The Legend Of Smoky Joe Wood And His Baseball Cards

June 7, 2022

smoky joe

As I was profiling the 1912 T207 'Brown Background set, I was reminded of the legend of one Howard Ellsworth 'Smoky Joe' Wood

I was vaguely familiar with the path of Wood and knew that he had a few great years with the Red Sox before getting injured. 

Yet, after researching his background and baseball career, I soon found that there was a lot about Wood I didn't know.

Such as pitching duels with Hall Of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson and an attempt late in his career to become an outfielder due to an injured arm.

In this piece, I profile the history of baseball legend Wood, while reviewing his baseball cards, many of which, I believe, deserve another look. 

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"Smoky Joe" Wood - The Early Years

According to Wood, he got his nickname "Joe" from the circus, as there was a clown at the circus named Joe.  Later, writer Paul Shannon of the Boston Post gave him the nickname "Smoky" for his ability to throw the ball at blazing fast speeds.

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Wood was in the big leagues for fifteen years from 1908 to 1922 with both the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians. 

Wood began his career in Ness City, Kansas playing for a local team there in 1906. Wood later joined the National Bloomer Girls Team of Kansas City, a semi pro ladies team that kept a few token men on each team. Many of the men would wear wigs as disguise, although Wood claimed that he refused to wear a wig.

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An early Boston Bloomers baseball player team

Wood says that some of the women he played with were quite good, especially Ruth Egan, who Wood said was a great first baseman and an excellent hitter.

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Ruth Egan, one of the stars of the Bloomers baseball league

'Smoky Joe' Gets His Start With The Red Sox

Wood got his start with the Boston Red Sox in 1908 when he was only eighteen years old. Before arriving in Boston he had never been to a major league game, as his family was quite poor.

The Sox struggled in Joe's first few years in the league and Boston was on the verge of shipping him out of town due to concerns about his off the field antics. This, despite Wood posting a 1.69 ERA in 2010, with 145 strikeouts in just over 190 innings pitched. 

Yet, Wood stuck around and began to morph into an even more dominant pitcher. In 1911, Wood notched a 23-17 record with 231 strikeouts and a 2.02 ERA.  'Smoky Joe' was quickly establishing a reputation as a fireballer that could barely be touched. 

"Can I throw harder than Joe Wood? Listen, my friend, there's no man alive that can throw harder that Smoky Joe Wood."

Walter Johnson, HOF Starting Pitcher

The Duel Heard Round The World

While 1911 was a solid season for Wood, 1912 would be the year when 'Smoky Joe' would prove to the world that he was one of the best pitchers baseball had ever seen. 

Wood was lights out all season and in perfect fashion, it coincided with the opening of Fenway Park.

Wood finished with an amazing 34-5 record, a 1.91 ERA and 258 strikeouts.

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Smoky Joe Wood and Walter Johnson

Wood finished only fifth in MVP voting in 1912, even finishing behind Walter Johnson who also turned in a season for the record books. Johnson posted a 33-12 record with a 1.39 ERA and 303 strikeouts. 

It was 1912 when Wood and Johnson were also part of a pitching matchup that was advertised like some of the top prize fights of the day. Walter Johnson had challenged Wood to a pitching duel to defend his record of sixteen consecutive wins. At the time Wood was at 13 consecutive wins. 

The fans responded over 30,000 strong far more than Fenway Park could accommodate in those days.  On the day of the game, fans who could not be seated overflowed onto the playing field.  Standing room was established behind ropes in front of the outfield walls and bleachers. 

SABR REsearch (Link)

Wood won the game 1-0 and pitched a complete game, while Johnson notched eight innings pitched, giving up an RBI single to Duffy Lewis.

Wood also helped lead the Red Sox to a 1912 World Series victory, beating John McGraw's New York Giants. Wood went 3-1 in the series and finished with eleven strikeouts in one game, which at the time was a World Series record. 

An Injury That Couldn't Be Overcome

After the 1912 season, Wood just wasn't the same. Starting in 1913, he usually could not lift his arms for 8 to 10 days after pitching. From 1913 to 1915 Wood was only pitching once every few weeks due to the arm pain.

Smoky Joe Wood

"I'll never know what went wrong with the arm.  Something went wrong, I'll never know. "I never pitched without a sore arm after 1912. You'd have heard a lot more from me if I didn't hurt the arm"

Wood took the 1916 season off and ended up working with a trainer. He told the Cleveland Indians that he was feeling better again and they ended up buying out his contract from Boston. 

But by the time Wood got to Cleveland in 1917, his arm was in even worse shape. Wood notes that if he pitched over 2-3 innings he couldn't move his arm for a few weeks. 

Thus Wood decided to move to the outfield as a position player, making a move similar to the one Babe Ruth would later make.  He was a serviceable player with the Indians.  He hit .366 in 1921, and finished his six year stint in Cleveland as a near .300 hitter.  

While in Cleveland, Wood was super tight with Tris Speaker and even roomed with him for fifteen years between Boston and Cleveland. While he loved Speaker, Ty Cobb was the best he ever saw and one of his very best friends. "He was one thought ahead of the average ballplayer...he drove pitchers crazy".

Tris Speaker and Smokey Joe Wood in Cleveland

Wood was a baseball coach at Yale University from 1923 to 1942. In 1985, president of Yale - Bart Giammati, presented him with an honorary doctorate degree at Yale.  This was a huge accomplishment for Wood since he never graduated.

Wood unfortunately didn't have the credentials to make it to the Baseball Hall of Fame, yet he was inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall Of Fame in 1995. He is to this day recognized as one of the best pitchers of the deadball era. 

A lot of the information for this piece came from an interview with Smoky Joe in the book 'The Glory Of Their Times', a book I would highly recommend. The interview can also be found in the following YouTube video.

The Baseball Cards Of Smoky Joe Wood

This is not an exhaustive list, but we've provided ten of the top ten 'Smoky Joe' Wood baseball cards. It's hard to put an estimate on what Wood's rookie card might be.  It's possible that the M116 or E91-C cards were the first issues for Wood, but this has not been confirmed in the hobby. 

Wood also has a PC758 Max Stein Postcard (not listed below) that was issued between 1909 and 1916, so its possible that one might consider this a rookie card. 

Note that the pose used for the M101-4 Sporting News Wood card was used for a series of other similar related sets that we didn't list below (such as the 1917 E135 Collins McCarthy set and the later Sporting News M101-5 set among several others). (see VintageCardPrices for a full list and pricing of Wood cards)

Wood's E91-C card tends to be one of the more affordable Wood cards, mostly due to the fact that a lot of the player photos are generic.  His 1914 Cracker Jack card can run in the thousands, due to scarcity and because of the overall demand for Cracker Jack cards in general. 

1910 E91-C American Caramel Jos. Wood

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1910 M116 Sporting Life Smoky Joe Wood #321

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1912 T207 Brown Background Smoky Joe Wood

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1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folders Speaker #106 Speaker/Wood (rounding Third) 

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1913 WG5 National Game Joe Wood #42

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1914 WG4 Polo Grounds Game Joe Wood #30

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1914, 1915 Cracker Jack Smoky Joe Wood #22

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1916 M101-4 Sporting News Joe Wood #195

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1922 W461-2 Exhibits Smoky Joe Wood

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1922 E120 American Caramel Smoky Joe Wood

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Smoky Joe Wood Cards on eBay

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