Smokey Joe Williams
During the first half of its existence, Smokey Joe Williams was to black baseball what Satchel Paige was to the latter half. Old-timers who saw him play remember him as Satchel’s equal, if not his superior.
With a blinding fastball that earned him the nicknames “Cyclone” and “Smokey Joe,” he was a dominant force in black baseball from his first appearance with Frank Leland’s Chicago Giants in 1910 until his retirement from the Homestead Grays in 1932.
The big, 6’4″ hurler reached his peak from 1912-23 while playing primarily for the New York Lincoln Giants but his top performance of 27 strikeouts came in 1930 while one-hitting the Kansas City Monarchs in a 12-inning night game.
In 1914 records show a mark of 41 wins against only three losses. Ty Cobb considered him to be a “sure 30-game winner” had he been able to pitch in the major leagues. This evaluation was well justified as Joe compiled a lifetime record of 20-7 in exhibitions against major league competition.
Three times he dueled the National League Champions in post-season play. The first showdown was in 1912, when he shut out the World Champion New York Giants 6-0. A second match-up was in 1915, when he struck out 10 batters while throwing a three-hit shutout against Grover Cleveland Alexander and the Philadelphia Phillies, winning by a score of 1-0. Joe’s third extraordinary performance occurred in 1917 when he struck out 20 batters while no-hitting the New York Giants, although he lost the game 1-0 on an error.
The tall Texan began his career in San Antonio, Texas and fashioned a five-year ledger (1905-1909) or 28-4, 15-9, 20-8, 20-2 and 32-8.
In 1910 he joined the Chicago Giants and owner Frank Leland described the new hurler: “If you have ever witnessed the speed of a pebble in a storm you have not even seen the equal of the speed possessed by this wonderful Texan Giant. ”
Joe left Chicago to join the New York Lincoln Giants in 1912, teaming with Dick Redding for the first time, and pitching with the Lincolns through the 1923 season. In 1920, he and Dick Redding feuded and refused to shake hands with each other for a photographer. However, in the spring of 1924, Williams was released during a youth movement house cleaning, although he was still one of the best pitchers in the league, and signed with the Brooklyn Royal Giants, again teaming with Dick Redding. Although he was the top pitcher for the Royals, he was released after the season and signed with the Homestead Grays.
In 1930, the Grays won the Eastern Championship by winning a challenge series over the Lincoln Giants. The following season with Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Jud Wilson providing the power and Williams as their ace pitcher, the Grays repeated as Champions and fielded what many consider to be the greatest black team of all time.
Of all the players who ever played in the era of black baseball, Smokey Joe Williams is the greatest player not yet enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
San Antonio Bronchos, Chicago Giants, Lincoln Giants, Chicago American Giants, Bacharach Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Homestead Grays, Detroit Wolves, Hilldale
Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige and Nolan Ryan