John Ford Smith
(Teniente, Geronimo, Lefty)
- Bats Both, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 200 lb.
Ford Smith pitched for five years in the Negro Leagues, six in the minors. He was 61-40 in the minors, 14-6 in the Negro Leagues and 21-12 in the Cuban and Puerto Rican winter leagues for a composite mark of 96-58. At the plate, he drew walks and hit for good contact. On the mound, he threw hard and also employed a curveball and changeup. Along with Monte Irvin, he was one of the first two African-American players signed by the New York Giants.
1939-1941: Early years
Smith debuted in 1939 with the Chicago American Giants but saw little action. He moved to the Indianapolis Crawfords the next year when they were not considered a major team. Ford then was with the 1941 Kansas City Monarchs but again did not play much.
1942-1945: Military service
He then served in the Air Corps during World War II, advancing up to the rank of lieutenant.
1946-1948: Heyday in Kansas City
In 1946, Smith finally saw regular pitching duty at the age of 27. He went 3-1 for Kansas City. In the 1946 Negro World Series, he started game two against the Newark Eagles and left with a 4-1 lead after six but Satchel Paige relieved him and blew it and the Monarchs lost 7-4. Smith got the call again in game seven, the decisive outing, when Paige failed to show up. Smith allowed only three hits but walks to Larry Doby and Irvin and a 2-run double by Johnny Davis in the bottom of the 6th cost him a 3-2 decision. He had a 4.29 RA in the Series and went 0-1.
Smith went 1-0 for the 1947 Monarchs. He also pitched in the second 1947 East-West Game, allowing 4 hits, two walks and two runs in three innings while striking out two. He got the start and the win for the West; his relievers pitched scoreless ball in a 8-2 victory. Ford entered the KC rotation the next year, going 10-5. He was tied for fourth in the Negro American League in wins and was 4th with a 2.64 ERA. He also hit .288 and played the outfield or first base at times. In the 1948-1949 Puerto Rican Winter League, Smith went 13-6 and led the league in wins, edging the forenamed Johnny Davis by one.
1949-1950: First black pitcher in the NYG system
The New York Giants signed Smith and Irvin on January 28, 1949. He was assigned to the Jersey City Giants, where he went 10-8 with a 4.15 ERA. One big problem was his control as he walked 106 in 154 innings. At the plate, he hit .202/~.331/.272 and he played the outfield and pinch-hit at times. Smith spent the 1949-1950 season with the Havana Reds and went 8-6 with a 2.80 ERA, but 57 walks in 103 innings; he only allowed 78 hits. He was only .14 behind Cuban Winter League ERA leader Connie Marrero, putting him second in the league.
Returning to Jersey City, Smith went 2-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 12 games in 19050. He walked 40 in 45 innings.
1952-1954: Arizona-Texas League
Now 33, Ford signed on with his hometown Phoenix Senators for 1952. He went 13-4 with a 3.91 ERA his first year and led the Arizona-Texas League with 4 shutouts; he was second to teammate Donald Cantrell in ERA. At the plate, he hit a fine .364/~.44/.507 to lead Phoenix in average. He played first base in 18 games, but made six errors.
In his second year with Phoenix, Smith batted .263/~.387/.360 and was 11-14 with a 5.65 ERA; this was around average for the high-scoring loop. His control was improving as he walked 84 in 199 innings, but he allowed 255 hits (not close to the league's top 10). He finished his career by going 9-3 with a 3.54 ERA for the El Paso Texans.
Smith worked in the Phoenix Union High School system after retirement. He became executive director of the Arizona State Civil Rights Commission and vice president of the Civil Rights Department of the Arizona Bank.
The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley, 1953 and 1954 Baseball Guides, The International League: Year-by-Year Statistics by Marshall Wright, Black Baseball's National Showcase by Larry Lester, The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway, Pat Doyle's Professional Baseball Player Database, Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History by Jorge Figueredo