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.