Thursday, May 28, 2009

Random Thursday: Joe Smarza

So, this week, fate played a funny joke on The Common Man. When he spun up the randomizer, he found himself face to face with Joe Smaza, an outfielder who got a two-game cup of coffee with the White Sox in 1946. Smaza batted five times, getting a single hit and scoring two runs. Because there is no play-by-play or boxscore data available from Retrosheet, we don't know about either of his appearances. From his minor league record, Smarza looks like a slap-hitting outfielder in the Scott Podsednik mode, who might have been able to hold down a 5th outfield job if he had the chance.

The Sox in those years weren't all that exciting either. In 1947, Chicago was in the third year of a seven year run of finishing under .500. Jimmie Dykes, their long-time manager, was fired some time between the 20th and 22nd of May when the team was 10-20, and was replaced by former ace and future Hall-of-Famer Ted Lyons (for whom the team went 64-60), who became player-manager but only pitched 5 games that year (going 1-4 with 5 CG and a 2.32 ERA). Smarza's teammates, aside from Lyons, would have included SS Luke Appling (still going strong at age 40), 1B Joe Kuhel (who was about to hang it up at 40), OF Wally Moses (who, at 35, was settling into the decline phase of his career), 1B Hal Trosky (who made an abortive attempt to come back after WWII), Ed Lopat (who would become an ace of the Yankees staff during their five year championship run from 1949-1953), and Bill Dickey's little brother George (who pretty clearly didn't inheret the talent in that family).

And that's all we know about Joe Smarza's baseball career. Eventually, Joe hung it up and returned to his native Michigan. He died in 1979 at the age of 56. Presumably, he had people who loved him and whose lives he touched. But the trail is cold. Sometimes, randomness hits dead ends. Of the '46 Sox, only Ralph Hodgin, Dave Philley, and Tom Jordan are still alive.


lar said...

It's okay, TCM. You knew it had to happen sooner or later. Frankly, I'm impressed that you've been able to keep finding such interesting things about these guys every week. Have no fear, though. The beauty of a completely digitized New York Times archive (and the free access to it a university employee like myself has) is wondrous (i'll send you the pdfs, too):

Joe Smaza's playing career (not Smarza), courtesy of the New York Times

Played in two games:
- Sept 18, 1946, game 2 of the double header vs. the Yankees. Started the game, played rightfield. No putouts, assists, or errors. Went 1 for 5 with a run scored in the Browns 9-7 victory.

- Sept 21, 1946, game 1 of the double header vs. the Browns. Pinch ran for Hal Trosky in the 8th (who had pinch hit for pitcher Gordon Maltzberger). Scored a run. The Browns had been leading the game 6-1 heading into the top of the 7th, but 3 runs in the 7th, 5 in the 8th, and 2 in the 9th ended up being enough for the Sox to win 11-10. As a pinch-runner for the pitcher's spot, Smaza would've been removed after his appearance.

There you have it. Smaza made two appearances in the waning days of the season for a ballclub that finished 6 games under .500 and 30 games out of first. He seems to have wasted the night away in rightfield in his debut, likely fielding at least one of the Yankees 10 hits that day. That first hit of his must've been something pretty special, though, and then to be driven in. I can only picture Archie Graham from Field of Dreams at the plate when I think of him trying to leg out that single (and come around to score).

Looking at the schedule, those two appearances of his were in back to back games. It must've been pretty disappointing to ride the pine for the remaining seven games, and then get released.

Ron Rollins said...

Too bad he got the one start. He could have been 'Moonlight Graham'.

How would that have changed the movie, do you think?