Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Memorable Night Game on August 2, 1930

I recently saw a post from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's Google+ page that piqued my interest. On August 2, 1930 Hall of Famer Smoky Joe Williams of the Homestead Grays strikes out 27 Kansas City Monarchs in a memorable 12-inning night game. Now that is one amazing achievement. But something stood out to me. Williams struck out 27 batters in 12-innings. Who was pitching for the Monarchs that day and how did he do. I decided to pull off a couple of Negro League books off my shelf to find out. Here's what I found out.

After playing a series of games at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field, the Homestead Grays matched up against the Kansas City Monarchs under the lights at the ballpark located at 22nd Street and Brooklyn Avenue called Muehlebach Field later known as Municipal Stadium in Kansas City. The lights were provided by J.L. Wilkinson, owner of the Monarchs. The article Know Your KC History: The Monarchs Shine a Light on Baseball by John Horner from the Kansas City Public Library's website:
Early in 1929 he decided to pursue a radical idea. He mortgaged most everything he owned, took Thomas Baird as a partner, and hired Omaha’s Giant Manufacturing Company to construct a portable lighting system, which cost between $50,000 and $100,000. (A 1929 dollar had the same buying power as $12.82 in 2011, so that would be between $641,000 and $1,282,000 today.)
The system had telescoping poles which extended 50 feet above the field. Pictures show a set of six floodlights atop each pair of poles. Derricks pivoted the poles into position above the truck beds to which they were secured. In her book, The Kansas City Monarchs: Champions of Black Baseball, Janet Bruce says that the Monarch’s lighting system took about two hours to assemble. The set-up included a huge generator that was placed in center field, made an enormous amount of noise, and “used fifteen gallons of gasoline every hour.”
There were still problems for the players. Wilkinson’s lights, though many steps ahead of what had preceded, wouldn’t compare well with what we experience at Kauffman Stadium. They didn’t have near the height or the illuminating power that we are used to. With the lights only reaching 50 feet above the field, even a moderately high fly ball would disappear completely into the night. (This caused a limit to be placed on the number of bases allowed for a fly ball during night games.) Setting the generator with its wiring in the outfield, along with the poles, increased the number of obstacles the fielders had to navigate.
As you can see, the system for playing night games wasn't easy, but Wilkinson knew that he could draw more fans to the night games, thereby making more money than a day game. People could work their day shift and go to the ballgame at night. This is why you have so many more night games today.

Taking the mound of the Homestead Grays was Smokey Joe Williams aka Cyclone Williams. Williams was a giant of a man, not only for that time but for any time. Williams stood at a formidable 6'5" and weighed 200 pounds. According to page 123 of the book Few and Chosen Negro Leagues: Defining Negro Leagues Greatness by Monte Irvin with Phil Pepe "Williams is unanimously regarded as the greatest Negro Leagues pitcher ever." 

Williams dueled fellow Hall of Famers Grover Cleveland Alexander and Walter Johnson to 1-0 barnstorming games (winning the game against Alexander), besting pitchers other Hall of Fame pitchers Chief Bender, Waite Hoyt, Walter and Rube Marquard. Williams compiled a 20-7 record in exhibition matches against major league ballplayers.

His nickname was given to him by New York Giants outfielder Ross Youngs after an exhibition game where Williams struck out 20 of the New York Giants. The story goes that Youngs patted Williams on the rear after the game and said "Nice job, Smokey".

The Kansas City Monarchs countered with Chet Brewer. Brewer is best described on page 309 in the book Shades of Glory by Lawrence Hogan:
A dominating pitcher. "with good control and a retentive memory," Chet Brewer "spotted the ball, mixing a wide repertory of pitches that included a live running fastball, a sweeping curve, an overhand drop, a deep sinker, an emery ball, and a good screwball." He was frequently picked for the East-West Classic. Across a 24-year professional career he "toiled on the mounds of black baseball with an assortment of teams throughout the world, including Canada, Japan, the Philippines, Hawaii, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Santo Domingo, and in forty-four of the forty-eight continental United States."
With the backdrop of the limited lights and legendary pitchers Brewer and Williams facing each other, the crowd was set to see an epic pitching duel. Strikeouts were being served on the menu to both teams. In the 12-innings played, Williams struck out a total of 27 out of 39 batters with only one hit and one base on ball allowed. Not to be left behind, Brewer struck out 19 with a 10-batter in a row streak starting in the seventh inning with four hits and four bases on ball allowed. That's a total of 46 batters fanned by both pitchers in a 12-inning affair. Simply amazing.

Now, both pitchers took advantage of the limited lights that the portable lights provided along with utilizing their emery pitches. Why is an emery pitch? As per page 125 of the book Only The Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams by Robert Peterson:
As if the dim illumination weren't handicap enough for the batters, Williams, and Brewer resorted to the emery cloth to make the ball do tricks. Said the Pittsburgh Courier: "The opposing pitchers were cheating without a question of a doubt. An emery ball in daylight is very deceptive, but at night it is about as easy to see as an insect in the sky."
A few other notes from this game. Josh Gibson was a rookie with the Grays in this series. Other notable Negro League stars who played in this game were Oscar Charleston, George Scales and Judy Johnson. Oh, and Smokey Joe Williams was 45-years old when he pitched this gem. How did the game end?

John M. Coates in his post for Smoky Joe Williams on the SABR Research Journals Archive website has the box score and a description on how the lone run was scored by the Grays:
The Grays won the game in their half of the twelfth, when Charleston walked, Johnson popped out, Scales was an infield out, and White doubled to the left field foul line, scoring Charleston
Well, there you have it. 46 K's in 12-innings pitches. Truly amazing.

You gals and guys have any more information on this game? Feel free to hit me up at my email, on Twitter @BaseballSisco, on my Google+ BaseballSisco and at my Facebook page Baseball Sisco Kid Style

Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
Baseball Sisco