“Oil” Smith and the 1925 World Series

Catcher Earl “Oil” Smith played on five World Series teams in his 12-year career, spanning the 1920s. You could argue that he cost the Senators a second world championship in 1925, when Washington became the first team to blow a three-games-to-one lead that year in losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Smith, renowned as a bench jockey and a major distraction behind the plate, was at his  aggravating best during the 1925 Series. “Who are you?” he asked Bucky Harris whearl smithen he came to the plate. “I’m the manager,” Harris responded. “You’re just a messenger boy for Clark Griffith,” Smith said, probably spitting tobacco juice, as was his habit, on the batter’s pants. The harassment got so bad the Senators held a team meeting before lodging a protest with Commissioner Landis, who asked Pirates manager Bill McKechnie to tell Smith to cool it.

Washington slugger Goose Goslin probably got the worst of it, with Smith flapping his arms when Goslin approached the plate and making snide comments about Goose’s prominent nose. Those might have been Smith’s milder antics. Goslin, with Smith abusing him about his ancestry, looked at a third strike to end Game Seven.

Making contact with opponents’ bats, usually before they were swinging, was a Smith specialty.  Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen described Smith as “a tipper of bats beyond parallel” in a 1968 column. With Roger Peckinpaugh at bat in Game Seven, Smith became the first World Series backstop whose bat-tipping resulted in catcher’s interference.

Smith, a good left-hand batter, hit .350 in the series, including a key double in Game Seven. He would have hit an even .400 were it not for one of the most controversial catches in World Series history. Smith’s eighth-inning drive in Game Three was snared by Sam Rice before he tumbled into the temporary roped-off area in right field at Griffith Stadium. Rice eventually stood up holding the ball. Cy Rigler made the out call, provoking vehement protests by the Pirates, who were sure Rice had not held on. In a letter opened after he died, Rice insisted he had.

The weather was horrible for several games of the 1925 series. Landis, sitting next to Griffith in the stands for a rain-soaked Game Seven, wanted to call it with the Senators leading. “You’re the world champs,” he told Griffith, Henry Thomas wrote in his excellent biography of his grandfather, Walter Johnson. But the Washington owner would have none of it, insisting that the game be played to its conclusion. The last of Peckinpaugh’s series-record eighth errors lead to Pittsburgh game winning rally.

Smith, meanwhile, went on to play with the Pirates in 1927 series and again with the Cards in 1928. He retired with a .303 lifetime batting average and is listed as no. 100 on the Bill James list of the 100 greatest catchers.

 

 

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