Classic card of the week

Smokey Joe Williams, 1993 Ted Williams Card Company

“Smokey” Joe Williams played baseball in the heyday of the nickname. In fact, Smokey himself was nicknamed Smokey because he smoked a lot. Brilliant! (This nickname also separated Smokey from the players of that era who did not smoke, which was no one.) But back at the turn of the century, even teams had witty nicknames, best exemplified by the array of ballclubs that Smokey himself played for: The Leland Giants, Chicago Giants, Lincoln Giants, Chicago American Giants, Bacharach Giants, and the Brooklyn Royal Giants. In 1928, a teammate of Smokey’s named Big Teeth McGee suggested that the team change its name to the Brooklyn Royal Mighty Ducks, and was subsequently kicked in the groin by seven guys named Rusty. But let’s find out more about the extraordinary use of nicknames back in that era:

Smokey Joe Williams played in an era when the best black players had nicknames that compared them to the best white players. Buck Leonard: “The Black Lou Gehrig.” John Henry Lloyd: “The Black Wagner.” Cristobal Torriente: “The Cuban Babe Ruth.” Smokey Joe Williams: “The Black Walter Johnson.”

All told, history will remember him simply as Smokey The Black Walter Johnson Joe Williams. Many baseball fans will also recall that, when he rose to early stardom with the Cubs at the turn of this century, Mark Prior was often affectionately referred to as Mark The White Smokey The Black Walter Johnson Joe Williams Prior, giving a nod to the era when a nickname actually meant something. (Prior once injured his jawbone while referring to himself in the third person.)

So let’s remember Smokey Joe Williams -- who was also, by the way, one of the best pitchers like, ever -- the next time you want to give up and name someone (blank)-Rod. Ask yourself these questions every time:

Does he smoke?

Big teeth?

Could he be reasonably compared to a player of a different ethnicity?

For example, back in college I was often referred to as The White Smoke-Rod.

Did you know?
When Frank Robinson suggested that the comparison of Black Player A to White Player B -- or vice versa -- was pointless, and disallowed certain players to forge their own identity, he was labeled as the Black Debbie Downer.