Ouray’s Smoky Joe Wood Once The Best Pitcher in the World

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Smoky Joe Wood, who spent his formative years in Ouray, with Christy Mathewson during the World Series of 1912.
(Photo property of Ouray Historical Museum – Used by permission)

29,000 fans crammed Fenway Park on September 6, 1912 to witness the matchup between the Washington Senators’ Walter “Big Train” Johnson and Boston Red Sox’s Smoky Joe Wood. The two fireballers admired each other greatly. Johnson and Wood carried with them impressive credentials, each having set records, winning 16 straight games during that season.

Johnson grew up and learned to pitch in Orange County, California while Joe Wood grew up and played baseball in Ouray, Colorado.

The newspapers loved it. Johnson had remarked, according to The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter: “Can I throw harder than Joe Wood? Listen, my friend, there’s no man alive that throws harder than Smoky Joe Wood.” Years later in a taped interview Wood said of Johnson: “He was always starting from behind with that ballclub. Walter Johnson was the best pitcher that ever lived.”

That was Boston’s year due in part to Wood’s 34 wins and a .383 batting average by the great Tris Speaker. They finished the campaign with 105 wins and 47 losses. By the time of the historic meeting at Fenway arrived the Red Sox had run away with the pennant.

Back to the game: Both hurlers dominated until, in the third, George McBride hit a lead-off double going to third on an infield out. Wood then walked two batters to load the bases but struck out the next two men to end the threat. In the sixth Speaker doubled down the third-base line and later scored on an error to give the Sox a 1-0 lead. The Senators put men on base in all three of the remaining innings but failed to score. By then Wood’s hummer was blinding. He gave up six hits and struck out nine in the victory. Boston went on to clinch on September 18.

The World Series pitted the Sox against Christy Mathewson and the New York Giants. In the first outing Wood struck out Art Fletcher and Doc Crandall, with the winning run on base, to end the game. In game 4 Wood, facing Jeff Tesreau for the second time, beating him 3-1 while striking out eight. The game ended with a Giant’s victory at the Polo Grounds. The score stood 3 games to 2 favor of the Sox.

On October 15 Joe faced more than the Giants. Due to weather and disruption on the part of Boston fans he finished his warm- ups only to wait 45 minutes before the start of the game. He got clobbered  11-4. The next day Mathewson started the seventh game for the Giants with Wood in the dugout. By the seventh it was tied. By the eighth Smoky Joe was once again on the mound. This time he held the Giants to a run while Boston scored the go ahead runs in the tenth to win the Series. That was his third World Series win that year.

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Smoky Joe warming up. His blazing “hummer” caused Giants fan and baseball historian Grantland Rice to write: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are, Wood pitched again.”
(Photo compliments Ouray Historical Museum – Used by permission).

He finished the 1912 season a phenomenal 34-5 after posting 23 wins the season before. He started 1913 on the right track posting an 11-5 record. It was then that he suffered a series of injuries that would ultimately end his pitching career. He went on to a 9-3 record in 1914 and was 15-5 in 1915. Excellent stats for most but not for Wood. Due to arm and shoulder injuries he sat out 1916 saying “I never threw a day after that when I wasn’t in pain.”

In 1918 he got a second wind. A standout in right field for the Cleveland Indians, he batted .298 through 1922. His career batting average was .283 and he was 116-57 with a lifetime ERA of 2.03 holding 51 Red Sox records. Only nine home runs were hit off him during his entire Major League stint.

With accomplishments like these Wood would certainly be inducted into the Hall-of-Fame, but to this day he is not. Insiders point to the brevity of his career although Hall-of-Famer Dizzy Dean played one less season. Others say it’s because he was never fully cleared of charges related to an alleged run-fixing scandal during an gray era when betting was widespread. An oversight on the part of Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis left Joe’s name out of the mess when he exonerated Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, who had been “implicated in the impropriety.”

Wood went on to coach baseball at Yale and was named to the all-time Red Sox pitching staff along with Babe Ruth, Cy Young and Lefty Grove. He passed away in 1985 at age 95.

The criteria for admission to Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame says: Candidates shall be chosen on the basis of playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, their contribution to the team on which they played and to baseball in general. Wood scores high in all of these considerations and is deserving of honor at Cooperstown.

Said Tris Speaker in 1958: “Joe, there is no question that you belong in the Hall-of-Fame. Unfortunately you hurt your arm at the height of your career. Your all around ability and the fact that you made yourself into a good big league outfielder should count.”

Further information on the life of Smoky Joe Wood are available at the Ouray Historical Museum. Thanks to Joe’s son Bob Wood, and grandson Rob Wood for information on Ouray’s greatest athlete.

– Kevin Haley

 

 

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