(Smokey Joe, Yank or Cyclone)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 4" or 6' 5", Weight 190 lb.
Pitcher Smokey Joe Williams spent the first five years of his career in relative anonymity in the world of southern black baseball., He went 28-4 for the San Antonio Black Bronchos in 1905, 15-9 for Austin, TX in '06, 20-8 for '07 San Antonio, 20-2 for '08 San Antonio and 32-8 for San Antonio and the Birmingham Giants in 1909, going 115-31 before he finally making his debut in the central world of blackball in the north in 1910.
That year, Williams joined the Chicago Giants and was 3-4 with a 3.12 RA. In 1911, Smokey Joe was 1-0 for the Leland Giants and 10-7 in the Cuban Winter League. He was 9-7 in Cuba in 1911-12. At age 27, Cyclone Joe was 3-2 with a 2.20 RA and hit .300 for the New York Lincoln Giants. That fall, he began establishing his reputation in the north when he shut out the New York Giants on 4 hits in a 6-0 victory. He beat another group of mostly New York Yankees 6-0 with four hits allowed again two weeks later.
Williams went 12-5 with a 3.87 RA in 1913, winning the most games in the east among top black teams and hitting .260 as well. In one 20-day span, he went 7-2 with a save. He beat Grover Cleveland Alexander 9-2, struck out nine and hit a homer against his fellow future Hall of Famer.
On March 27, 1914, Smokey Joe threw a no-hitter against the Portland Beavers, whiffing nine. He was just 6-4 for New York. Continuing his dominance of white players, he beat the Philadelphia Phillies 10-4 on October 11 and tied Rube Marquard 1-1 a week later. In those two games, he also collected three hits in six at-bats against Rube Marshall and Marquard.
The 30-year-old broke his elbow that year and missed significant time, going 2-0 before breaking his wrist as well and ending his season early. He was back in shape in the fall though to dazzle some more white teams. He beat the Buffalo Buffeds 3-0 before losing his first game in at least seven tries against white MLB teams by falling 4-2 to Jeff Tesreau and the New York Giants. Five errors allowed two unearned runs for the Lincoln Giants. On October 22, he again beat the Phillies, 1-0 and gave up only three hits while striking out ten. He singled and scored the game's lone run. He lost a week later to Philadelphia, falling 4-2 despite nine K's.
In the winter, Williams was 3-3 in the Cuban Winter League but the record is deceptive as his San Francisco team went 3-34 when other pitchers got the decision.
In 1916, the tall right-hander was only 5-6 with a 4.60 RA. That fall, he played for a hotel-run team in Palm Beach, FL. At age 32, he went 9-1 with a 3.22 RA to dominate the east and also had the highest average in blackball there, batting .474. He hit for the cycle on June 8. In 1917 he beat a touring white team, which had seven major leaguers on it (including Chief Meyers, Wally Schang, Joe Bush, George Burns and Amos Strunk), by a score of 6-2, then allowed six runs in 4+ innings to the same team the next week then was routed 10-4 a week after that in his one of his worst stretches against white competition.
In 1918, Williams went 7-2 with a 2.23 RA for the Lincoln Giants and again was the top hurler in the east. He hit .514, second-best, while playing first base regularly. Facing a similar white team as the prior year, he was trailing 4-3 when a dispute over baseballs led to a forfeit for Joe's squad. He beat four MLB pitchers but all were backed by minor league or semipro hitters - Marquard, Dan Griner and Ray Keating twice. Overall, he only gave up one run in the four outings.
Joe went 9-2 in 1919 and New York was 8-11 when another pitcher got the decision. He threw a no-hitter on May 8 to beat ex-teammate Dick Redding and had a 2.32 RA, second in the east to Redding. He won the most games in the East. In addition, he batted .280.
Cyclone Joe fell to 0-3 in 1920 at age 35 but bounced back to 7-1 in '21. He went 4-1 with a 5.40 RA in 1922 (he married a Broadway showgirl that year) and in '23 was 5-4 for a New York team that otherwise was 11-18. After 13 years with the Lincoln Giants, Williams was released in the spring of 1924 as part of a youth movement.
Turning 38, Williams rejoined Redding, now with the Brooklyn Royal Giants but only went 3-4 in 1924. He moved to the Homestead Grays in '25 and went 2-2. Homestead was not a member of any league and played few games against other top black teams so statistics are limited. Williams was 1-0 in 1926. The 41-uear-old faced a team of major-leaguers Schang, Burns, Bing Miller, Jimmie Dykes, Heinie Manush, Cy Perkins and Don Padgett and beat them 6-5, allowing six hits (three of them for extra bases). He was 2-0 for the '27 Grays. The veteran shut out a MLB team in 1927 (consisting of Burns, Dykes, Schang, Miller, Manush, Joe Boley and Harry Heilmann) with a 5-0, 3-hitter.
Williams went 2-1 in 1928 and 8-2 with a 4.76 RA in '29 at age 44 as Homestead joined the American Negro League. Despite his advanced age, he was 4th in the loop in RA and second to Connie Rector in winning percentage. The ANL folded after 1929 and Smokey Joe remained one of the top hurlers in the east anyhow, going 7-2 with a 3.00 RA. He was second tp Laymon Yokely in RA, fourth in wins and second in strikeouts (46), trailing Bill Holland. On August 2, he engaged in a famous pitching duel with fellow emery ball pitcher Chet Brewer in a poorly lighted night game at Kansas City's Meuelbach Field. Brewer allowed four hits and struck out 19 in 12 innings, but Williams struck out 27 and allowed only one hit, a double by Newt Allen with one out in the eighth, before Homestead won it in the 12th on a fluke double by Chaney White.
The 46-year-old remained dominant in 1931, finishing second in the east in RA (2.54, behind teammate Lefty Williams), strikeouts (59, trailing Bill Foster) and third in wins (10-6). In a championship series against the Kansas City Monarchs, he went 1-1. The old-timer was 6-2 in '32, fourth in the East-West League in RA (3.29) and third in strikeouts (39). He was not as effective on September 28 when a MLB team including Hack Wilson and Johnny Frederick beat him 20-8.
In 1938, Williams pitched in an old-timers' game, losing 5-0 to Redding. He then worked as a bartender in Harlem. In 1950, he was honored at the Polo Grounds. Two years later, a poll in the Pittsburgh Courier saw him receive the most votes as the top Negro League pitcher ever. While Satchel Paige has since gotten more attention, Paige had two significant advantages - that he was an excellent self-promoter and that he got the opportunity to pitch in Major League Baseball, unlike Smokey Joe. Williams, though, was far better than Paige in exhibitions against white MLB players.
Overall, Williams' record is listed as 125-56 or 107-57 in the same source. He was 9-2-1 against white major-league teams with four shutouts and shut out the only team from the high minors he ever faced. Additionally, he was a far better hitter than Paige.
- Thomas Harrigan: "Smokey Joe Williams: Negro Leagues fireballer", mlb.com, February 18, 2020.