One of the greatest forgotten players in MLB history, and arguably the most compelling story in baseball, is Smoky Joe Wood. Here’s why you should be amazed by his achievements!
Despite pitching only 200 innings twice, Wood ranks seventh all-time with an incredible 146 ERA+ and had an outstanding 117 wins by age 25. He began pitching in the majors at just 18 years old and maintained an ERA below 2.38 until he injured his arm. By the time he was 22, he was a star, posting a 34-5 record, 10 shutouts, and a microscopic 1.91 ERA. One can only imagine what he could have accomplished if he had remained healthy.
In 1912, when the first all-star game was played to benefit the family of Adie Joss, Smoky Joe started the game, and Walter Johnson relieved him. This underscores how highly respected he was, even at the age of 22. Wood finished fifth in the 1912 AL MVP voting, ahead of baseball legends such as Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Eddie Collins, and Home Run Baker.
Wood earned his nickname because his fastball was rumored to be faster than Walter Johnson‘s, which was quite a feat, considering the Big Train was considered the fastest pitcher of his time.
Only four starting pitchers in history have a better career ERA+ than Smoky Joe: Clayton Kershaw, Pedro Martinez, Lefty Grove, and Walter Johnson. However, if he had not missed his prime years due to injuries, he may have outshone them all.
After Wood’s serious arm injuries cost him two years in his prime and left him unable to pitch, he transitioned to an outfielder and hit .283 for the rest of his career. Although it took some time for him to excel as a batter, he hit .366 at the age of 31 and drove in 92 runs at the age of 32 before retiring for good.
Smoky Joe could have been the best pitcher of all time if he had not been plagued by bad luck. Nonetheless, his accomplishments were remarkable. Only a player named Ruth could match his feat of taking two years off and then returning to the majors to hit .366 and drive in 92 runs. Wood’s 40.0 WAR is higher than several Hall of Famers, including Hack Wilson, Harold Baines, Lefty Gomez, and George Kell. He played only two full seasons at his best position, but when he was healthy, he was a superstar for the ages. And when he couldn’t pitch, he became the greatest ex-pitcher hitter of all time, second only to Babe Ruth. Smoky Joe Wood belongs in the Hall of Fame, and it’s time to let him in!
Ty Cobb hailed Smoky Joe Wood as “Without a doubt one of the best pitchers I ever faced.” Walter Johnson, perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time, said, “There’s no man alive who can throw harder than Smoky Joe Wood.