Smoky Joe Wood to Josh Beckett : Speed aint enuf
Posted by athomeatfenway on January 24, 2010
As Joe Wood wrote in the 1914 instructional, Pitching Course, “Speed, terrific speed, in my opinion, is the greatest essential that any pitcher can possess.”
Joe Wood had terrific speed.
Walter Johnson said, “Nobody throws a ball as hard as Joe Wood.”
Joe also had a change up which he threw 10% of the time. He could hold, load and release the change in exactly the same way he did the fastball. Still, 90% of his pitches were heaters.
From the time he debuted in a loss to Doc White and the White Sox on Aug. 24, 1908, to his last adventurous start in 1920 for Cleveland, Joe was a power pitcher.
But it takes more than speed.
Wood elaborated: “The man who possesses ordinary speed in a limited degree and nothing else is likely to have his troubles in the major leagues. If a pitcher has only ordinary speed than he must have ‘something on it’ as we say in baseball.”
“There must be a break to it. Or better still a ‘hop’. Straight dead speed is not enough to carry a pitcher.”
Wood’s thoughts conjure how Josh Beckett, a modern power guy, from time to time gets knocked all over the yard even while throwing mid-90’s.
Beckett is said to be someone who could benefit from a 6 man rotation. He is nasty on an extra day’s rest. But when Josh is worn down, his fast ball come in hard and flat.
96 years after he wrote it, Joe Wood is still right. You’ve got to have a hop.
Smoky Joe Wood won 37 games in 1912, 3 of those in the World Series. He posted a 1.91 ERA, 35 CG, 10 Shut Outs, 344 IP’s and 258 K’s. He won 16 consecutive decisions that year.
Although he would finish 117-57 with a sublime 2.03 career E.R.A., he really only pitched 3 more years after 1912. He averaged only 16 starts and 12 wins from 1913 to 1915.
Joe started his first game at age 19, and his last at age 26. Bam. Pitching career over. He took a year off after leaving Boston in 1915, moved on to Cleveland, and spent 5 years patrolling right field in League Park. He batted .366 and .297 in his last two years. (’25 and ’26).
Soon he was off to coach at Yale, where he prospered from 1923 to 1942. His players included Bruce Caldwell, Johnny Broaca, Eddie Collins, Jr., and Joe Wood, Jr., Ducky Pond, Faye Vincent Sr., Albie Booth and Larry Kelly
It was a major injury that preempted Smoky Joe’s HOF pitching career.
Many a Red Sox history book generically cites arm trouble as what ended his hurling days.
In an interview with The Diamond Angle, Joe’s son, Bob, explains what happened.
“The 1913 injury incident happened in Detroit in early July. He slipped on the wet grass while fielding a bunt and broke his right thumb. Perhaps he tried to come back too soon because the Red Sox were in a pennant race with Philadelphia, Washington and Cleveland. Manager Jake Stahl checked his condition daily. In any event, he never pitched again without severe pain in his right shoulder, although he was able to win 25 games in the next two years, even though in 1914 he had his appendix taken out in February and didn’t start the season until May 27.”
In the two years that immediately followed the breaking of Smoky Joe’s thumb, the Sox dropped to 4th, and then to second.
The dynasty had been derailed. The team lost two potential pennants along with a dominating arm on the wet grass at Navin Field.
The Bean Eaters would rebound in 1915 when a 20 year old lefty from the Charm City would start 32 games and go 18 – 8, adding youthful depth to a rotation of Ernie Shore, Dutch Leonard, Rube Foster, and Wood.
They went on to win it all in 1915, 1916 and 1918.
Joe Wood missed the ride for the last two Championships.
To hear his son tell it, he never complained. He just moved on. He enjoyed his time in Cleveland, in New Haven, and in the Pocono’s. He was a family man. He understood how important he was to his four kids and wife.
“Dad retired after the 1922 season, even though he was a regular and had a very good year. When asked why he retired, his only comments were that he had nothing further to prove to himself or the fans, plus he would come home and his four young children (Joe, Jr, age 7; Steve, 5; Virginia, 4; and Bobby, 4) would hardly recognize him. He was quite a family man……Yes, our parents were always there when we needed them. They were super people.”
So put Joe Wood in the same box of chocolates with Thurman Munson and Tony Conigliaro, baseball eternals that fate did not allow enough time to earn a HOF plaque.
But don’t feel sorry for Joe. He didn’t waste his time on sorrow. He knew what was really important, and kept his focus on the day.
The 1914 Pitching Course instructional booklet is a marvelous 48 page guide with lessons written by Christy Mathewson, Big Ed Walsh, Walter Johnson, Nap Rucker, Joe Wood, Doc White, and author Irwin M. Howe. Packed with truisms, some things never change. It’s a little treasure.
The Diamond Angle ceased to publish in 2008, but its rich and varied Baseball content remains available at www.thediamondangle.com. It’s worth your time, so take a look.