with.
Joe’s greatest game as a Yale bulldog, writes author Wood, was on May 30, 1940. He threw a no-hitter against Wesleyan. “Joe struck out eight, walked none, and faced only thirty batters. The only run came in the ninth, on a wild pitch after an error. Joe also had two doubles and three RBI.”8
Wood was captain of the freshman baseball team at Yale, and captain of the varsity in his senior year. In another Wood vs. Wood matchup; Joe won again, Yale beating Colgate, 11-5. This time Steve Wood was pitching and another brother, Bob, played first base. Both of the Woods with Colgate got a hit off Joe, but Joe had three hits and won the game. “I hoped all three would have a big day, but Steve can take it,” said father Wood.9 Indeed, Steve was named captain of the Colgate team for 1942.
On Alumni Day 1941, Joe’s last game for Yale, he shut out Harvard, 1-0, on two hits, striking out nine of the first 12 batters he faced. Needless to say, there were clubs after him, including the Philadelphia Athletics and the Chicago Cubs, but “after being recruited by Nemo Leibold, he was signed by future Hall of Famer Herb Pennock, who had pitched with Smoky Joe in 1915 and in 1941 directed the Red Sox farm system.”10
He was assigned to the Eastern League (Class-A) Scranton Red Sox, managed by Leibold. His first game was a seven-inning, five-hit shutout over Hartford on July 17. On August 7, with his parents watching from the stands, he threw a no-hitter against Albany. “I was just lucky,” he said after the game. And of course, there was an element of luck – a ball hit off the side of his body had ricocheted to the second baseman, who threw out the batter.11 On August 25, he just missed a no-hitter, allowing one hit in a game against Elmira. He worked in 11 games, throwing 60 innings, was 6-2 in wins and losses, and recorded an ERA of 1.80. He batted .105.
Joe Wood worked for the Louisville Colonels in 1942. It was a difficult year; his earned run average wasn’t bad (3.74) but his record was 4-10, and he didn’t hit at all (.070).
It was back to Scranton in 1943. He was 7-7, but three shutouts helped bring his ERA to 2.69. Scranton won the Eastern League pennant for Leibold, in large part thanks to the pitching of 21-game winner Chet Covington. Wood would have been in more games, but he was working at a defense plant in New Haven and was only free to pitch on the weekends.
In March 1944, Joe’s younger brother, Bob, married Harriet’s sister, Connie Rice.
Joe Jr. appeared in just three games with the Red Sox. His debut came on May 1, 1944. The game was an 11-4 rout of Boston by the Senators. Yank Terry yielded six hits in 1⅔ innings. Clem Hausmann gave up five in 2⅓ innings. The Senators were up, 6-0, after they completed their half of the fourth inning. “Only Joe Wood Jr., bearer of an illustrious baseball name, could stop the Nats. He held them to one run in three innings, then departed [in the seventh] for a pinch-hitter. Oscar Judd replaced him in the eighth and yielded seven hits in the last two frames,” wrote the Globe sportswriter.
His second appearance was at Yankee Stadium on May 5; he threw two innings and gave up two runs. His lone start came on May 14 at Fenway Park. The Detroit Tigers were visiting. It was the first game of a doubleheader, and Wood gave up two runs in the top of the first. He got through the next three innings without yielding a run, but then got hit for four more runs (two of them earned) in the top of the fifth. Manager Joe Cronin had Mike Ryba take over in relief. The game was lost, 6-1.
Joe Wood carried a lifetime mark of 0-1, 6.52 ERA, having pitched a total of 9⅔ innings and surrendered 13 hits and three walks. He struck out five. Given that it was wartime, with depleted rosters, why didn’t he get more of a shot? While in Boston for his cup of coffee, he developed a bad arm, and on May 21 was optioned to Louisville. He was 3-3 with a poor 5.61 ERA for Louisville. On August 1 he was sent to San Diego with two other players and some cash as part of a deal so that Boston could obtain Rex Cecil, at the time leading the Coast League in strikeouts. He finished the season with the San Diego Padres in the Pacific Coast League (5-4, 2.51 ERA, in 79 innings). Even though the Padres finished in last place, Wood held a fond memory of San Diego, but he acknowledged he may have damaged his arm further. “I probably shouldn’t have done it, but we’d get a bonus if we’d win more games than we lost. We were only there for about a month and it was at the end of the season and I’d won a game to get to four and four. Well, with one day’s rest, I pitched a shutout against Lefty O’Doul‘s San Francisco club and I got my bonus. It was a couple of hundred bucks, but back then, it was like thousands.”12
During the winter, Wood worked at Rohr Aircraft near San Diego and played winter baseball.13
In 1945, Wood trained with the Boston team but at the very last minute was sent to the Sacramento Solons (also in the PCL) on April 18, in exchange for pitcher Clem Dreisewerd. He struggled in Sacramento (9-14, 5.22), although the team itself had a winning record.
On June 30, the Red Sox signed Joe’s brother, Steve, and assigned him to Scranton. Steve had been in the Army for three years.
That winter, Wood added one more experience to his resume. He played center field for Bob Feller‘s Pacific Coast All-Stars and won a 3-2 game against Satchel Paige‘s Kansas City Royals on October 26 at Wrigley Field, Los Angeles. He tripled in a run and scored in the 10th inning.14
He still had it at times, shutting out Oakland, 4-0, on April 14, 1946, but a number of stories at the time reported him seeking treatment for his ailing arm.
He finished his career with Sacramento, hurting his arm with what years later he decided must have been a rotator cuff injury. “They can fix them now, but they couldn’t back then,” he told Bill Swank in Echoes from Lane Field.15
With a 1-3 record, Sacramento released him at the very end of June or early July; he caught on with Fresno, signing on July 19, but posted a 6.04 ERA and a 3-7 record.
Steve Wood was 11-6 (4.86) for Providence in the Class-B New England League.
Joe Wood gave it one last shot in 1947, appearing in 20 games in Class-D baseball, in Oklahoma’s Sooner State League. He pitched for the Ada Herefords and the Seminole Chiefs. Gerald Wood reports a combined 3-4 record and 5.54 ERA.
Joe and Harriet moved back to Shohola, Pennsylvania, and raised four children while he owned and operated a mink farm. In 1959, the family relocated the ranch to Clinton, Connecticut, minks and all. Later he subdivided the ranch and sold building lots.
Joe Wood died of pneumonia in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, on October 10, 2002. He was survived by his wife, sons David, Richard, and Jonathan, and daughter Carol. Harriet died on December 6, 2013.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Wood’s player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks to Joe O’Brien, Karl DiCitto, and others in SABR’s Smoky Joe Wood Chapter for assistance trying to locate an obituary for Joe Frank Wood. Thanks to Jonathan Wood and his two brothers for reading over the draft biography and improving it.
1 See, for instance an American League questionnaire he completed, which is at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
2 Communication from Bob Wood to author, undated, printed in Bill Nowlin, Red Sox Threads (Burlington, Massachusetts: Rounder Books, 2008), 172. It was only in 1947 that Smoky Joe himself legally changed his name to Joe Wood.
3 For a full biography Smoky Joe Wood, see Gerald C. Wood, Smoky Joe Wood: The Biography Of A Baseball Legend (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015).
4 Joe Wood, Jr. Will Hurl for Dad’s Team,” Hartford Courant, March 28, 1938: 10.
5 Associated Press, “Sons of Four Coaches on Dads’ Teams at Yale,” New York Times, April 24, 1938: 71.
6 Much of the detail regarding Joe Wood’s years before making the Red Sox come from Gerald C. Wood, Smoky Joe Wood (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013.)
7 “Yale Nine Beats Princeton, 3 to 2,” Boston Globe, June 4, 1939: B26.
8 Wood, 270.
9 Associated Press, “Joe Wood Sees Sons Tangle in Baseball Game,” Christian Science Monitor, April 22, 1941: 17.
10 Wood, 272.
11 Associated Press, “Young Wood’s No-Hit Feat Matches Dad’s of 30 Years Ago,” Washington Evening Star, August 8, 1941: 14.
13 Bill Swank, Echoes from Lane Field (Paducah, Kentucky: Turner Publishing, 1997), 60.
14 Wood, 281.