(1912 – 1983)
A teammate of Satchel Paige’s on the Kansas City Monarchs, Hilton Smith was best known for being Satchel’s “relief.” After Satchel pitched three innings, Hilton would come in and pitch the last six innings, with no appreciable difference in effectiveness. Yet, because Hilton’s quietness contrasted with Satchel’s flamboyance, he never received the publicity that Satchel did.
Undoubtedly possessing the best curve-ball in black baseball, many thought that Hilton was the best all-around pitcher in the game. In addition to his superlative curves, he had a sinking fastball, a slider and a change-of-pace, all of which he threw both sidearmed and overhand, maintaining good control with both styles of delivery.
During his twelve years with the Monarchs, playing against all competition, the right-handed hurler won 20 or more games each year, with his best years coming in 1939-1942, when he finished with records of 25-2, 21-3, 25-1 and 22-5. Also pitching two winters in Cuba, the native Texan compiled a 10-5 record in the league. A good hitter, Hilton often pinch-hit or played outfield when not pitching.
The Monarch ace pitched in six consecutive All-Star games (1937-42), striking out 13 batters, tying with Satchel Paige for second place on the all-time all-star list, only one strike-out behind Leon Day. His All-Star years coincided with the years of Monarch domination in the Negro American League, a period during which they own five pennants in the first six years of the league’s existence.
The last of these, 1942, was the year that the first Black World Series was played between the Negro American League and the more established Negro National League. Hilton pitched in this series and again in the 1946 World Series, starting once in 1942 and twice in 1946, and winning one game in each Series for a composite 2-0 World Series record with a 1.29 ERA.
In 1943 Hilton hurt his arm, but still managed ERAs of 2.74 and 2.31 in 1944 and 1945, respectively, and his arm “came back” in time to help pitch the Monarchs to the 1946 pennant.
When the Negro Leagues broke up after the 1948 season, the records showed 161 wins against only 22 losses in league play. Then 36 years old, his age alone is all that kept Hilton from starring in the major leagues once the color barrier was removed.
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Monroe Monarchs, New Orleans Black Creoles,
New Orleans Crescent Stars,
Kansas City Monarchs