The 2018 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox was the first meeting between these two ancient clubs since the 1916 classic, when Boston had a superstar left-hander named Babe Ruth on the mound and the Dodgers were synonymous with Brooklyn, but they weren’t called the Dodgers. They were the Robins, named for their beloved manager, Wilbert Robinson.
As in 1916, the Red Sox won this year’s Series in five games. Game 3 this year, an 18-inning marathon, was reminiscent of Game 2 from 1916, which established the previous World Series record for longest game at 14 innings (a record for innings matched twice more, in 2005, when the White Sox beat the Houston Astros, 7-5, and 2015, when the Royals beat the Mets 5-4).
But something happened in the 1916 long game that will never happen again in big league ball. The starting pitchers went the distance, two left-handers working all 14 innings (in today’s game, it’s rare for a starting pitcher to log 14 full innings during the entirety of a World Series). Ruth outdueled Brooklyn’s Sherry Smith, a Georgia boy, 2-1 in a game that finished just ahead of the darkness.
Many years ago, I wrote about the relatively unknown Smith for a now defunct publication, Oldtyme Baseball News. I came across the clip it while digging through old boxes in my basement, read it again for the first time in decades, and got sad because right there in the lede it references the late, great novelist Raymond Andrews.
I’d hear from Raymond (younger brother of the painter Benny Andrews) or run into him occasionally back then. He was living nearby, in Athens, Georgia, and he’d call the community newspaper where I was being underpaid at the time, to talk sports or to offer feedback, or moral support. At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky I was or how short time is. Raymond was younger than I am now when he shot himself.
My friend Jesse Freeman, a filmmaker (who I remember as a little leaguer in Madison, Georgia) made a wonderful documentary about Raymond Andrews, Somebody Else, Somewhere Else. See the film! And read about it, in Jesse’s words, right here.
So, here’s Sherry Smith. A good bit of this was taken from that old piece in OBN, but some of the best stuff isn’t:
Raymond Andrews, the award-winning African-American novelist, was 14 years old when he first heard about Sherry Smith. Of course, he knew Smith was the chief of police in Madison, Georgia, “but I didn’t know what he was all about,” said Andrews, one of 10 children in a family of sharecroppers, who grew up in Plainview, an unincorporated community a few miles from town. “I found out on August 16, 1948 who Sherry Smith really was. It was the day Babe Ruth died.”
This would have been about 30 years before Andrews won the James Baldwin Prize for his novel, Appalachee Red (the first volume in what would become the Muskhogean trilogy).
“I listened to the radio as the Madison chief of police was being interviewed about his knowledge of the Babe,” said Andrews, whose 1990 memoir was titled, The Last Radio Baby. “The following Saturday I went into town just to get a look at this guy, the man who had pitched against Babe Ruth in the greatest World Series duel ever.”
Sherrod Malone “Sherry” Smith, born in Monticello, Georgia, pitched 14 seasons in the big leagues, compiling a won-lost record of 114-118 against and alongside baseball immortals that evoke images of an early 20th century Illiad. Smith earned a reputation as the greatest pickoff artist of his time – only two bases were stolen against him, in a time when baserunning was the prime offensive weapon in a ballclub’s arsenal.
“Daddy used to say he would purposely walk a batter just so he could pick him off,” said Smith’s daughter, Sara Anderson of Macon, Georgia (Mrs. Anderson passed away in 2016, leaving behind two loving sons, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren).
“(Smith) was the only pitcher I ever saw who could completely conceal his intentions from the runner,” said Max Carey, the leading base stealer in the National League for years, who swiped more than 700 bases in his career, but not one against Smith.
George Moriarty, one of the era’s best regarded umpires, said Smith had, “a miracle move. For years baserunners tried timing it, but to no avail.” Moriarty added that Smith rarely, if ever, was caught balking.
After breaking into the big leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1911, Smith was dealt to Brooklyn, where he enjoyed some of his best years. In 1916 he matched his career high in wins with 14, including four shutouts. After nosing out the Philadelphia Phillies for the National League pennant, the Robins went to Boston to play the mighty Red Sox, who had won the Series in 1915 and would win four during the 1910s.
Boston took the first game, 6-5, setting up the Game 2 matchup between the two young southpaws, Smith (25 years old) and Ruth (21). Brooklyn took a 1-0 lead on a fluke home run by Hi Myers, whose drive took a wicked tricky bounce over centerfielder Tilly Walker’s head. Myers tore around the bases for an inside-the-park homer, the Robins’ only run of the day.
Smith (who hit a double in the game, one of six hits off Ruth) shut down the Red Sox until the third, when Ruth drove in the tying run on a grounder to second, scoring Everett Scott, who had tripled.
Then the two lefties stacked up a lot of zeroes. Ruth became more dominant as the game progressed, but both pitchers dodged disaster along the way. In the bottom of the ninth, Boston had runners on first and third with nobody out. But Myers engineered a clutch double play from centerfield, making the catch and throwing out Boston’s Hal Janvrin at home plate. Then Ruth got an assist from left fielder Duffy Lewis in the 13th, when Smith had a chance to help himself at the plate. With a runner on second and two outs, he hit a short fly to left field that Lewis snared to end the inning.
In the bottom of the 14th inning, with dusk looming, the Sox finally got to Smith. First baseman Dick Hoblitzel walked and took second on a sacrifice bunt by Duffy Lewis. Boston manager Bill Carrigan replaced Hoblitzel with speedy pinch runner Mike McNally, and Del Gainer, pinch-hitting for Larry Gardner, singled to left, scoring McNally to win the game for Boston, 2-1.
The 14-inning game lasted an economic two hours and 32 minutes. Winning pitcher Ruth, making his World Series debut, threw 171 pitches and gave up six hits. Boston collected seven hits off Smith, who added to his reputation as a hard-luck ace. Earlier that season, he lost a 19-inning masterpiece to the Boston Braves, 2-1.
Smith’s tough luck in close games elicited sympathy from some fans, including one who sent him a small Hebrew flag for luck. Smith’s daughter, Sara Anderson, had the flag along in an old scrapbook.
Game 2 marked the only appearance by Ruth and Smith in the 1916 Series. Ruth, of course, would go on to become the centerpiece of baseball’s dynastic New York Yankees – this was just the first of many Fall Classics for the Babe. Smith would get one more chance, in 1920, when he pitched for the Cleveland Indians against his former employers from Brooklyn. He pitched a three-hitter to beat the Robins, 2-1, in Game 3. But he lost a 1-0 decision in Game 6 (Cleveland would clinch the title in Game 7).
Smith’s most memorable victory came during his years with Cleveland. He defeated the great Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators, 2-1, in 12 innings. While Smith was outdueling Johnson in Washington, his wife, Addilu, was giving birth to Sherrod Jr. back in Cleveland. After the game, he received a telegram: “Wife and newborn son are doing fine.”
Smith’s road to the big leagues and his confrontation with the Babe took root in the cotton-fields of central Georgia, where he learned speed and accuracy while throwing at rabbits. Years later, after being dealt to Cleveland in the American League, he and Ruth became friends. Whenever Ruth’s Yankees visited Cleveland, he stopped by the Smith home, “because he loved mama’s country ham and red eye gravy,” Sara Anderson recalled.
He finished his pro baseball career as manager of the Macon Peaches, then entered law enforcement, and one hot August day, when he was the chief of police in Madison, his old friend Babe Ruth died, and he was asked to share some stories on the radio. An African-American teenager named Raymond Andrews happened to be listening.
“I never looked at the police chief in quite the same way after that,” Andrews said.
Not very long after that, Smith moved to Reidsville, where he became captain of the guard at the federal prison. On September 12, 1949, Addilu, an accomplished pianist who had studied at the Julliard School of Music, stepped out to play a recital while Smith stayed home to relax, a rare day off. When Addilu came home, she found that her husband had died of a heart attack. He was 58.
As keeper of her father’s scrapbook, Sara Anderson said she looked far and wide for any bit of memorabilia she could dig up, but she could never find a baseball card of her father, although one was issued by American Caramel in the 1920s. She and her family attended baseball card shows for years with no luck. Her son, Bob, actually saw the card once at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
“We go to Philadelphia, occasionally, to visit Bob,” Mrs. Anderson said. “Maybe next time we’ll drive on up to Cooperstown.”
It would be worth the trip, she added, just to see her daddy immortalized on a strip of consecrated cardboard in baseball Valhalla.