Monday, January 19, 2009

Smiths Of Baseball: Al "Fuzzy" Smith (Alphonse Eugene Smith)

5. Al "Fuzzy" Smith. (1953-1964)

In this grainy old newspaper photograph, Al Smith is seen among his White Sox mates, posing for a picture after winning the team's first pennant in 40 years. In the background, another player is seen tilting a can of beer over Smith's head in celebration. This photo of a jubilant Smith should be his legacy. He came from the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues, was traded to the White Sox by the Indians, and was booed simply because he replaced fan-favorite Minnie Minoso--but ended up hitting a home run against his old team to help clinch the pennant down the stretch.

The White Sox would go on to lose the World Series that year, 1959, to the newly transplanted Dodgers. And Al Smith would be remembered for getting beer dumped on his head, but not in celebration. In Game Two, as he chased a Charley Neal fly ball to the outfield fence, a beverage was knocked off the ledge as fans went for the souvenir. This moment was captured by two different photographers, and became one, or two, of the most famous baseball images ever.

But I prefer to remember Al in the moment justice was served for him. I found an article from July of '59 in which the writer (who consistently calls Al "Smitty," not "Fuzzy") talks about how he'd already turned the crowd in his favor by then with his clutch hitting. After not being allowed to play in the big leagues due to his skin color, and then being booed for something that wasn't his fault, nobody deserved to have a celebratory beverage poured on his head that year more than Al Smith. And nobody deserved to have it spilled on him by accident less.

To make sure fans stayed on his side, Bill Veeck held an "Al Smith" night in August of that pennant-winning season. According to Wikipedia, anyone named Smith, Smythe, Schmidt or Smithe was let in for free and given a button that read, "I'm a Smith and I'm for Al."

For his career, Al ended up with a .272 average and 164 homers over 12 seasons, and was a fine outfielder. He played in two World Series ('59 and in 1954 with Cleveland), and three All-Star games, and once finished third in the AL MVP voting. He finished his career with a brief stint in Boston, where he wore #28 for the Red Sox, which had been worn by Riverboat Smith eight years earlier. #41 and #48 were also worn by two Red Sox named Smith.

Al Smith died in 2002 at age 73. Below, Smitty in the visitors' clubhouse at Fenway Park in 1954 (bottom right). (courtesy of Corbis)

Previous Smiths: #4, #3, #2 & #1.


Note: This list is alphabetical, and Al was due next. But I thought to do his profile today because it's MLK day. (In a year where the following day we'll see an African-American get inaugurated as president, and in a few months the two men being elected into the baseball Hall of Fame are also African-American. Awesome.)
Totally off-topic, but how do I go about getting Dirty Water autographed? :)
If you wanna send me an email, I can give you an address--but we will be in Scituate on Feb 6th. Front Street Bookstore.


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