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Top 100 Indians: #65 Al Smith

When we finalized the Top 100 list, Al Smith didn't really stand out. Obviously the name is rather common (in fact, another Al Smith had a decent career with the Indians before and during World War II). But as I got to know him through research, the more I realized what a fine player he was.

Alphonse Eugene Smith (Fuzzy)

Right Fielder/Third Baseman, 1953-1957, 1964

Height: 6'0" Weight: 189 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Right

How Acquired (1): Free Agent, July 11, 1948 (Negro League)

Left Via (1): Trade, December 4, 1957: Traded with Early Wynn to the Chicago White Sox for Minnie Minoso and Fred Hatfield

How Acquired (2): Trade, December 4, 1963: Traded with $25k by the Baltimore Orioles for Willie Kirkland

Left Via (2): Released, August 5, 1964

Al Smith was 19 years old when Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby broke the color barrier in 1947. A star high school athlete (including a Golden Gloves champion) in St. Louis, he joined the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro League after graduating, so he was right in the Indians' backyard when integration came. He signed with the club the following season, and was sent to Wilkes-Barre of the Eastern League, where he played through 1949, then was promoted to San Diego of the Pacific Coast League in 1950. Smith at this time in his career played just about everywhere, from shortstop to third base to the outfield. By 1952, when he was in Indianapolis (the Indians had changed affiliates), he was playing just third and the outfield. Playing under future Indians manager Birdie Tebbetts in Indianapolis, Smith blossomed as a hitter, hitting .281/.371/.530 in 1952 and was hitting .332/.423/.613 when the Indians called him up in July 1953 after starting right fielder Harry Simpson injured his hip in a brutal collision with teammate Bobby Avila.

The club Smith joined was loaded; Al Rosen had a lock on third base, which is probably the main reason Smith was in AAA as long as he was, and Dale Mitchell and Larry Doby manned two of the outfield spots. But Smith held his own in right field as Simpson's replacement, hitting .240/.341/.360, and played well in the field. So when Simpson broke his wrist in Spring Training the next season, the Indians had no qualms about going with Smith again. By this time Mitchell had been demoted to a utility role, so Smith moved to left for the 1954 season, though he would play occasionally at third base. In that magical 1954 season, Smith was a key cog, hitting .281/.398/.435.

Smith's forte (at least while with the Indians) was his patience at the plate; in 1954, his first full season, he walked 88 times to 65 strikeouts. While never a huge home run threat, Smith combined that patience with decent power, and that earned a spot of top of the Indians' order; manager Al Lopez swapped Smith with Bobby Avila a month into the season, and the top four (Smith, Avila, Doby, Rosen) pretty much stuck through the rest of the year.

It was Smith who stepped to the plate to take the first pitch of the 1954 World Series. You can get a brief glimpse of him here; he got plunked by Giants starter Sal Maglie, and he would eventually come around to score the first run of the game when Vic Wertz tripled both he and Avila home. Wertz, by the way, would have four hits on the day, but thanks to Willie Mays wouldn't get a fifth.

In Game 2, Smith hit the first pitch he saw from Giants starter Sal Maglie over the short left field porch in the Polo Grounds, becoming the first player ever to hit a home run to lead off a World Series game.

The Indians would of course lose the World Series 4-0, but Smith's best days were ahead of him (though not all of them would come with the Indians). In 1955 Smith had his best season, playing in all 154 games, and hitting .306/.407/.473 for the Indians. He would make the AL All-Star team and would finish 3rd on a very close AL MVP ballot (just 5%, or 18 points behind Yogi Berra). That season he played right field and was Al Rosen's backup at third base.

The Indians would finish in second in both 1955 and 1956, and after the latter season Al Lopez resigned, saying that it was time to move on, and quickly latched on to old friend Bill Veeck in Chicago. Both Veeck and Lopez greatly admired Smith, and when he requested a trade in the spring in 1957 (manager Kerby Farrell wanted him to be a full-time third baseman with Al Rosen's retirement), they jumped at the chance to get him, even though it cost them Chicago fan favorite Minnie Minoso.

Here's how the blockbuster was structured. The Indians received Minoso, who was still in the prime of his career, and Fred Hatfield, who was by this time a utility infielder. Minoso was an outstanding addition to the club, teaming with Larry Doby and young Rocky Colavito to give the Indians the best outfield in the AL. The White Sox received Smith, who was 30 by this time, as well as Early Wynn, who still had some of his baseball ahead of him even at the age of 38. The Indians would trade Minoso back to Chicago a couple years later for among other players, a young Norm Cash, and had they hung onto him it would have been a decent series of deals.

Smith then struggled through a couple of injury-plagued season. The South Siders didn't welcome him with open arms to begin with because he was replacing Minoso, and as he continued to struggle, they started booing him regularly. Owner Veeck saw this, even going so far as to hold an "Al Smith Night" full of the usual Veeck promotions.

After beating the Indians to win the AL pennant in 1959, the White Sox re-acquired Minoso that off-season, and Smith, finally healthy, had a career resurgence, making his second All-Star team in 1960 and finishing 6th in the AL MVP voting. After two more fine seasons in Chicago, he was dealt to Baltimore in another blockbuster deal; going with him was Luis Aparicio, and coming to Chicago was four players, including Ron Hansen and the ageless Hoyt Wilhelm. Smith had a decent season with the Orioles, and was dealt back to the Indians that winter for Willie Kirkland.

His second stint with the Indians didn't go well; he hit only .162/.214/.272 in 61 games, and the Indians released him in August. He caught on with Boston, did pretty well in part-time duty, but was released after the season. He called it quits that winter.

I can't do a profile on Al Smith without mentioning the famous beer photo. In the 1959 World Series, Smith went on a drive to left field; as he watched the ball go over the fence, a fan, who was distracted by the ball, let his beer cup tip over, and Smith was doused with the beverage. The photo became famous, with most people remembering Smith for the beer incident and not for his fine career.

Smith retired to Chicago, where we worked for the Parks Department of the city of Chicago; among his responsibilities was running the department's baseball program. He died in 2002 at the age of 72.

Career Indians Stats

Year Age Tm G PA R 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ Awards
1953 25 CLE 47 173 28 9 0 3 20 25 .240 .341 .360 .701 92
1954 26 CLE 131 583 101 29 6 11 88 65 .281 .398 .435 .832 127
1955 27 CLE 154 725 123 27 4 22 93 77 .306 .407 .473 .880 133 AS,MVP-3
1956 28 CLE 141 626 87 26 5 16 84 72 .274 .378 .433 .812 113
1957 29 CLE 135 605 78 23 5 11 79 70 .247 .348 .377 .725 99
1964 36 CLE 61 147 15 1 1 4 8 32 .162 .214 .272 .486 34
CLE (6 yrs) 669 2859 432 115 21 67 372 341 .269 .373 .418 .791 112
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2013.

Selected Awards/Leaders

AL All-Star: 1955

AL MVP: 1955-3rd

AL WAR: 7th, 1955-4.6; 10th, 1954-4.1

AL oWAR: 4th, 1955-5.2

AL Average: 6th, 1955-.306

AL On Base Percentage: 3rd, 1955-.407; 8th, 1954-.398

AL Slugging: 9th, 1955-.473

AL OPS: 3rd, 1955-.880

AL Runs Scored: 1st, 1955-123; 6th, 1954-101

AL Hits: 5th, 1955-186

AL TB: 4th, 1955-287

AL 2B: 2nd, 1954-29; 7th, 1955-27

AL HR: 10th, 1955-22

AL Bases on Balls: 3rd, 1957-79; 4th, 1954-88; 5th, 1955-93; 10th, 1956-84

AL Stolen Bases: 5th, 1955-11; 8th, 1957-12

AL Singles: 5th, 1955-133

AL OPS+: 3rd, 1955-133

AL RC: 3rd, 1955-128

AL Extra Base Hits: 5th, 1955-53; 9th, 1954-46

AL Hit By Pitch: 2nd, 1955-15; 3rd, 1954-7; 6th, 1956-8

AL Sacrifice Flies: 5th, 1955-7; 5th, 1957-7; 8th, 1956-6

AL Intentional Bases on Balls: 8th, 1956-7

AL WPA: 7th, 1955-2.7

AL Assists (3B): 5th, 1957-156

AL Assists (LF): 3rd, 1954-7

AL Range Factor/Game 3B: 4th, 1957-2.99

AL Range Factor/Game LF: 3rd, 1954-2.20

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • t-29th On Base Percentage (.373)
  • 45th OPS (.791)
  • 43rd Runs Scored (432)
  • 47th Home Runs (67)
  • 30th Bases On Balls (372)
  • t-46th OPS+ (112)
  • 18th Hit By Pitch (38)
  • t-28th Sacrifice Flies (22)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • 50th At Bats (607, 1955)
  • 8th Plate Appearances (725, 1955)
  • 15th Runs Scored (123, 1955)
  • t-37th Bases on Balls (93, 1955)
  • t-32nd Runs Created (128, 1955)
  • t-8th Hit By Pitch (15, 1955)