Few pitchers have ever had a season like the one 22-year-old Smoky Joe Wood had in 1912. Coming off a 23-17 performance for the Red Sox in 1911, including a July 29 no-hitter against St. Louis, Wood won 34 games while losing only 5. He led the league with 35 complete games and ten shutouts and also batted .290. In the World Series, he defeated the Giants with complete games in the first and fourth contests, lost Game Seven, but came back in relief to beat Christy Mathewson in the eighth and final game (Game Two was a tie). Wood had one of the best fastballs in baseball history, comparable to that of his contemporary Walter Johnson. In 1912 Johnson said, “Can I throw harder than Joe Wood? Listen, my friend, there’s no man alive can throw harder than Smoky Joe Wood.”
The two had 27 matchups, with Wood winning 11. At the time of one duel in 1912, Wood had won 13 straight games and was closing in on Johnson’s record of 16 straight, set earlier that season. Before an overflow crowd at Fenway Park, Wood won 1-0. He went on to record two more consecutive victories to tie Johnson’s record, but lost his bid to break it. In the spring of 1913, Wood slipped on wet grass while fielding a ground ball and broke his thumb.
He resumed pitching after the cast came off several weeks later, but wasn’t the same. He could still throw, but was pitching with pain, and had lost some velocity. In 1915 he led the league with a .750 winning percentage (15-5) and a 1.49 ERA. But the pain had become unbearable, and, at the age of 26, Wood had to give up baseball. In 1917, intent on resuming his career, Wood persuaded the Cleveland Indians to give him another chance. He worked in five games that year, but in 1918 he abandoned pitching and was tried in the outfield and at second base. He batted .296 in 119 games. One afternoon at the Polo Grounds, he hit a home run to tie a game in the 7th inning and hit another to win it in the 19th.
Though a part-timer the next three seasons, Wood played the outfield in four games of the 1920 WS. In 1921, he batted .366. After appearing in 140 games and hitting .297 in 1922, he accepted the head coaching job at Yale University, where he stayed until 1942. His son Joe pitched in three games for the 1944 Red Sox. Wood remained a vigorous and entertaining follower of baseball until his death at age 95.