Smoky Joe WIlliams

This article was written by John M. Coates

This article was published in the 1973 Baseball Research Journal


Once tabbed by Ty Cobb as “a sure 30-game winner in the major leagues,” Smoky Joe Williams is often mentioned by oldtimers as black baseball’s greatest pitcher, superior even to Cannonball Redding, Bill Foster, Frank Wickware, and Satchel Paige. (In the twilight of his career with the Homestead Grays, Williams bested Paige, 30 years his junior, in two out of three games.)

Smoky Joe Williams was born in 1876 near San Antonio, Texas, and was 33 years old, hurling in the obscure Texas leagues, when he defeated the famous Leland Giants, 3-0, in an exhibition game in 1909.  His opponent on the mound that day was Rube Foster, who signed him on the spot to a contract with that Chicago club.

Williams is best remembered for his years with the New York Lincoln Giants from 1912 through 1923, during which time he beat the likes of Walter Johnson, Grover Alexander, Jess Barnes, Eddie Rommel, Jeff Tesreau, and Rube Walberg.  One of his greatest efforts was an off-season no-hitter against John McGraw’s New York Giants in 1919, although Williams maintained that his finest game that season was another no-hit game against former teammate Dick Redding.  Sid Mercer, Bozeman Bulger, and other sportswriters of that period rated Williams with the best major league stars.  He was rated on a par with Christy Mathewson by Bulger, one of Matty’s closest friends.

In 1925 Williams joined the Homestead Grays of Pittsburgh, where he remained until hanging up his spikes in 1933.  In his first five seasons there, he was charged with just six defeats. On August 3, 1930, at age 54, he faced the Kansas City Monarchs’ Chet Brewer in one of the first night games ever played in Negro ball.   He whiffed 27 Monarchs that evening, yielded one hit, and won 1-0 in 12 innings.  The matter-of-fact, almost casual way the game was reported in the press can be considered a tribute to the pitching genius of Williams.   His spectacular efforts by that time were almost routine.

Here is the report and the box score of that game, which also included some other familiar names, such as Oscar Charleston and Josh Gibson.

GRAYS WIN 1-0 AS “SMOKY JOE” FANS 27 K.C. PLAYERS

KANSAS CITY,  Aug. 3. — With “Smoky Joe” Williams and Brewer engaging in a pitching duel, the Homestead Grays of Pittsburgh, Pa., last night took a 12-inning game from the Monarchs, 1-0, at Muehlebach Field for their second consecutive victory of the series.

The pitchers’ work bordered upon the sensational, with Williams fanning 27 of the 39 men to face him. Brewer fanned 19. Both were emery ball pitchers. None of the Grays’ outfielders had a chance, and only one chance was credited to the Monarch’s outfielders. The Monarchs got only one hit and the Grays were able to touch Brewer for only four.

The Monarchs threatened to score in the eighth when Joseph, first up, doubled and then stole third.  Williams then fanned Duncan, Stephens made a sensational backhand catch, and Brewer struck out to retire the side.

The Grays won the game in their half of the twelfth, when Charleston walked, Johnson popped out, Scales was an infield out, and White doubled to the left field foul line, scoring Charleston.

 

Grays

AB

H

P

A

 

Kansas City

AB

H

P

A

Stephens, ss..

5

1

1

0

 

Taylor, rf….

5

0

1

0

Harris, lf….

4

0

0

0

 

Mothel, 2b….

5

0

1

1

Charleston, lb

3

0

5

0

 

Allen, ss…..

5

0

4

1

Johnson, 3b…

5

0

0

1

 

Livingston, cf

4

0

0

0

Scales, 2b….

3

0

2

0

 

Redus, lf…..

3

0

0

0

White, cf…..

4

2

0

0

 

Joseph, 3b….

4

1

1

2

Evans, rf…..

5

1

0

0

 

Duncan, c…..

4

0

20

4

Gibson, c…..

3

0

27

0

 

Turner, lb….

4

0

9

0

Williams, p…

3

0

1

3

 

Brewer, p…..

4

0

0

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Totals

40

4

35

4

 

Totals

38

1

36

12

Grays………………..000 000 000 001 — 1
Kansas City…………000 000 000 000 — 0

Runs–Charleston.  Errors–Charleston, Mothel.  Two-base hits–Joseph, White. Struck out–By Williams, 27; by Brewer, 19.   Bases on balls–Off Williams, 1; off Brewer, 3.

 

© SABR. All Rights Reserved