- OF, P
- March 23, 1868
- 5' 11"
- 178 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-10-1886 with CN2
There are some players in baseball history that had careers both as an everyday player and a pitcher. Bob Lemon, who was a little known 3rd baseman with the Indians before going off to war and becoming a Hall of Fame hurler and Tim Wakefield, who was a minor league first baseman who became a rookie star with the Bucs in 1992 come to mind, but neither were successful at both. A player who can do both and do them productively is truly a rare, rare commodity. In the latter part of the 19th Century there was a player by the name of Elmer Smith who in fact was one of those unusual players.
Smith began his career in 1887 with Cincinnati of the American Association and only appeared in 9 games, mostly due to a sore arm that would plague Elmer throughout his early years. The following season in 1888 was truly his breakout campaign, on the mound. He went 34-17 with a league low 2.94 ERA including a stretch when he won 13 of 14, losing the only contest on an error he committed which allowed 2 runs in a 2-1 defeat.
A sore shoulder slowed Smith down the following year as he got off to a 5-9 start. He got hot at the end going 17-8 down the stretch to win 22 games in his third major league season, it would also be the last significant year Elmer spent pitching.
Another sore shoulder in 1889, and a 9-12 record prompted Cincinnati to release him. He was picked by Kansas City in the minor leagues and while his shoulder recovered thanks to some massages given to him by local fireman, and he sported a 23-9 mark with Kansas City, he was picked up by Pittsburgh in 1892, with the intent f making him an outfielder.
The Pirates did give him an opportunity to pitch a little that first season as he was 6-7 with a 3.63 ERA and one shutout, but while he only hit .274 that first year, his very bright future was to be in leftfield.
Smith used one of the heaviest bats in major league history, 54 oz, and turned out to be a pretty good all around player. While he didn’t start off well defensively, his exceptional speed allowed him to become a good defensive outfielder with a strong arm. He was fast so he could take the extra bases offensively, and had good bat control, pulling the ball whenever needed.
Elmer put everything together his second season in the Steel City and had his best season. He hit .346, which was good for 8th in the National League, while hitting a career high 7 homers and 103 RBI’s. His 23 triples were the 4th best in the circuit as was his .525 slugging percentage.
After his marquee campaign, Smith kept his bat hot, hitting .357 with a career best 128 runs scored in 1894 and an all time high .539 slugging percentage, before slipping to .302 in 1895.
Although he still hit over .300 in ’95, it wasn’t up to the level that Smith was portraying in his career as an outfielder and certainly he wanted to get on track the following season. He certainly did that and more as he hit a career best .362, again 8th in the senior circuit, in 1896 while knocking in 94 and scoring 121 runs. Elmer broke the .500 barrier in slugging this season for the 3rd and last time.
Again enjoying a solid season, if not spectacular, Smith his .310 in 1897 before being dealt to Cincinnati with Pink Hawley for four players. Hit .342 his first year for the Reds in 1898, but was never the same again. He never broke .300 his remaining years and bounced around from Cincinnati to the Giants, back to the Bucs in 1901 where he was 0 for 4 before breaking his finger and then was sold to Boston where he ended his major league career after the ’01 campaign.
Smith hung around the minors a few more years, but retired from the game after playing with Binghamton of the New York State league in 1906 where he hit .313.
He finished his time in the majors with a .312 average and hit .325 in his years with the Pirates. While certainly if his arm was healed, he could have been an effective pitcher with Pittsburgh, the decision to move him to the outfield was a solid move as he turned out to be one of the franchises first true hitting stars.
- Elmer Smith