A photo of Smokey Joe Wood.

Howard Ellsworth "Smoky Joe" Wood (October 25, 1889 - July 27, 1985) was a Major League Baseball pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians during the early part of the 20th century.

Professional Debut[edit | edit source]

A native of Ness County, Kansas, Wood made his debut with the mostly-female "Bloomer Girls." There were many such teams across the country, which barnstormed in exhibition games against teams of men. Bloomer Girl rosters featured at least one male player.

After joining the Red Sox in 1908 at the age of 18, Wood had his breakthrough season in 1911 in which he won 23 games, compiled an earned run average of 2.02, threw a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns and struck out 15 batters in a single game. Wood once struck out 23 batters in an exhibition game. He earned the nickname "Smoky Joe" because of his blazing fastball. Wood once said, "I threw so hard I thought my arm would fly right off my body."

His peers concurred. Legendary fastballer and pitching contemporary Walter Johnson once said, "Can I throw harder than Joe Wood? Listen, my friend, there's no man alive can throw harder than Smoky Joe Wood!" Reminded of Johnson's assessment sixty years later, Wood said, "Oh, I don't think there was ever anybody faster than Walter." [1]

1912 Season[edit | edit source]

Wood's best season came in 1912, in which he won 34 games while losing only 5, had an ERA of 1.91 and struck out 258. Wood's 34 wins is the sixth highest post-1900 total in major league history. Since 1900, only 21 pitchers have won 30 or more games. [2] He also tied Walter Johnson's record for consecutive victories with 16, which is significant since Wood had to beat Johnson in order to get the record.

On September 6, 1912, Wood faced off against Johnson in a pitching duel at Fenway Park. At the time, Wood had a 14-game winning streak and Johnson had recently had his own 14-game winning streak snapped. The papers of the time hyped the matchup like a heavyweight prize fight, and a standing-room-only crowd of 29,000 packed the park that day. Johnson and Wood duelled to a scoreless tie through five innings, when with two outs in the sixth, Boston's Tris Speaker doubled to left on a 1-2 count and Duffy Lewis knocked him in with a double down the right-field line. Wood gave up two more hits the rest of the way and the Red Sox prevailed, 1-0. [3]


Wood in 1913

Equally compelling in drama, Wood's Red Sox faced John McGraw's New York Giants in the historic 1912 World Series. After slugging it out in seven close games, the teams met for the deciding game eight at Fenway with future Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson starting for the Giants. After Boston tied the score 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Wood came in to pitch. He matched Mathewson in the eighth and ninth, and the game went into extra innings. In the top of the tenth, Fred Merkle got to Wood knocking in a run with a single. But in the bottom of the tenth, Clyde Engle, pinch-hitting for Wood, hit an easy fly ball to Fred Snodgrass in center field, and Snodgrass dropped the ball. The "Snodgrass Muff" cost the Giants as Speaker and Larry Gardner knocked in the final two runs as Wood and the Red Sox won the game 3-2 and the series 4-3-1. For Wood, the game was his third win in the series against one loss. He also struck out 11 batters in one game, becoming the first pitcher to record double-digit strikeouts in a World Series game. [4] [5]

Position Player[edit | edit source]

The following year, Wood slipped on wet grass while fielding a bunt in a game against the Detroit Tigers. He fell and broke his thumb, and pitched in pain for the following three seasons. Although he maintained a winning record and a low ERA, his appearances were limited as he could no longer recover quickly from pitching a game. Wood sat out the 1916 season and most of the 1917 season, and for all intents and purposes ended his pitching career.

Late in the 1917 season, Wood was sold to the Cleveland Indians, where he rejoined former teammate Tris Speaker. Always proficient with the bat, he embarked on a second career; like his former teammate Babe Ruth, Wood ended his career as an outfielder. His hitting statistics, however, were far more pedestrian than those of Ruth. Wood pitched seven more times, all but one game in relief, winning none and losing one. He also appeared in four games in the 1920 World Series.

Wood finished his major league career after the 1922 season with a pitching record of 117-57 and an ERA of 2.03. His lifetime batting average was .283. In his final season with the Indians, he had his highest hit total for a season with 150, and also set a personal mark for RBI with 92.

Later Career[edit | edit source]

Wood went on to become head baseball coach at Yale University, where he compiled a career managing record of 283-228-1 over 20 seasons. While at Yale, he coached his son Joe Jr., who pitched briefly for the 1944 Red Sox.

Decades later, in 1981, Wood was present at an historic pitcher's duel between Yale University and Saint John's University, featuring future major leaguers Ron Darling and Frank Viola. Darling threw 11 no-hit innings for Yale, matched by Viola's 11 shutout innings for St. John's. Wood, sitting in the stands, recalled Ty Cobb and said, "A lot of fellows in my time shortened up on the bat when they had to--that's what the St. John's boys should try against this good pitcher." Darling lost the no-hitter and the game in the 12th, and Wood called it the best baseball game he had ever seen. The account was recorded in Roger Angell's 1982 book The Web of the Game, and, later, in the anthology Game Time: A Baseball Companion.

In 1984, Wood received a standing ovation on Old Timers Day at Fenway Park in Boston, some 72 years after his memorable season. Aged 94, he said he was happy that Boston remembered him as "Smoky."

Wood died in West Haven, Connecticut on July 27, 1985. He was buried in Shohola Township, Pennsylvania. In 1995, he was selected to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame.

In 1981, Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time. They explained what they called "the Smoky Joe Wood Syndrome," where a player of truly exceptional talent but a career curtailed by injury should still, in spite of not having had career statistics that would quantitatively rank him with the all-time greats, be included on their list of the 100 greatest players. Wood was also interviewed for Ritter's famous book, The Glory of Their Times.

On August 27, 2005, the Society for American Baseball Research's Connecticut Chapter named itself the Connecticut Smoky Joe Wood SABR Chapter.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Tom Deveaux (2001) "The Washington Senators, 1901-1971", McFarland, ISBN 0786409932 Excerpt, pp. 37
  2. Single-Season Leaders & Records for Wins. Baseball-Reference.com.
  3. John Klima (2002) "Pitched Battle: 35 of Baseball's Greatest Duels from the Mound", McFarland, ISBN 0786412038 Excerpt, pp. 28-31
  4. GIANTS LOSE, 3-1; WOOD, HIT HARD, PROVES MASTER. New York Times (10-12-12).
Preceded by:
Chief Bender
No-hitter pitcher
July 29, 1911
Succeeded by:
Ed Walsh
Preceded by:
Jack Coombs
American League Wins Champion
Succeeded by:
Walter Johnson
Preceded by:
Dutch Leonard
American League ERA Champion
Succeeded by:
Babe Ruth
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