Teams include: San Antonio Broncos, Austin, Leland Giants, Chicago Giants, New York Lincoln Giants, Chicago American Giants, Bacharach Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Homestead Grays, Detroit Wolves, 1905-1932
In 1952, the Pittsburgh Courier asked a panel of black baseball veterans and sportswriters, "Who was the greatest Negro League pitcher of all time?" Smokey Joe Williams edged Satchel Paige by one vote.
Despite that impressive endorsement, Williams's reputation is difficult to quantify today, given the scarcity of hard data about the Negro Leagues of the first decades of the 20th Century. But some facts are crystal clear. Williams was an intimidating presence, at 6-feet-5, 205 pounds. He combined severe heat with exceptional control.
Smokey Joe Williams was considered
to be just as good a ballplayer
as the great Satchel Page.
Born in Texas, Williams (1886-1946) began his professional career at age 19, winning 28 games and losing four for San Antonio. He spent the next year with Austin, then returned to San Antonio for the next three seasons. Sketchy records indicate that he was 87-27 during those years. In 1909, his performance against Rube Foster's Leland Giants earned him a contract and a trip north.
By 1912, Williams was earning $105 per month, $30 more than his next highest-paid teammate. By all accounts, the 1913 Chicago American Giants were a powerhouse, going 101-6 against all competition. What we can glean from available statistics indicates that Williams's best year was probably 1914, when he compiled a 12-2 record in league play and an overall mark of 41-3.
In 1930, Smokey Joe went 7-1 in league play. In one game that year, he fanned 27 Kansas City Monarchs and allowed just one hit in a 12-inning contest. The game was played at night, and the Monarchs' lighting system wasn't that great. But still, Joe was 45 years old.
In exhibitions against white major-leaguers, Williams posted a 22-7-1 record. Two of those losses were by 1-0 scores. One of them was a 1917 no-hitter against the New York Giants, in which he struck out 20 but lost on an error. After the game, the Giants' Ross Youngs christened Williams "Smokey."
Ty Cobb, not known for his respect of African-American players, said Williams would have been "a sure 30-game winner" in the big leagues. In 1912, Williams shut out the National League champion Giants 6-0 on four hits. In 1915, he fashioned a three-hitter and fanned 10 Phils in a 1-0 victory over Grover Cleveland Alexander.
One contemporary said of Williams: "It used to take two catchers to hold him. By the time the fifth inning was over, the catcher's hand would be all swollen." Smokey Joe was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.
Here are Smokey Joe Williams' Negro League statistics*:
*Note: Williams's career statistics are incomplete.
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