A tall (6-foot-2), brown-haired, blue-eyed, Christy Mathewson look-alike, Walt Smallwood finished two September games on the mound for the sixth-place New York Yankees in 1917 before heading off to Siberia and France as an army sergeant during the Great War. The Maryland native played in six more games with the Yanks in 1919, toiled in the minors during the entirety of the 1920s—nearly pitching a perfect game in 1928—then quit the mound in 1932 to run a Colorado potato chip-making business, and narrowly escaped being murdered at his home in 1945.
Walter Clayton Smallwood was born on April 24, 1893, in Dayton, Maryland, roughly 30 miles west of Baltimore. He was the first of eight children born to farmer William Walter Smallwood and Florence Virginia (Iglehart) Smallwood. Walter’s siblings were Joseph, Stanley, Marion, Mary, Raymond, Philip, and William.
Young Walt starred for the Brookville High School baseball squad in Montgomery County, Maryland. The “crack pitcher” struck out 16 while batting cleanup in an April 1912 victory over Technical High of Washington, D.C.1
The next spring, Smallwood waltzed into the training camp of the Richmond Colts of the Class-C Virginia League, and asked for a workout. He threw “exactly seventeen balls, when Griff [manager Steve Griffin] danced to the clubhouse, brought out a contract and actually ran back to the youngster. A fastball like Smallwood’s was faster than anything the Richmond squad had seen since the days of Sam Leever.”2 It was reported that “Smallwood, from Maryland, drifts into the park, and shows Steve some new wrinkles in the art of pitching.”3 Griffin’s first comment was, “If that youngster isn’t a pitcher, I never saw one.”4 The very next day, the 19-year-old “schoolboy recruit” faced the Brooklyn Superbas in his “debut into professional baseball,” and allowed ten runs on 12 hits in six relief innings.5 He later allowed six runs in four relief innings against the Washington Senators, but still broke camp with the Colts, earning a spot on the staff led by Doc Ayers.6 In his regular season debut—which fell on his 20th birthday—Smallwood twirled a complete game, while also rapping out three hits, in a 13-1 blowout against the Newport News Shipbuilders.7
In early June, Smallwood had a 6-3 record, but was sent down on a ten-day trial option to the Winston-Salem Twins of the Class-D North Carolina State League. Unfortunately, after three games, “Smallwood failed to convince Manager Charles Clancy that he could make good, hence the pink slip,” and was sent to the Bristol (Virginia) Boosters of the Class-D Appalachian League.8 Smallwood was in a “wild frame of mind,” yet didn’t allow a run in 7 2/3 innings, during an August relief appearance against the Knoxville Reds.9 It was stated that Smallwood “has a peculiar sidearm delivery which develops a very deceptive curve. He looks like one of the ‘best’ in the Appalachian this season.”10 Smallwood held Knoxville “under his thumb” in one late-season victory, finishing the season going 7-9 for Bristol.11
Smallwood was reserved by Richmond for 1914, but was released in late April after a poor start to the season. Smallwood then slid over to the Savannah (Georgia) Colts of the Class-C South Atlantic League, posting an impressive 17-6 record.
In 1915 spring training, Smallwood started against Bill Donovan’s New York Yankees, and impressively allowed only one run over four innings against their regular lineup.12 Unfortunately, Smallwood’s second season with Savannah was not so superb, falling to an 8-16 mark. Later in the summer, he played 11 games with the Hanover (Pennsylvania) Hornets of the Class-D Blue Ridge League before moving to the Harrisburg Senators of the Class-AA International League in late August. Smallwood tossed a two-hit shutout against Toronto in his Senators debut.13 He also belted two home runs and a double in a September victory over Montreal, ending a two-week losing streak for Harrisburg.14 After the season, Smallwood and an International League All-Star squad defeated a composite team of New York State Leaguers organized by Charles “Chief” Bender.15
Smallwood was reserved by Harrisburg when the franchise returned to Newark for 1916. Walt posted a 14-19 record for the last-place Indians, which still tied him for the team lead in wins with Johnny Enzmann. In May of the next year, Smallwood’s draft card stated that he resided in Brookeville, Maryland, with his mother as a dependent. A nationally syndicated article in the summer of 1917 identified Smallwood as a ‘dead ringer’ for New York Giants star Christy Mathewson.16 For Newark in 1917, Smallwood improved to a 21-15 record, and in August was sold to the New York Yankees. After his final Newark start on September 14, Smallwood headed to the Bronx.
Walt Smallwood “showed himself favorably” in his major league debut for the Yankees on September 19, tossing a scoreless ninth inning in a loss to the Cleveland Indians.17 He tossed another scoreless inning against the St. Louis Browns three days later, with the New York Tribune commenting that “[owner Jacob] Ruppert gives fans a look at cub players.”18 Smallwood then pitched three shutout innings the next day in a Yankees intrasquad exhibition at the Citizens’ Military Training Camp for future Army officers in Plattsburg, New York.19 By month’s end, Smallwood himself reported to the Stars and Stripes.20 Upon his physical examination, doctors “stated that he was the best specimen of manhood examined by them for the draft army and he passed with a mark of 100 per cent.”21 Even after enlisting, Smallwood was included as part of “a whole flock of young sharpshooters” for the Yankees, which included fellow pitching recruits Herb Thormahlen, Bob McGraw, Bill Piercy, and Jack Enright.22
Heading into 1918, Smallwood was one of 75 enlisted men from major league rosters.23 By April, Walt, now a first sergeant, pitched for the 310th Field Artillery team from Camp Meade, Maryland, against a Mt. St. Joseph College crew at Oriole Park.24 He later played on the regiment team at Camp Meade with Harry “Socks” Seibold in an exhibition against Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics.25 By summer, Smallwood was shipped out, serving in both Siberia and France. As the calendar turned to 1919, it was being reported that Smallwood, with the 313th Regiment in France, and Sammy Vick were the only Yankees that would not report on time for spring training.26
Smallwood finally returned to the States in the late spring. Eventually, he played in six summer games with the Yankees, beginning on July 10 against Cleveland. Smallwood delivered two scoreless innings in a loss as the Yankees surrendered their lead in the American League in that series to the eventual pennant-winning Chicago White Sox.27 The very next day, Smallwood relieved starter Ernie Shore in the second inning, tossing 4 2/3 innings, allowing only a solo home run to Doc Johnston, in a 5-1 loss to the same Indians. The New York Times commented that “Smallwood was called from the reserves and pitched very good ball to the seventh. Smallwood allowed a run to trickle over during his turn on the pitching hill, but it was not due to faulty pitching. Johnston hit a line drive to centre [sic] which [Ping] Bodie should have caught. But the outfielder misjudged the ball and it went to the fence for a home run.”28
Four days later, on July 15, he again relieved Shore, in the opening game of a doubleheader. Both hurlers performed poorly, Smallwood (incorrectly referred to in the New York Tribune as Percy, a noted marathon runner of the time) was tagged for seven runs on eight hits in four innings in a 13-2 blowout at the hands of Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers.29 The Yankees lost all six contests in which Smallwood pitched on the 1919 campaign. His last appearance occurred on August 15, with three scoreless innings against the same Tigers, his only hit allowed being a Harry Heilmann triple. Smallwood did have one more appearance in a Yankee uniform, however: he pitched a complete-game, 5-2 victory over the Brooklyn Superbas in an off-day exhibition game before the Yankees’ last game of the regular season.
Walt also married during 1919, taking the New Jersey-born Catherine Reynolds as his bride. They later welcomed sons Walter, born in 1921 in California, and John, born in 1934 in Maryland.
Smallwood was invited to the Yankees spring training for 1920, but was released by manager Miller Huggins to the Vernon Tigers of the Pacific Coast League.30 The census for the year listed Walt and Catherine as living in the off-season with Catherine’s mother, a widow, in Essex, New Jersey. By May of 1921, Vernon, with a surplus of pitchers including Smallwood’s former Yankee teammate Ernie Shore, wanted to sell Smallwood to the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. However, the pitcher would certainly not pass through PCL waivers, so Smallwood was conveniently sold by Vernon boss Bill Essick to the Pittsburgh Pirates, which “turned him over” to Minneapolis.31 Pittsburgh had owed the Millers a pitcher from an earlier transaction, and Smallwood went 12-8 then 7-7 in his two Minneapolis seasons in.32
For 1923, Smallwood moved to the Reading (Pennsylvania) Keystones of the International League, ending up with a 14-15 record.33 Two more sub-.500 seasons followed in 1924 and 1925. Smallwood stayed in the IL for 1926, moving back to his former Newark Bears squad, and in late May 1927, Smallwood was sold by the Bears to the Bears, from Newark to Mobile of the Southern Association. The Reading Times opined that the pitcher was beginning his “journey to obscurity.”34 He went 1-2 in six games for Mobile, before being shipped to the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League in July.35
Walt headed back west for 1928, being signed by the Pueblo Steelworkers of the Western League by then-owner Spencer Abbott. Smallwood paid early dividends: in late May, he faced only 27 men in a one-hit, 10-0 shutout over Denver. The leadoff batter, Pat Kelly, singled, before being doubled up, with Smallwood being perfect thereafter.36 Only the initial hit kept Smallwood from tossing a perfect game. He won 37 games in his first three years in Colorado.
For 1931, the pitcher was also named by new owner Charles Lee as Pueblo’s manager, replacing Jimmy Payton.37 However, Smallwood quit as manager of the last-place squad in June to enter the potato-chip making business in Pueblo.38 He also filed a financial claim with the National Association against Pueblo, which was disallowed by Secretary Farrell in July.39
By August, Smallwood was back on the East Coast, in Reading, Pennsylvania.40 In 1933, he was named manager of the Springfield (Ohio) Chicks of the Mid-Atlantic League, but was unable to accept the position due to his “temporary business management” with the Albany, New York, franchise of the International League.41 Smallwood was the business manager for Albany for two years, and by 1935, became the business and publicity manager for the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Senators in the New York-Penn League, having moved his family there.42 In May 1936, he was recruited to replace Fred “Dutch” Dorman and manage the last-place York White Roses in the NYP, which later moved to Trenton, New Jersey, at the end of the first half.
By 1940, Walt was out of the game and working as an assistant manager at a retail tea company, with son Walter a salesman there. In 1945, an intruder attacked the Smallwoods in their Maryland home. The assailant was convicted on six of seven charges, including burglary, assault with intent to murder, and was charged for the rape of Mrs. Smallwood.43 As reported in the Baltimore Sun, the assailant attempted to shoot Mr. Smallwood with a revolver that failed to go off.
Later in life, Walt worked in the laundry industry. Walt’s wife, Catherine, passed away in 1956, and younger son John passed away in 1963. Walter C. Smallwood passed away on April 29, 1967, in Baltimore, Maryland, and is buried at New Cathedral Cemetery. He was survived by his son Walter W. Smallwood and two granddaughters.44
This biography was reviewed by Gregory H. Wolf and Michael Tow and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted:
MyHeritage.com Birth, Marriage, and Death Records
1 “Smallwood Has Class,” Baltimore Sun, April 11, 1912: 12.
2 “New Speed Demon Arrives in Camp,” Times Dispatch (Richmond, VA), March 30, 1913: 9.
3 “New Speed Demon Arrives in Camp.”
4 “New Speed Demon Arrives in Camp.”
5 Gus Malbert, “Dahlen’s Superbas Stampede Colts by Portside Hurling,” Times Dispatch, April 1, 1913: 6.
6 “Griffith Sends His Comedians to Battle Colts,” Times Dispatch, April 6, 1913: 7.
7 “Walter Smallwood Shows His Real Form,” Times Dispatch, April 25, 1913: 6.
8 “Smallwood Goes to Bristol Team,” Times Dispatch, June 26, 1913: 6.
9 “Pitcher Smallwood in Wild Frame of Mind,” Knoxville (Tennessee) Sentinel, August 13, 1913: 12.
10 “Comment on Game,” Knoxville Sentinel, July 17, 1913: 14.
11 “Smallwood is Hurling Great Ball Just Now,” Twin-City Daily Sentinel (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), August 22, 1913: 6.
12 Walt Smallwood file, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Coopertown, New York.
13 “Newsboys’ Day is Baseball Feature,” Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Telegraph, September 1, 1915: 10.
14 “Indians Win First Game in Two Weeks,” Harrisburg Telegraph, September 15, 1915: 10.
15 “International Leaguers Beat Bender’s All-Stars,” Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Daily Independent, September 25, 1915: 8.
16 “Another ‘Dead Ringer,’” Atlantic Highlander (Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey), July 5, 1916: 6.
17 New York Times, September 20, 1917: 10.
18 “Ruppert Gives Fans Look at Cub Players,” New York Tribune, September 23, 1917: 22.
19 “Yanks Play for Plattsburg Men,” New York Sun, September 24, 1917: 11.
20 “Notes,” New York Tribune, September 26, 1917: 13.
21 “Smallwood, Newark Pitcher, is Drafted,” Buffalo (New York) Commercial, August 8, 1917: 6.
22 “Owners of Yanks Insist on Winner,” Lincoln (Nebraska) Star, October 7, 1917: 6.
23 James Crusinberry, “Many ‘Do Bit’ for Baseball in War Cause,” Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1918: 11.
24 “To Play the Sammies,” Baltimore Sun, April 6, 1918: 7.
25 Vincent de P. Fitzpatrick, “Mackmen at Camp Today,” Baltimore Sun, May 5, 1918: 26.
26 “Yanks of Baseball Fame Getting Out of Service,” Baltimore Sun, December 5, 1918: 7.
27 “Yankees Lose Lead in Pennant Race,” New York Times, July 11, 1919: 8.
28 “Shore is Pounded Hard by Indians,” New York Times, July 12, 1919: 10.
29 “Mogridge Paves Way to Victory in Short Game,” New York Tribune, July 16, 1919: 10.
30 “Three are Released by Manager Huggins,” New York Daily News, May 4, 1920: 46; and “Essick Loses Ross, Dell, and Sullivan,” Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1920: 6.
31 “Notes,” Stockton (California) Daily Evening Record, May 31, 1921: 14.
32 “Smallwood to Minneapolis,” Los Angeles Evening Express, May 27, 1921: 26.
33 “Bisons Open Series with Pests Today,” Buffalo Commercial, June 19, 1923: 6.
34 Shandy Hill, “Walt Smallwood Sold by Newark, Begins Journey to Obscurity,” Reading (Pennsylvania) Times, May 27, 1927: 18.
35 Not listed in Baseball-Reference.com. “Wilbur Davis Final Leader of Southern,” Atlanta Constitution, September 25, 1927: 19; and “Eastern League Notes,” Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), July 7, 1927: 13.
36 “Only Twenty-Seven Players Faced Pitcher,” Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, Colorado), May 27, 1928: 8.
37 “Pueblo Pitcher Takes Up Management of Club,” Fort Collins Coloradoan, June 29, 1931: 8.
38 “Smallwood Quits as Pueblo Pilot,” Denver Post, June 3, 1932: 36.
39 “Baseball Notes,” Brooklyn Citizen, July 19, 1932: 7.
40 “Five Major Bosses Have Jobs,” Reading Times, August 22, 1932: 10.
41 “Jakie Pitler Gets Mid-Atlantic Job,” Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Record, April 21, 1933: 25.
42 Gordon Williams, “In the Realm of Sports,” Reading Times, May 25, 1934: 24.
43 “Convicted on 6 of 7 Charges,” Baltimore Sun, September 26, 1945: 16.
44 “Deaths,” Baltimore Sun, May 1, 1967: 37.
Walter Clayton Smallwood
April 24, 1893 at Dayton, MD (USA)
April 29, 1967 at Baltimore, MD (USA)
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