In baseball’s long history, only two men have started a World Series as a pitcher and as a position player: Babe Ruth and, easily, among the best players not in the Hall of Fame, Smoky Joe Wood (1889–1995), the subject of this biography.
For eight years with the dead ball era Red Sox, Wood played with the future Hall of Fame outfield of Tris Speaker, Duffy Lewis and Harry Hooper, with the old Cy Young and the young Babe Ruth. He played against and was considered every bit the equal of Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Christy Mathewson. His spectacular 1912 regular season (34-5, 1.91 ERA, 258 strikeouts) featured a classic duel with strikeout artist Walter Johnson, who once said of him, “there’s no man alive that throws harder than Smoky Joe Wood.” After injuring his arm, Wood followed up his remarkable pitching exploits with six more years as a Cleveland Indian outfielder, where he rated among the game’s best hitters. The author never quite gets to the heart of the man—Wood’s jack-of-all trades, peripatetic father emerges as the most interesting personality—but Wood’s minor league beginnings (including a stint, believe it or not, with the Kansas City Bloomer Girls), his bifurcated major league career and his 20 seasons coaching baseball at Yale all receive exhaustive attention. Wood (English Emeritus/Carson-Newman Coll.; co-author: The Voice of an American Playwright: Interviews With Horton Foote, 2012, etc.) skips lightly over any negatives—his subject’s role in the Catholic/Protestant divide among those 1908-1915 Sox teams, his part in a betting scandal featuring Speaker and Cobb—and he hurries through the retirement years. However, most readers will come for the baseball and the stories of this almost-mythic figure from the game’s earliest days, the only man other than Cole Porter for whom Yale’s president left the college grounds to award an honorary degree.
A serviceable biography for hard-core fans of early baseball.