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Smoky Owens

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Raymond Owens AKA Kankol

  • Bats Left, Throws Left

Smoky Owens was a Negro League pitcher for five years before his life was tragically cut short. He grew up in Jacksonville, FL and debuted with the local Jacksonville Red Caps in 1938. The team moved to Cleveland, OH the next year to become the Cleveland Bears. Owens went 12-1 with a 1.50 RA in 1939 in the regular season, making him the top pitcher in the Negro American League. He had three more wins than NAL runner-up Preacher Henry, was .56 ahead of ERA runner-up Hilton Smith and only missed the pitching Triple Crown as his 42 strikeouts were second to Smith's 60. In the second 1939 East-West Game, Owens started for the West and was handed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. He allowed one run in the bottom of the first. Facing the East in the bottom of the second, Owens "gave them the ball game" according to the Chicago Defender. Buck Leonard walked and Vic Harris singled. Sammy T. Hughes walked to load the bases. After a pop-up by opposing hurler Bill Byrd, Wild Bill Wright singled in two runs. Owens was yanked in favor of Jimmy Johnson, who let the inherited runners score on a double by Willie Wells. The East wound up 10-2 winners and Owens took the defeat. It would be his only East-West Game appearance.

Owens' production fell drastically in 1940 as he lost his only decision. In 1941, Smoky played briefly for the New Orleans-St. Louis Stars. Owens went 2-2 in 1942 with the Cincinnati Buckeyes. On September 7, Owens was driving a car with five Buckeyes as passengers when a truck smashed into their car at 3:00 AM just west of Geneva, OH. Owens and Buster Brown died right away. Gene Bremer suffered a fractured skull and Herman Watts, Alonzo Boone and owner Wilbur Hayes were all injured as well.

Sources: The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley, Black Baseball's National Showcase by Larry Lester

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