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Smokey Joe Williams
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Smokey Joe Williams

Joseph Williams, aka Smokey Joe Williams (April 6, 1886 - February 25, 1951) is considered by many baseball historians to be one of the game's greatest pitchers, even though he never played a game in the major leagues.

Williams was born in Seguin, Texas; one of his parents was African-American and the other was a Comanche Indian. He grew up to become an outstanding baseball pitcher, but as his path to the major leagues was barred by the color line; Williams spent his entire 27-year career (1905-32) pitching in the Negro Leagues, Mexico and the Caribbean.

He entered professional baseball in 1905 with the San Antonio, Texas Bronchos, and was an immediate star, posting records of 28-4, 15-9, 20-8, 20-2 and 32-8. After that, the Chicago, Illinois Giants, a team higher in the pecking order of black baseball, acquired him. In 1910, the Giants owner Frank Leland pronounced him as the best pitcher in baseball, in any league.

Over the next two decades, Williams bounced around from team to team, joining the Lincoln Giants, Chicago American Giants, Bacharach Giants, Brooklyn, New York Royal Giants, Homestead Grays, Detroit Wolves and Hilldale at different times along the way. Records are sketchy, but we know that in 1914, Williams won a total of 41 games against just three losses, and had many other seasons where he won well in excess of 20 games.

Although barred from the major leagues, Williams pitched many games against major-league stars in post-season barnstorming exhibitions. He proved to be as tough against them as he was against the Negro Leaguers, posting a 20-7 record in these games. Three different times, he faced the eventual National League champions. He won two of those games and lost the third, 1-0 to the 1917 New York Giants despite throwing a no-hitter.

In his long career, he defeated five major-league pitchers now enshrined in the United States Baseball Hall of Fame: Grover Alexander, Chief Bender, Waite Hoyt, Walter Johnson and Rube Marquard.

On August 7, 1930, at age 44, he struck out 27 Kansas City Monarchs in a 1-0, 12-inning victory. That same year, he beat a younger Negro League star who was just bursting into superstardom, Satchel Paige, also by 1-0, in their only meeting against one another. Williams retired from baseball two years later.

Considerable debate existed and still exists over whether Williams or Paige was the greatest of the Negro League pitchers. Most modern sources lean toward Paige, but in 1952, a poll taken by the Pittsburgh Courier named Williams the greatest pitcher in Negro League history.

In 1999, after extensive research on the early years of black baseball revealed his outstanding record, Williams was selected for the United States Baseball Hall of Fame.