Joseph Williams (Smokey Joe, Yank or Cyclone)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 4" or 6' 5", Weight 190 lb.
- Born April 6, 1885 in Seguin, TX USA
- Died February 25, 1951 in New York, NY USA
Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1999
The greatest black pitcher of the opening decades of the 20th century, Smokey Joe Williams was a 6'5" 205-lb fireballer with exceptional control, a soft-spoken man of Negro and American Indian ancestry. He first played in his native Texas with the San Antonio Broncos. Rube Foster signed him for the Chicago Leland Giants in 1910. He played for the New York Lincoln Giants from 1912 through 1923, and while no complete statistics exist, those were probably his peak years. His best season seems to have been 1914, when he was 12-2 in league play and 41-3 overall. His best-documented season was 1930, when, at age 44, he was 7-1 in league play.
Williams's strikeout feats were legendary. In 1924 he struck out 24 batters in a 12-inning game against the Bushwicks, a powerful semi-pro team. In 1930 he struck out 27 while one-hitting the Kansas City Monarchs over 12 innings. The game was played at night, and Williams was probably aided by the low wattage of the Monarchs' portable lights. Nevertheless, it was an incredible feat for a 44-year-old.
In exhibition games against major leaguers, Williams compiled a 22-7-1 record with 12 shutouts. Two of the losses came when he was 45 years old; two others were in 1-0 games. In 1912 he shut out the National League champion New York Giants 6-0. In 1915 he struck out 10 while hurling a 1-0 three-hit shutout over Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander and the Phillies. In a 1917 exhibition, he no-hit the Giants and struck out 20, but lost 1-0 on an error. Though no box score has been found to confirm this game, it is firmly rooted in oral history. Legend has it that it was after this game that Giants Hall of Famer Ross Youngs tagged Williams with the name "Smokey Joe." Ty Cobb, never a friend to the black player, said Williams would have been a "sure 30-game winner" if he had played in the majors. Williams threw approximately 40 no-hitters, some against semi-pro competition, recording his last gem in 1928 at forty-two.
Joseph Williams (April 6, 1886 – February 25, 1951), nicknamed "Cyclone Joe" or "Smokey Joe", was an American right-handed pitcher in the Negro leagues. He is widely recognized as one of the game's greatest pitchers, even though he never played a game in the major leagues. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.
Williams was born in Seguin, Texas; one of his parents was African American and the other was a Comanche Indian. He grew up to become an outstanding baseball pitcher, but as his path to the major leagues was barred by the color line; Williams spent his entire 27-year career (1905–32) pitching in the Negro leagues, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
He entered professional baseball in 1905 with the San Antonio Black Bronchos, and was an immediate star, posting records of 28-4, 15-9, 20-8, 20-2 and 32-8. After that, the Chicago Leland Giants, a team higher in the pecking order of black baseball, acquired him. In 1910, the Giants owner Frank Leland pronounced him the best pitcher in baseball, in any league.
In 1911, Williams joined the Lincoln Giants of New York, helping that club become one of the premier African-American teams of the era. 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.
When manager John Henry Lloyd departed in 1914, Williams took over as playing manager, a post he held through the 1923 season.
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 the Lincolns finished an ignominious fifth (out of six teams) in the Eastern Colored League's inaugural season, Williams was released in the spring of 1924.
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 7, he engaged in a famous pitching duel with Chet Brewer. Brewer allowed four hits and struck out 19 in 12 innings, but Williams struck out 25 and allowed only one hit, before Homestead won it in the 12th on a double by Chaney White.
On August 7, 1930, at age 44, he struck out 27 Kansas City Monarchs in a 1-0, 12-inning victory. That same year, he beat a younger Negro league star who was just bursting into superstardom, Leroy (Satchel) Paige, also by 1-0, in their only meeting against one another.
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, "Smokey Joe Williams Day". 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.
Although barred from the major leagues, Williams pitched many games against major-league stars in post-season barnstorming exhibitions. He proved to be as tough against them as he was against the Negro leaguers, posting a 20-7 record in these games. Among his victims were Grover Alexander, Walter Johnson, Chief Bender, Rube Marquard, and Waite Hoyt, all Hall of Famers. Three different times, he faced the eventual National League champions. He won two of those games and lost the third, 1-0 to the 1917 New York Giants despite throwing a no-hitter.
Considerable debate existed and still exists over whether Williams or Paige was the greatest of the Negro league pitchers. Most modern sources lean toward Paige, but in 1952, a poll taken by the Pittsburgh Courier named Williams the greatest pitcher in Negro league history.
During Williams' years in New York, he acquired the nickname "Cyclone Joe", or simply "Cyclone", frequently being listed in box scores solely by nickname. After joining the Homestead Grays in the late 1920s, his nickname became "Smokey Joe", and the older "Cyclone" appellation was rarely used after that.
In 1999, after extensive research on the early years of black baseball revealed his outstanding record, Williams was selected for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
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