The first successful organized Negro League was established on February 13, 1920, at a YMCA in Kansas City, Missouri. Andrew "Rube" Foster was the driving force behind the organization of this league and served as its president.
Smokey Joe Williams stood 6-foot-4 and weighed 200 pounds.
He threw so hard and so fast, he earned the nicknames "Cyclone" and "Strikeout." Finally, as legend has it, after Williams struck out 20 white New York Giants in a 1914 exhibition game, one of those Giants players patted Williams on the rear end and said: "Nice job, Smokey."
Since that head-turning day, Smokey Joe Williams blasted into baseball's living lore, even if Major League Baseball's color ban kept him out of its leagues. In that grand year of 1914, records show Williams compiled a 41-3 mark.
Hall of Famer Ty Cobb considered him to be a "sure 30-game winner" had he been able to pitch in the major leagues. Records show Williams outdueled the great Walter Johnson twice, some say more, as well as Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Williams reeled off a 20-7 record in exhibitions against white major-league competition.
"Imagine the major leagues without Ken Griffey Jr., and so on and so on and so on," said author John Holway, who has written several books about the Negro Leagues, including `Blackball Stars', which dedicates a chapter to Williams' career.
Most of Williams' pitching statistics are difficult to verify because Negro Leagues statistics are incomplete. Much of the rest of his life also lacks documentation.
The Baseball Hall of Fame has been unable to find any living relatives. Hall officials are still uncertain who will represent him at the induction ceremony.
Williams is believed to have been born on April 6, 1886, in Seguin, a small town along Interstate 10 about 50 miles east of San Antonio. After a long and winding baseball career in which he played for 10 Negro Leagues teams, mostly on the East Coast, it is believed Williams worked as a bartender in New York City after his baseball career ended.
The most often listed date of death is March 12, 1946, but Holway says research in recent years indicates he likely did not die until 1952 or later. His baseball tour of duty, which lasted from 1905-32, looked like a who's who of Negro Leagues baseball, not uncommon to many of the black stars of that day: San Antonio Black Bronchos, Chicago Leland Giants, New York Lincoln Giants, Chicago American Giants, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Homestead Grays and the Detroit Wolves.
Williams is primarily remembered for his performances for the New York Lincoln Giants (1911-1923) and Homestead Grays (1925-1932). And like Ryan, Williams could still throw the heater late in his career. On Aug. 2, 1930, as a 44-year-old pitcher for the Grays, he struck out 27 Kansas City Monarchs and threw a one-hitter in a 12-inning game.
Such monstrous outings prompted Satchel Paige, widely considered to be the greatest Negro Leagues pitcher, to laud Williams as the greatest pitcher he had ever seen. Had Williams been white, he might have been teammates with Walter Johnson or even the Babe. He might have challenged Johnson as the strikeout king of their generation.
"I often wonder," Holway said, "if Babe could have hit 60 home runs if he had to face some of the better black pitchers."
At least now, Williams will finally join Johnson and Ruth in his rightful place, in the Hall of Fame.
Positions played: pitcher, outfield, first base
Teams: San Antonio Black Bronchos, Chicago Leland Giants, New York Lincoln Giants, Chicago American Giants, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Homestead Grays, Detroit Wolves
SOURCE: NEGRO LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYERS ASSOCIATION