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Hilton Smith


Position: Pitcher
Teams:
Monroe Monarchs, 1932-1935; New Orleans Black Creoles, 1933; New Orleans Crescent Stars, 1933; Kansas City Monarchs, 1936-1948

It is difficult to construct an image of a long-gone ballplayer, especially if he came from the historical morass of the Negro Leagues, where complete records were not kept and few pictures exist. However, it is clear that Hilton Smith, elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001, was a great one.

Hilton Lee Smith (1907-1983) was born in Giddings, Texas, and entered pro ball in his early 20s. While playing for three mediocre Louisiana teams, he established himself as a top-flight pitcher with perhaps the best hard-breaking curve in all of black ball. In 1936, he was recruited by the powerful Kansas City Monarchs.

Smith spent 12 years with the Monarchs, winning at least 20 games every season and tossing a no-hitter against the Chicago American Giants in 1937. In addition to his curve, he threw both a rising and sinking fastball and a baffling changeup. The best available records list him with a 161-32 mark in league play, plus more victories in exhibitions. From 1939 to 1942, he went 93-11 in league games.

One of Smith's key roles was as Satchel Paige's long reliever. Paige would often throw the first three innings of a game, especially exhibitions against big-leaguers, with Smith entering for the final six. More often than not, Hilton nailed down a victory with an arm that was just as dominating as Satchel's.

The irony is that while both Paige and Smith were great pitchers, they couldn't have been more different. Paige was witty and colorful, while Smith was quiet and retiring. However, major leaguers who faced Smith thought highly of him. Bob Feller said Smith was better than Paige, despite the public perception of Satch as the best in the world -- black or white.

In addition to pitching, Smith also played first base and the outfield for Kansas City. He couldn't run well but he could hit -- and, of course, had a powerful throwing arm. He also knew his talent, recommending in 1945 that the Monarchs sign Jackie Robinson.

After Robinson inked with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, the opportunity came for other great Negro League stars to sign with big-league organizations. However, Smith knew that his right arm didn't have many pitches left in it and that he probably would have to spend several years working his way through the talented Dodgers chain. Rather than struggle in the high minors, he chose to retire in 1948 at age 41.

Smith wasn't through with baseball, though. He pitched semipro ball in New Mexico and, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he scouted talent for the Chicago Cubs. He died in 1983 in Kansas City, home of his greatest triumphs.

Here are Hilton Smith's negro league totals*:

WL
G
CG
IP
H
BB
SO
69
33
137
45
726
560
131
338

*Note: Smith's career statistics are incomplete.

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