Smoky Joe Wood (Trading Card DB)

September 6, 1912: Smoky Joe Wood outduels Walter Johnson in epic clash of ‘smokeball kids’

This article was written by Andrew Harner

“You might say I’ve seen some pretty good pitching. But I’ve never seen anything like Smoky Joe Wood in 1912. He won 34 games that year, 10 of them shutouts, and 16 of those wins were in a row. It so happened that that was the same year Walter Johnson also won 16 in a row. And the fact that both of those fellows were so unbeatable that year gave rise to one of the greatest games in the history of baseball.” – Red Sox outfielder Harry Hooper.1


Smoky Joe Wood (Trading Card DB)On September 6, 1912, the Boston Globe framed photos of Joe Wood and Walter Johnson in an attention-grabbing front-page layout that seemed more appropriate for heavyweight champion Jack Johnson’s next bout2 than a Friday afternoon baseball game at Fenway Park. But with help from the Globe and its newsboys shouting, “One of Greatest Battles of Boxmen in Years to Be Fought at Fenway Park,” what would have otherwise been a run-of-the-mill late-season meeting between the pennant-bound Boston Red Sox and the upstart Washington Senators turned into the incredible spectacle it deserved to be.3

Earlier in the season, the 24-year-old Johnson had broken Jack Chesbro’s American League record with 16 straight wins between July 3 and August 23.4 Because the 22-year-old Wood came into the four-game series between the Red Sox and Senators with a streak of 13 successive victories, Washington manager Clark Griffith issued Wood and Boston manager Jake Stahl a challenge: Give Johnson a chance to protect his record and personally snap Wood’s streak.

“I feel sure my man can win the honors,” Griffith said. “Johnson’s record this season was against all comers, and I want to see Joe Wood matched up with our man.”5

Wood, who had lost to the Senators twice earlier in the season, accepted.6

He had been scheduled to start the final meeting of the series on Saturday, September 7, but instead took his turn on three days’ rest. With errorless play behind them, Wood – who had picked up the “Smoky Joe” moniker from Boston Post reporter Paul Shannon about a week earlier7 – outdueled the Big Train by striking out nine in a 1-0 shutout for his 30th victory of the season. The triumph extended Boston’s winning streak to 10 games and increased the club’s lead in the AL standings to a nearly insurmountable 14½-game advantage over the Senators.8

“The newspapers publicized us like prizefighters: giving statistics, comparing our height, weight, biceps, triceps, arm span, and whatnot,” Wood recalled years later in a wide-ranging interview with Lawrence S. Ritter. “The Champion, Walter Johnson, versus the Challenger, Joe Wood.”9

Some 29,000 fans crowded into Fenway Park10 – in its first season of existence – to see the “smokeball kids,”11 forming lines at the gates and filling the grandstand several hours before game time, necessitating special ground rules to accommodate multiple rows of cordoned-off fans who paid 75 cents each to watch from the playing field. The club had to turn away thousands of comers, closing the gates 20 minutes before the game started. A photo in the Globe captured upward of a dozen rows of fans standing in some places along the third-base line. The overflow crowd made it impossible for the clubs to utilize the dugouts, so players sat on the grass or in chairs in foul territory.12

“Fenway Park must have contained twice as many people as its seating capacity that day,” Wood recalled. “I never saw so many people in one place in my life. In fact, the fans were put on the field an hour before the game started, and it was so crowded down there I hardly had room to warm up.”13

While dozens of fans did form a U shape around Wood as he warmed up along the first-base line,14 the game did not break Fenway’s attendance record.15

As the excited fans buzzed, Washington MVP contender Clyde Milan16 tried to get some early momentum for his club with a leadoff single between third baseman Larry Gardner and shortstop Heinie Wagner, but Wood got Eddie Foster to tap the ball to the mound for a 1-6-3 double play and struck out Danny Moeller to set the tone for the afternoon.

Two innings later, Washington’s George McBride led off the third with a ground-rule double into the crowd. He moved to third on a sacrifice but got caught in a rundown between third and home plate when Wood snared Johnson’s sharp chopper up the middle. Milan and Foster drew back-to-back walks to load the bases, but once again Wood struck out Moeller to end the inning.

Washington threatened in the fifth after catcher Eddie Ainsmith17 walked and Johnson reached on an infield single, but Milan and Foster both flied out to end the inning. Frank LaPorte hit a two-out ground-rule double for the Senators in the sixth, but Wood again ended the threat with a strikeout, this time of Ray Moran.

Johnson, meanwhile, had kept the Red Sox at bay. He allowed three hits over the first two innings but retired the next 11 hitters in order before Boston’s two-out, sixth-inning rally produced the only run of the game.

Facing a 0-and-2 count, Tris Speaker laced the ball “like a bullet” just in front of the left-field overflow crowd for a double.18 In hopes of neutralizing pull hitter Duffy Lewis, Washington’s outfielders shifted toward left field, but Lewis got a piece of what the Globe described as one of Johnson’s “speediest balls”19 and sent a flare to right field. Moeller, a fleet fielder, had positioned himself closer to center field than the right-field foul line, but he dashed toward Lewis’s looping liner from the crack of the bat. The Globe described the scene: “With one frantic plunge, Moeller dove after the ball. For an instant, it seemed that he had caught it, but the ball just touched his finger tips and dropped onto the sod.”20 Speaker, the 1912 AL MVP, easily scored.

Staked to that lead, Wood nearly threw an immaculate inning in the seventh, striking out McBride and Ainsworth on six pitches, but umpire Tommy Connolly called his eighth pitch of the inning a ball. In the game, Wood threw 108 pitches, while Johnson needed only 98.21

Washington’s best chance to score came in the eighth, when Foster slashed a one-out single and stole second. After Moeller flied out, Chick Gandil nearly secured a game-tying hit,22 but his looping liner to right field landed a few feet foul. “Had Chick Gandil’s line smash landed three feet the right side of the foul line in the eighth inning of to-day’s game,” wrote William Peet of the Washington Herald, “the Red Sox and Nationals would still be playing, with the score one run for either side.” As it was, the Senators took a stinging defeat. Fittingly, the game ended with Wood striking out the final batter.

“I’d have given $1,000 of the receipts to have the result reversed,” Griffith said. “Wood is no such pitcher as Johnson, and it hurts to have him beat him.”23

Ballplayer-turned-journalist Tim Murnane, however, wrote in The Sporting News, “[T]oday, every honest critic must class Joe Wood the equal of any pitcher in the business.”24

Despite the setback, Washington still enjoyed the best season in its 12-year history to date, coming in second in Griffith’s first year as manager. Under his guidance, the Senators finished above .500 for the first time after improving by 27 games in the standings, posting a 91-61 record. The Red Sox, on the way to their second World Series championship, finished 105-47,25 standing 14 games above Washington at season’s end.

Wood pitched his third straight shutout in defeating Johnson and the Senators, and he ran his scoreless innings streak to 32⅔ before allowing a two-out RBI double to Rollie Zeider in the sixth inning of a 5-4 win in his next start, against the White Sox on September 10. Five days later, Wood stifled the St. Louis Browns to match Johnson’s record for consecutive wins, but the Detroit Tigers beat him 6-4 on September 20 to bring his streak to an end.26 He finished the campaign with a 34-5 record, a 1.91 ERA, 10 shutouts, and a career-high 258 strikeouts. Johnson was at least as good, going 33-12 with a 1.39 ERA and 303 strikeouts. Had Johnson recorded one more win, he would have earned the pitching Triple Crown by leading the league in ERA, strikeouts, and wins. He later achieved the feat in 1913, ’18, and ’24.27

Wood experienced arm troubles and other injuries over the next several years, and he never recovered the magic of his 34-win season – a plight he later likened to a “tumbling house of cards”28 and one that spoiled the burgeoning rivalry between him and Johnson. They faced off as starters only once more, late in the 1915 season,29 before Wood became a full-time outfielder. Wood had gotten the better of Johnson in their first four head-to-head meetings,30 but referred to Johnson as “the greatest pitcher who ever lived” later in life.31



This article was fact-checked by Kevin Larkin and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the,, and websites for pertinent material and box scores. He also used information obtained from news coverage by the Boston Globe, the Washington Herald, and the Washington Post.



1 Lawrence S. Ritter, The Glory of Their Times (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2010), 147.

2 On July 4, 1912, Jack Johnson defended his heavyweight championship by defeating Fireman Jim Flynn in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Many newspapers around the region carried news of the coming bout on the front page.

3 “Wood and Johnson in Pitching Duel Today,” Boston Globe, September 6, 1912: 1.

4 During Johnson’s streak, he earned a victory in relief four times – twice in a traditional relief role, once after pitching 12⅔ innings in a 16-inning win, and once after pitching the final 8⅔ innings when manager Clark Griffith changed his mind about his starting pitcher, but not until after informing the umpire that Lefty Schegg would start. By earning the victory that day, Johnson surpassed Chesbro’s AL record of 14 straight victories. Wood had pitched in relief three times during his streak of victories, but he did not factor into the decision in any of those games.

5 Gerald C. Wood, Smoky Joe Wood: The Biography of a Baseball Legend (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013), 110.

6 Earlier in the season, Wood had lost to the Senators’ Bob Groom on April 23 (6-2) and Dixie Walker on May 1 (2-1). He had also defeated Washington in a 21-8 rout on May 29 and earned a 3-0 shutout win on June 26.

7 Michael Foster, “Smoky Joe Wood,” SABR BioProject, accessed September 28, 2023 (

8 Wood later earned three victories as the Red Sox defeated the New York Giants in the World Series.

9 Ritter, 159.

10 Contemporary reports indicate the fans were orderly and did not interfere with the action, though it was reported that a small boy was struck by a foul ball, taken from the field for evaluation, and later returned to his place behind home plate.

11 William Peet, “Greatest Crowd of Season Sees Johnson Fall Before Wood,” Washington Herald, September 7, 1912.

12 “Overflow Crowd as Seen from Press Box,” Boston Globe, September 7, 1912: 7.

13 Ritter, 159. In previous seasons, Boston had drawn many crowds larger than 30,000 at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, but because of the sheer dimensions of that ballpark, overflow crowds would not have felt as cramped as they would at Fenway Park, likely leading to Wood’s recollection of never seeing so many people in one place before.

14 Ritter, 162-163.

15 Less than a week earlier, an estimated 30,000 fans had turned up for a Saturday game against the Philadelphia Athletics. But the Red Sox did not draw a larger single-game weekday crowd during the regular season until Opening Day in 1934, when 33,336 fans packed into the expanded grandstand and bleacher sections of the newly renovated ballpark on a Tuesday. On Monday, September 1, 1919, the Red Sox drew 29,650 fans for a doubleheader against the Senators, and many other weekday doubleheaders between then and 1934 had drawn more than 29,000 fans.

16 Milan finished fourth in the voting for the AL’s Chalmers Award after leading the league with 88 stolen bases and hitting .306. Because of the threat of his speed, Wood attempted seven pickoffs while Milan led off first base.

17 While in Boston for the series, Ainsmith was the guest of honor at the YMCA in nearby Cambridge for a reception held in his honor. The 22-year-old was born in Russia but grew up in Cambridge. “Catcher Ainsmith Banqueted,” Lynn (Massachusetts) Daily Evening Item, September 6, 1912: 6.

18 Speaker broke the AL record with 53 doubles in 1912, falling two shy of Ed Delahanty’s major-league record, which he set with 55 doubles in 1899. Speaker later broke the record with 59 doubles for the Cleveland Indians in 1923, a short-lived mark that stood until Cleveland’s George Burns had 64 doubles three years later. In 1931, Boston’s Earl Webb broke that record with 67 doubles, a mark that remains the standard as of 2023.

19 Melville E. Webb Jr., “Wood Beats Johnson in Baseball Classic,” Boston Globe, September 7, 1912: 7.

20 Webb.

21 “Analysis of the Pitching,” Boston Globe, September 7, 1912: 7.

22 Had Gandil got the game-tying hit, it would have been another highlight in his first season with the Senators. Washington acquired Gandil in a trade with the Montreal Royals of the International League on May 26, and he promptly hit .305 and finished 11th in the MVP voting.

23 Joe S. Jackson, “Boston Learns What the World Series Will Mean,” Washington Post, September 7, 1912: 9.

24 T.H. Murnane, “Honors Go to Wood,” The Sporting News, September 12, 1912: 1.

25 The 105 wins stood as a franchise record until the 2018 Red Sox won 108 games. Boston’s .691 winning percentage from 1912 remained a club record as of 2023.

26 Lefty Grove (1931) and Schoolboy Rowe (1934) later matched the AL record. To open the 1912 season, New York Giants standout Rube Marquard won 19 games in a row in the National League to tie Tim Keefe’s 1888 major-league record.

27 Journalist James T. Farrell wrote in retrospect: “Perhaps Walter Johnson was faster than Wood. Perhaps [Lefty] Grove and Bob] Feller were. But Wood threw smoke, and in 1912, if there was a better pitcher than Wood in baseball, even Walter Johnson or Christy Mathewson, the difference was merely academic.” James T. Farrell, My Baseball Diary (New York: A.S. Barnes And Company, 1957), 35.

28 Ritter, 166.

29 In the final meeting, on October 2, 1915, Johnson pitched a complete game for a 3-1 victory.

30 In addition to his win on September 6, 1912, Wood also pitched a shutout in the second game of a June 26 doubleheader, a 3-0 win over Johnson. Wood won other head-to-head matchups on April 19, 1910, and May 30, 1911.

31 Ritter, 159.

Additional Stats

Boston Red Sox 1
Washington Senators 0

Fenway Park
Boston, MA


Box Score + PBP:

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