Failure to integrate the Major Leagues prior to 1947 cost a lot of white fans the pleasure of seeking some of the better baseball players before that year. I’ve spent a lot of time this month dealing with the Lincoln Giants, so I thought it might be a good idea to spend a few words on their best pitcher, “Smokey Joe” Williams.
Williams came out of Texas in 1905. As an aside, Texas, in the first decade of the 20th Century produced some great Negro League players. Not only did Williams and Foster come from Texas, but so did Louis Santop who showed up in 1909. All three made the Hall of Fame.
His career was pretty typical for a Negro League player in the Deadball Era. He did a lot of barnstorming with independent teams and eventually hooked on with a team that got him recognition at the highest level of black baseball. Of course he also spent several years playing in the winter league in Cuba. By 1911 he was in New York with the Lincoln Giants and was an immediate sensation as a hurler. His nickname at the time was “Cyclone” but in the 1920s he became known by his more common nickname of “Smokey.”
He hung on through 1932 playing for a variety of teams in the era: the Grays, the American Giants, the Bacharachs, the Detroit Wolves. He did a little managing, usually of the player-manager variety. He died in 1951 and made the Hall of Fame in 1999.
As with other black players, especially those prior to the 1930s, the statistical information on Williams’ career is spotty. BaseballReference.com gives him numbers for about 111 games, but shows him starting 131 (got me about the odd 20 games there). It gives him a total record (including the Cuban League ) of 84-52 (which adds up to 136). He has a 1.152 WHIP, 726 strikeouts, and 303 walks. BR.com does show him as a decent hitter (he played some first base when not pitching). They give him a .311 average with nine home runs and 70 RBIs over 539 at bats. Seamheads gives us the following numbers: 123 wins to 76 losses over 243 games. There are 450 walks, 1135 strikeouts, and a 1.17 WHIP.
If you’ve been paying close attention to the February posts, you’ll note a couple of themes. One of the more important is the knowledge that what information we have on the Negro Leagues, particularly the earlier ones, is skimpy. Complete statistics are as rare as an honest politician. Notice that the two sites I referenced above (Seamheads and Baseball Reference) give very difference numbers. Without knowing for certain, it appears they have found different sources and different sets of games to document. There is probably much overlap, but nothing like completeness. And before I go on, I want you to understand that the above is in no away a disparaging of either site. Both have done excellent jobs in finding and documenting what they can. It is, rather, the nature of the information available that makes it difficult to determine specifics. As I pointed out in my first post for the 2017 February Black History Month ramble, what we are left with is a mere glimpse of what we missed by segregating the Negro League players from the Major Leagues. Hopefully, these short glimpses have helped you understand the nature of the problem and the kind and quality of what was going on in the black leagues.
And to finish off, here’s a picture of Smokey Joe Williams’ grave from the Find A Grave website. To show you just how incomplete the information is, I have no idea why there are three names of people seemingly unrelated on the same headstone. If anyone knows, let me know.