A review after Jud Smith’s major-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 1893 was not very optimistic about his future. According to a story reprinted from Sporting Life, “Cincinnati’s Montana importation, the wonderful Jud Smith, is awfully slow getting away after a fly or toward the bags after he hits the ball. He resembles [Billy] Hamilton about as much as a mud cow does the Vamoose. If he showed some symptoms of intelligence on the bases there might be better grounds for hope, but he has managed to get himself gloriously tangled up in nearly every game he has taken part.”1
Nonetheless, Smith fashioned a 20-year career in professional baseball that took him to all corners of the continent from Toronto to Los Angeles and seemingly everywhere in between. Primarily a third baseman, the 6-foot, 185-pound, right-handed hitting Smith played in well over 2,000 professional games, but only 103 of them were at the major-league level. Smith’s career reflected a pattern: he showed enough promise to get separate trials with four different National League teams, but each time was found wanting and returned to the minors.
Smith may have had an inkling that he was not destined for a successful major-league career because he saved his money and enrolled in dental school in off-seasons. After graduating, he opened a dental practice while still an active player. He successfully used the lucrative profession on which he could fall back as leverage in salary negotiations with team owners each spring.
Judson Grant Smith was born January 13, 1869, in Green Oak, Michigan, to George Grant Smith and Aurelia (née Judson) Smith. His mother’s maiden name and his father’s middle name were the source of the boy’s first and middle names. George was a Civil War veteran and listed his occupation as machinist on the 1880 U.S. Census. Jud, as he was called most of his life, was the oldest of five children born to the Smiths that included younger brothers Scot, Lloyd, and Julian, and sister Grace.
Sometime in the mid-1880s, when Jud was in his teens, the family relocated to South Dakota, where his father took up farming. According to Smith’s record in Baseball-Reference, he began his professional career with Wheeling (West Virginia) of the Ohio State League in 1887, but his player contract card makes no mention of Wheeling. Subsequent research by the author has determined that the man identified as Jud Smith in Wheeling in 1887 was not Judson Smith, but a man by the name of John G. Smith.2 3
It is known that he started professionally with the Portland club of the Pacific Northwest League in 1890. The following season, he played with La Grande (Oregon) in the Pacific Interstate League. In 1892 he moved on to Butte (Montana) of the Montana State League. While in Butte, Smith’s teammate for a brief time, pitcher Tony “Count” Mullane, recommended him to his former manager in Cincinnati, Charles Comiskey. The Reds offered him a contract and he made the team in 1893 out of spring training as a “substitute.”
Smith was brought in as a potential replacement for the Reds’ aging regular third baseman, Arlie Latham. However, Latham held on to his starting position and consequently Smith saw little action over the first month of the season. He made his major league debut on May 21, getting a start in right field for the injured Bob Caruthers against the St. Louis Browns at League Park in Cincinnati. He singled in five at-bats against Browns starter Kid Gleason.
After Smith got into just 17 games, Cincinnati released him in July. However, as early as May Comiskey was criticized in the local press over not using Smith more. The Cincinnati Post wrote, “What does Comiskey intend to do with Jud Smith anyhow? Keep him on the bench all summer? Wake up, captain, and give the young blood a chance!”4 Shortly before his release the same paper said, “Jud Smith will never make a fielder as long as Comiskey pursues his present policy. In spite of the good work Smith has done in the field, Comiskey allows the impression to go out that he is still looking for another fielder. This is discouraging to Smith, especially in view of the good work he has done.”5
Smith was not unemployed long — he was signed by the Browns a couple of weeks later. He managed just one hit in 13 at-bats in four games with St. Louis before being released in August. He finished the 1893 season with Binghamton (New York) and Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) in the Eastern League.
Smith started the 1894 season back in the Eastern League with Buffalo. Despite batting .365 in 24 games, he was released in June — but the circumstances surrounding his departure are unclear. The Buffalo News said the reason for his dismissal was “unsatisfactory work.”6 Another source said it was injury-related, “an aggravated case of ‘charley horse.’”7 Whatever the reason, he hooked on briefly with Grand Rapids (Michigan) of the Western League and finished the season with Jacksonville (Illinois) of the Western Association.
Smith signed with the Toronto Canucks, yet another Eastern League club, in March 1895. Benefiting from the stability of staying in one place all season, Smith continued his steady play at third base and batted .373 for the season. He returned to Toronto in 1896. At the time that team had an informal working relationship with the Pittsburgh Pirates, so when the Pirates’ regular third baseman, Denny Lyons, was injured in June, Smith was called up to take his place. He hit well, batting .343 in 10 games, but when Lyons recovered, Smith was sent back to Toronto.
The Pirates, who still held Smith’s contract rights, placed him on waivers after the season. Ned Hanlon of Baltimore put in a claim but the Orioles never signed Smith. Instead, Pittsburgh sold him to still another Eastern League team, the Syracuse (New York) Stars in 1897. He batted .313 in 134 games, helping Syracuse to the EL pennant.
Smith returned to the Stars in 1898 and was batting .297 in mid-July when he was sold to the Washington Senators, his fourth National League team. He held down the regular third base job for the rest of the season and batted .303 in 66 games for the Senators.
After his strong second half in Washington, Smith appeared to have finally found a home. Thus, it came as a surprise when it was reported the following January that he was on the trading block. In a move that was probably based more on financial considerations that performance, Senators manager Arthur “Foxey” Irwin shipped Smith and teammate Al “Butts” Wagner (brother of Honus Wagner) to Toronto for $1,000.8 The move was severely criticized in the local press, one report stating, “Smith created a very favorable impression during the past season with the Senators, his fielding being superior to any third baseman that has lately worn a Washington uniform.” The writer added, “…and why he is not acceptable to the Washington manager is an enigma.”9
Smith spent most of the next three seasons (1899-1901) in the Eastern League moving between Toronto, Providence, and Worcester. He also appeared in 1900 with Buffalo of the American League, still a minor circuit then. Despite one forgettable day — May 28, 1900, in which he committed seven errors while playing shortstop for Buffalo — Smith maintained consistency both at bat and in the field. So, when Pittsburgh Pirate third baseman Tommy Leach sustained an injury late in 1901, the Pirates purchased Smith from Syracuse as insurance.
His time in Pittsburgh was short, however: he played in just six games. When the Pirates added Jimmy Burke, recently released by the White Sox, Smith was let go. It was his final trip to the majors. In 103 big-league games, he batted a respectable .280 overall, collecting 97 hits in 346 at-bats.
Smith then tried his fortunes westward, playing the 1902 season with Toledo (Ohio) of the American Association. He finished his courses in the dental school at nearby Ohio State University in Columbus.10 Several sources11 credit Smith with being the first major-leaguer who was an alumnus of Ohio State.
After one season in Toledo, he signed with Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League. In 1904 he passed his exams before the California Board of Dental Examiners and opened an office in Los Angeles,12 where he practiced in the off-season. Many players of the era picked up nicknames and naturally his teammates began calling him “Doc,” but the sporting press also referred to Smith as the “tooth carpenter” and the “molar derrick.”
Smith held down the regular third base job for the Angels from 1903 to 1905. His entry in Baseball Reference indicates that he also played with Fresno of the California State League in 1905. He and teammate Tim Flood were suspended for the rest of the 1905 season after they punched umpire Slats Davis in a game in November of that year. Smith may have hooked on briefly with Fresno during his suspension from the Pacific Coast League, but no information could be found to verify that.
In 1905 Smith penned a lengthy article in which he described the knowledge he had picked up playing the “hot corner” over nearly two decades, much of which is as true today as it was a century ago. He said that the ball is hit harder to third than to any other infield position, and the third baseman has the longest throw on the diamond. Smith went on to say that he closely studied an opposing batter’s tendencies and foot speed to learn how quickly and strongly he needed to make his throw to first. He also said that charging and fielding bunts was the most difficult play for a third baseman and that the fielding ability of the pitcher, and a shortstop that covered the bag, were critical factors in retiring bunters and baserunners. In summary, he said that the most important attribute for a third baseman were “[being] quick to think and act” and having “good, steady nerves. It would never do to have a ‘streak of yellow’ in his make up.”13
Possibly as a fallout from the altercation with the umpire and subsequent suspension at the end of the 1905 season, Smith and Flood were traded to Portland. One mau surmise that this was early in 1906. Because of his dental practice in Los Angeles, Smith initially refused to report and threatened to retire. However, by early May he relented and joined the Portland club. Smith returned in 1907 to Los Angeles, where he played through the 1909 season, his last as an active player at age 40. Initially, Smith intended to play in 1910, even participating in a series of pre-season exhibition games against the Chicago White Sox. As was his habit, though, he held out for a larger salary. This time Angels management called his bluff and found a replacement at third base.
While in the Pacific Coast League, Smith played with some of baseball’s top players, who were then either just starting or winding up their professional careers. Angel teammates included Gavvy Cravath, Frank Chance, Hal Chase, Fred Snodgrass, and Ned Garvin.
Another teammate in Los Angeles, former major-league first baseman Pop Dillon, called Smith the best throwing third baseman he had ever seen. “I do doubt whether he ever had a superior as a sure shot to first. There may have been players with stronger whips, but no third sacker ever exceeded him in accuracy. He seldom had to hurry his throws. His judgement of pace and distance was so perfect that that he would get his throws across just ahead of the runner.”
Smith also excelled at blocking batted balls, according to Dillon, who said, “And I never saw a better man when it came to knocking down hard drives and recovering in time to get his man. He had the faculty of knocking the ball down in front of him where he could retrieve it without moving out of his tracks.”14
While with the Angels, Smith met Alta Scazighini and they married on July 31, 1905, in San Francisco. She was a singer with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Opera and came from a prominent family. Her father was described as a machinist, inventor, and mechanical innovator; for a time, he served as chief mechanic for famed race car driver Barney Oldfield. Jud and Alta had two daughters, Rowena (born January 28, 1907) and Dorothy (born August 26, 1908).
After retiring from baseball, Smith continued to build his successful dental practice with an office in the Marsh-Strong Building in Los Angeles. He became an avid hunter and accomplished golfer and continued to follow the Angels and play in old-timer’s games. Smith died on December 7, 1947, at the age of 79, survived by his wife and two daughters. He was cremated.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Evan Katz.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics from Smith’s playing career are taken from Baseball-Reference.com and genealogical and family history was obtained from Ancestry.com.
The author also used information from clippings in Smith’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
1 Anaconda (Montana) Standard, August 13, 1893: 6.
2 “The International League has notified President Clugston that John G. Smith who signed with Wheeling, was signed by Hamilton, Ontario last December. Smith is now playing in Wheeling,” Wheeling (West Virginia) Register, May 29, 1887: 4.
3 Although not impossible, it was improbable that an 18-year-old would venture that far from home to play ball. Jud played for semipro teams in South Dakota in 1888 and 1889, suggesting that he was also in the state in 1887. In addition, the “Jud” Smith who played in Wheeling appeared in 14 games as an outfielder, six as a pitcher, and one at first base, while Judson Smith was primarily a third baseman during his career.
4 “On The Green,” Cincinnati Post, May 12, 1893: 4.
5 “Sporting Notes,” Cincinnati Post, July 10, 1893: 4.
6 “Bingos Downed,” Buffalo News, May 12, 1894: 5.
7 “Baseball Gossip,” Erie (Pennsylvania) Times, June 6, 1894: 8.
8 “Senator’s New Third Baseman,” Washington (D.C.) Evening Star, July 26, 1898: 9.
9 Washington (D.C.) Evening Star, January 27, 1899: 9.
10 Cincinnati Enquirer, April 8, 1902: 4.
12 Los Angeles Evening Express, June 1, 1904: 8.
13 Judson G. Smith, “Work of Third Baseman,” Los Angeles Evening Express, June 24, 1905: 8.
14 “Jud Smith, Great Thrower,” Los Angeles Times, October 24, 1913: 29.