Tag Archives: Jake Stephens

“But, no Freakish Balls”

20 Jun

After Smokey Joe Williams struck out 27 Kansas City Monarchs in a 12-inning one-hit shutout in Kansas City in August of 1930, Paul A.R. Kurtz of The Pittsburgh Press wrote about meeting Williams in the Grays dugout when the two teams played at Forbes Field two weeks earlier:

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Smokey Joe Williams

“Personal experience recently revealed to me the superstition existing in baseball.

“I know big league players want bats scattered when they’re not hitting; others touch bases or gloves on the way to the bench during innings and do numerous other unusual things.  But my own failing for peanuts brought me an interesting interview.”

Kurtz said he bought peanuts from a vendor when he arrived at Forbes Field:

“While a few Grays were practicing, I wandered to the Homestead bench to be greeted by Smokey Joe Williams, the veteran Gray twirler, who noticed the hard-shelled peanuts.”

Williams asked:

“’Do you know peanuts are barred from our bench?’ Joe asked.  I inquired, ‘how come?’

“’I don’t like them around and have made my mates understand that.  They try to tease me by eating some once in awhile.  I always feel I’m losing when I hear the cracking of shells.”

Williams said:

“That’s my only superstitious feeling in baseball.”

Kurtz said he was concerned he contributed to Williams losing for the first time that season:

“Joe didn’t like peanuts. I had them in my hands.  Joe was starting pitcher.  He had won 23 games without a defeat until the Monarchs beat him with a rally that particular night.”

Williams, with the help of Grays shortstop Jake Stephens–who made three errors in the game, two of them in the ninth–blew a 4 to 3 lead in the ninth when the Monarchs scored five runs to beat the Grays 8 to 4 in the second night game ever played in Forbes Field:

“Was I the cause of Joe’s downfall? Those peanuts may have preyed on his mind and by mental telepathy Stephens foozled a few swats to help the monarchs halt Williams’ winning streak.”

Generally listed at 6’ 3” or 6’ 4” and 190 pounds, Williams told the the reporter he was 6’2” and weighed 224 pounds, but said he loses “nearly 30 pounds during a summer.”

Williams said:

“’I have no trouble keeping in shape. I take good care of myself, sleep long and eat carefully.  I tried to throw a spitball once, but it jerked my arm and so I cut it.  Control and plenty of motion are my bets.  I have practiced hard to master control to place the ball just where I want it on a batter.  Low knee fast pitches, inside and outside, are my favorites.  But, no freakish balls.  I am better with control than those who try an assortment of twisters.”

Williams told Kurtz about the biggest regrets of his career:

“Although Joe has marvelous control of his fast pitches, he talked regretfully of three boys who he hurt badly.  One lad in Texas became demented after being hit and another had all his teeth knocked out. In Coal City (Pennsylvania) Joe dented a player’s skull, leaving the imprint of the ball on his forehead.”

Williams told Kurtz that he had, for years, kept “a big scrapbook…It contained all accounts of his baseball life.”  The book, “which Williams prized highly,” was stolen:

“Since it disappeared Joe has not been as interested in recording his accomplishments. ‘How I’d like to get that book back,’ he said.”

He then went out and took his first loss of the 1930 season.

“The Opposing Pitchers were Cheating”

11 Jun

Writing in The Pittsburgh Courier in 1936, Cum Posey owner of the Homestead Grays said the “greatest pitching battle of the Gray’s history and a fielding feature that stands out as the best ever witnessed by the writer,” happened in the same 1930 game.

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Cum Posey

The night game was played August 2, 1930 in Kansas City, between the Monarchs and the Grays, after the teams had spent several weeks playing a series of games in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

It was the most famous game of Smokey Joe Williams’ career—some sources incorrectly date the game as August 7 because of the dateline on The Courier’s contemporaneous story about the game.

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“Smokey” Joe Williams

Williams faced Chet Brewer of the Monarchs.  Posey said:

“Before the game, the writer and Mr.(James Leslie) Wilkinson of Kansas City had an agreement that neither pitcher would use the ‘emery’ ball. The Grays got two men on base in the first inning, when Brewer brought out his ‘work,’ and there was no score.

“Joe Williams was then given a sheet of sand paper and the battle was on.”

Six years earlier, The Courier confirmed Posey’s recollection about doctored balls:

“The opposing pitchers were cheating without the question of a doubt.  An emery ball in daylight is very deceptive but at night it is about as easy to see as an insect in the sky.”

Posey picked up the story:

“For eight innings not another Gray and no Monarch reached first base.  Kansas City hadn’t made a hit off of Joe, with one down in the ninth (actually the eighth).  Newt Joseph in attempting to bunt, lifted a ‘pop’ over (first baseman Oscar) Charleston’s head.  Charleston had come in fast for the bunt and the ball went for two bases.”

The Courier did not describe the hit as a bunt in the original game story.

Posey continued:

“Joseph stole third.  “The Grays infield of Judy Johnson, (Jake) Stephens, (George) Scales, and Charleston came in on the grass…Moore (Posey misidentifies the batter—it was actually James ‘Lefty’ Turner) a young first baseman, was at bat, and hit a half liner, half Texas leaguer over Stephens’ head.  Jake turned at the crack of the bat and started running with his hands in the air.  While still out of reaching distance of the ball, Stephens stumbled and, taking a headlong dive, caught the ball six inches from the ground.”

The Courier was less specific in the 1930 coverage but said Stephens “went back” for Turner’s “sure Texas leaguer,” and “made a spectacular catch to rob the Monarchs of a possible victory.”

Williams retired Brewer to end the inning.

Brewer and Williams continued their duel until the top of the 12th when Brewer walked Charleston (the game’s only base on balls) and scored on Chaney White’s single for the game’s only score.

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Chet Brewer

Williams struck out the side in the 12th, completing the one-hitter with 27 strikeouts.

Brewer gave up just four hits and struck out 19, including 10 straight—he struck out the side in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

Williams is widely known to have recommended Buck Leonard to Posey resulting in Leonard’s signing with the Grays in 1934.  Lesser known is the story Leonard told Red Smith of The New York Times in 1972:

“’Williams—he was tending bar on Lenox Avenue—asked me if I’d like to play for a good team.  He called up Cum Posey, who had the Homestead Grays.  Posey sent travel expenses but not to me; he sent the money to Williams, who gave me a bus ticket and $5.’

“’Do you think,’ Leonard was asked, ‘that Smokey Joe took a commission?’

“Laughter bubbled out of him.  ‘All I know, when I got my first pay check they held out $50.  That bus ticket didn’t cost $45.”’