Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Smiths Of Baseball: "Broadway" Smith (Alexander Benjamin Smith)

6. "Broadway" Smith. (1897-1906)

It's a toss-up between Broadway and Phenomenal for coolest nickname for a Smith--but Broadway wins because Phenomenal was born with a different last name.

Alexander Smith was born in the 1870s in New York City. A Jewish ballplayer, rare at the time, he broke into the majors as a catcher for Brooklyn in 1897. He hit .300 in 66 games that year, and while that would be the most he'd play in any season, he was still playing in the majors as late as 1906, and kept playing semipro ball for another decade after that.

Most of his life was spent in New York, either on the ballfield, at the racetrack, or enjoying the nightlife. And that's how a guy at the turn of the last century came to be called "Broadway," well before Joe did.

Briefly, he was a member of the first World Champions, the 1903 Boston American League squad, now known as the Red Sox. And after playing only 11 games for the Cubs in 1904, and missing all of the 1905 season (he seemed to be plagued with arm injuries), he signed with the New York Giants in 1906, but not before nearly killing a young boy with a line drive during a March tryout in Memphis.

In 1907, there was more controversy. A Washington Post article said: "'Broadway Alec' Smith, well known in sporting circles the country over, in future will not be permitted to visit race tracks under the control of the Jockey Club." The New York Times, referring to him as "Broadway Alex," added that the Saratoga Racing Committee decided that Smith's "acquaintance with and influence over certain jockeys was detrimental to the interests of racing." Broadway claimed innocence, saying he only spent time with jockeys for billiards, bowling, and occasional "surf bathing." He had again trained with the Giants that spring, and had quit the team after winning a bundle at the track and deciding to make that his full-time job.

I can't find any more on the racing incident, but Broadway was still making it into the New York Times in 1910, listed in the billiards results--referred to here as "Broadway Alec."

The big baseball sites (Retrosheet, Baseball Reference, etc.) currently refer to him as Aleck. However, most of the articles from a hundred years ago call him Alec or Alex. His New York Times obituary, which mentions racing and his friendship with manager John McGraw, is titled, "Broadway Alex Smith Dead." (He died at his home...on Broadway.) So where does "Aleck" come from? I have found articles talking about a golfer from the same era named "Aleck Smith." I really wonder if this is where it came from. My thought is that he was mainly referred to as Broadway Alex. But there are enough instances of "Alec" to make one wonder. How the current sites decided on "Aleck" is anyone's guess.

Two team photos featuring Broadway, including the smaller one shown here, can be found here. A bio with another pic (which is where the larger shot at the top of this post comes from) can be found here, with credit to Frank Russo of The Deadball Era.

The Oswego Daily Palladium, July 10th, 1919, said this in Broadway's obituary:

"An athletic heart was given as the cause of his death, brought on by strenuous activity on the ball field in almost every State in the Union. He was born in New York forty-six years ago." The technical cause of death was his chronic myocarditis. And my math tells me he would've been born in 1873, though it's listed everywhere as 1871. Either way, he died too young.

This note in the Oswego Daily Times from 6/6/6 (June 6th, 1906) really says it all about Broadway:

Previous Smiths: #5, #4, #3, #2 & #1.



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