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Theolic Smith

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Theolic Smith (Fireball)

  • Bats Both, Throws Right
  • Height 6' 0", Weight 175 lb.

BR Minors page

Theolic Smith was an All-Star in three different decades in the Negro Leagues, played eight seasons in the Mexican League and four in the Pacific Coast League.

Smith debuted with the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1936, going 4-4. He went 3-2 in 1937 and 1-8 in 1938. He was 5-9 in the 1938-1939 Cuban Winter League, leading the circuit in losses; he also hit .380 as a backup outfielder and would have led in average had he qualified. In 1939, Fireball was 3-2 for the St. Louis Stars. He started for the West in the first 1939 East-West Game. He allowed four hits, one walk, two runs (one earned) and struck out one in three innings before being relieved by Hilton Smith; he drew a walk from Bill Byrd in his lone plate appearance. He left with a 2-0 deficit but the West went on to win, 4-2.

Smith signed with the Mexico City Red Devils for 1940 and had a big season both at the plate and on the mound. He went 19-9 with a 3.99 ERA and hit .364/.446/.498. He tied Martin Dihigo for second in the Mexican League in average, trailing only Cool Papa Bell. In 1941, he batted .284/.373/.361 and had a 16-8, 5.00 record with 131 walks in 207 innings. He tied Barney Brown and Nate Moreland for the most wins in Mexico. He had a 13-11, 4.17 record for the Red Devils in 1942 despite 111 walks in 198 2/3 innings. He also hit .296/.393/.348. He came back to the US for one year, 1943, going 8-6 for the Cleveland Buckeyes. He pitched in the 1943 East-West Game, relieving Gread McKinnis in the 7th inning with a 2-0 lead. He tossed scoreless ball in the 7th and 8th. In the 9th, he began by retiring Jerry Benjamin, but Buck Leonard homered to make it a one-run game. Josh Gibson lined out to Jesse Williams, but Howard Easterling singled. Porter Moss relieved Smith and retired the next batter for the save.

Back in Mexico in 1944, Theolic hit .299/.373/.343 for the Red Devils and had a 16-15, 4.15 record; he gave out 136 walks. He tied fellow two-way player Henry McHenry for second in wins, though well back of Ramón Bragaña's 30. In the 1944-1945 California Winter League, the Arkansas native was 2 for 15 with a double and a triple while being used primarily in the field. He batted .287/.376/.410 for the 1945 Mexico City club, with 7 triples, 47 runs and 42 RBI in 251 at-bats. He went 15-16 with a 4.79 ERA on the hill. During 1946, he batted .280/.370/.369 and was 11-10 with a 3.77 ERA. His batting line in 1947 was .289/.368/.369 and his pitching line read 22-10, 2.77 at age 34. He led the league in wins (two over Sal Maglie and three over Adrian Zabala) and was third in ERA, just behind Sandy Ullrich and Fred Martin. Smith spent his last season in Mexico in 1948, hitting .276/.361/.390 and going 9-11 with a 4.24 ERA.

Returning to the Negro Leagues, Smith pitched for the Chicago American Giants and Kansas City Monarchs in 1949. He appeared for the Magallanes Navigators in the 1950 Caribbean Series, with four walks, four strikeouts and two hits in 3 2/3 IP. He was back with Chicago in 1951. In the 1951 East-West Game, he was the starting pitcher for the West 12 years after he last got that call. He gave up two hits and a walk in three shutout innings while fannging two. He went 0 for 1 at the plate. Webbo Clarke relieved Smith with the game still scoreless; the East would go on to win, 3-1.

Smith wasn't done yet, signing with the San Diego Padres. He was 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA in 1952. In '53, the switch-hitting right-hander hit .255/.317/.345 at age 40 and posted a 13-16, 4.52 record. He was 3-2 with a 4.03 ERA in 1954 and 2-1 with a 4.73 ERA in 1955 before retiring at age 42.

Overall, Smith was 121-90 with a 4.08 ERA in the Mexican League and batted .300/.386/.387. He went 27-29 in his four late-life PCL seasons. His Negro League stats are harder to tabulate, but in three East-West Games, he gave up 3 runs (2 earned) in 9 innings. Smith threw a fastball, curveball, changeup and knuckleball (the last pitch an oddity for someone nicknamed fireball).

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