Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Smiths of Baseball: Al Smith (Alfred John Smith)

3. Al Smith. (1934-1945)

The October 12th, 1936 issue of Time magazine states*:

Feeblest of the Giant pitchers was Alfred J. ("Al") Smith. When he had failed to retire three of the four batters to whom he pitched in the third inning, a spectator squealed: "Take out Al Smith and put in Roosevelt."

FDR was president at the time, but had been governor of New York a few years earlier, succeeding the politician Al Smith. I've read enough of these old articles to surmise that either the writers invented witty quips by baseball fans who happened to be within earshot, or crowds were as creative with their heckling back then as writers were with their descriptions.

But the ballplayer, Alfred John Smith, had a fine 12-year career, despite giving up a grand slam to Tony Lazzeri in the blowout that was game two of the '36 subway series mentioned above.

He pitched to a winning record with an ERA around the league average in his four years with the Giants--leading the NL with 4 shoutouts in 1936--before being sold to the Cardinals in December 1937. Later that month, the Phillies claimed him off waivers. After a horrible 1938 campaign, he spent much of 1939 nursing a sore arm with Buffalo of the International League. Cleveland picked him up that September, and he turned in a fine 1940 season, going 15-7 with a 3.34 ERA, and helping his own cause at the plate hitting over .300 in 62 at bats. He would be a staple of the Indians' starting rotation for the next five years. His best season was 1943, when he made the All-Star team and even scored some MVP votes, and finished 17-7 with a 2.55 ERA.

Al never got a World Series ring, his Giants losing to the Yanks in '36 and '37, and getting knocked out of the NL pennant race by the rival Dodgers in the penultimate game of his rookie year, 1934. Young Al pitched in the ninth against Brooklyn on September 29th, but only hurt his team's cause in front of a pro-Dodger crowd at the Polo Grounds. (The linked book also mentions presidential heckling, this time citing fans asking if Herbert Hoover would be coming into the game. Maybe they weren't being creative, but totally obvious. Maybe things haven't changed too much after all.) Then in 1940, his Indians lost the AL pennant to the Tigers in the final series of the season, in a game that saw Birdie Tebbets get knocked out by a basket of tomatoes, but was later allowed by police to punch the fan that dropped it on him!

But Smith was one of the pitchers who put a halt to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in 1941. In three plate appearances against Al in game 57, Joe walked and hit two stinging grounders, both famously fielded by Ken Keltner. And a year after his rancid performance in the '36 World Series, he fared much better against the Yanks in '37, though the first batter he faced, Lazzeri, took him deep again. He got a third shot at Lazzeri, and drilled him.

It looked like Al might have a shot to stay with Cleveland after 1945, but with lots of players returning from World War II, he found himself out of baseball for good. His final line is very Even Steven: An ERA of 3.72, right about at the league average, the same number of walks as strikeouts (587), and had one more of his losses been a win, his career record would've been 100 wins, 100 losses.

Al was born in Bellesville, Illinois--Brian Daubach was also born there--and died in Brownsville, Texas in 1977 at age 69. He was cremated. Uniform numbers worn: 14, 18, 21, 27, 32.

This is the latest installment in my ongoing series, The Smiths of Baseball. Note: I planned on doing several Smiths per post, but I think the players with long careers will get their own post.


*With the good of those old articles, comes the bad of the racism contained within. The first paragraph talks about the guy who waited 12 days, first on line for World Series tickets, noting that food was brought to him by a "colored friend" whom he refused to be photographed with. Terrible job.

[Bonus section, 6/4/08, 1:00 AM: I noticed that retrosheet has the next Al Smith on the list of Smiths (Alfred Kendricks Smith) as having been a coach for the Giants in 1933. (That Al only played one game, in 1926.) While looking into that, I found articles that proved that the 1933 Giants' "coach" named Al Smith was actually Alfred John Smith, i.e. the guy who the above post is about. He pitched for the Giants in spring training in 1933, but then was converted to "coach" to keep the roster at the league maximum of 23, as reported by the New York TImes on May 14th, 1933. For the rest of the season, Al would only pitch in exhibition games, including a 9-3 win over Sing-Sing on September 25th. (In front of a crowd of 2,000 inmates!) He even made the 1933 World Championship team photo, listed as a "pitcher." (see pic) Then he started his career for real the following season on May 5th, 1934. Other articles I found from '33 refer to Al as being from "sidewalks of Kansas City" and "the plains of Kansas." So I guess he grew up in...Kansas City, Kansas? And not Bellesville, Illinois, where he was born. Anyway, I've contacted retrosheet about their mistake, as is my tradition, so you don't have to lose any sleep over it.]

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Comments:
You're at AL---? Is this going to be like Colbert's 435 part series?

(by the way, I think the Al Smith joke from the beginning is because Smith lost the 1928 election for the dems, but Roosevelt won it four years later)
 
Yeah I'm on number 3 of one hundred and however many Smiths.

And I did look up that history of FDR/Al Smith--it could have a lot of meanings but I'm sure everybody got the gist of it.
 
And as the TIme article said, FDR was there to throw out the first ball.... I kinda forgot to mention that. Oh well, there's a link, and dozens of Smiths left to go.
 
Didn't mean to sound like an Al-Smith-know-it-all there. In fairness to that fake crowd member though, I believe FDR was a pretty decent athlete from the waist up.

On a completely different note, I saw a flyer today for Providence's old-timey baseball league, that plays without gloves, wears wool uniforms, and grows handlebar mustaches (I assume). So we've got that going for us.
 
Funny you should use that phrase: Last night, that scene was on--but it was in Spanish! So I watched a bunch of Caddyshack in Spanish. Only they called it "Los Locos De Golf."
 
I enjoyed the article. Al Smith Is my gradfather...

Thanks
Patrick Walker Walker984@live.com
 

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