Beyond Satchel: Part One

By Tony McClean
Updated: March 9, 2005
Hilton Smith
Hilton Smith

NOTE: The Hall of Famer Satchel Paige is synonymous with pitching excellence in both the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball. While the greats of MLB are well known, some of the great hurlers of the Negro Leagues aren’t as familiar with baseball fans. Over the next seven days, BASN will take a look back at some of the greatest pitchers you may never have heard of.

NEW HAVEN, Ct.– Over the years, there have been several great pitchers that were superstars in the Negro Leagues. Hurlers like Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams, and Wilmer “Big Red” Fields quickly come to mind.

One of the more underrated pitchers of that same era came from deep in the heart of Texas. Hilton Smith was born on February 27, 1907 in Giddens , Texas . Smith played baseball as a student at Prairie View A&M College and on his father’s local team.

Following a short stretch with the Austin Senators, the 20-year-old Smith joined the Monroe Monarchs of the Negro Southern League in 1932. He then joined the Kansas City Monarchs of the newly formed Negro American League in 1937.

Smith was a mainstay for the Monarchs 1936 to 1948, a period when Kansas City was one of the dominant teams in the Negro Baseball Leagues.

Although he was well known in the baseball world, the quiet, workmanlike Smith was greatly overshadowed by his flamboyant teammate, Satchel Paige. During his years with the Monarchs, Smith established himself as one of the premier pitchers in the Negro American League.

Armed with the best curveball in all of black baseball, Smith won more than 20 games in each of his seasons with the Monarchs and went undefeated in league games in 1938 and 1941. He also pitched a no-hitter in 1937 and made six consecutive appearances in the East-West Game, the Negro Leagues’ annual all-star game, between 1937 and 1942.

Smith was also a good hitter and frequently played in the outfield or at first base when he wasn’t on the mound. He was later approached by the Brooklyn Dodgers, but turned down their offer, believing that he was too far past his prime.

“Hilton never got the credit he deserved,” teammate Allen “Lefty” Bryant once remarked. “We never told him, but Hilton was the best pitcher we had, including Satchel.”

Buck O’Neil, his teammate and close friend summed up Smith’s career this way: “From 1940 to 1946, Hilton Smith might have been the greatest pitcher in the world.”

Overall, he was a member of seven Monarch pennant-winners, posted two Negro League World Series wins, and played on one Monarch World Championship team (1942).

Smith became a schoolteacher and coach in Kansas City after 1948, and later worked for Armco Steel. He was an associate scout for the Chicago Cubs at the time of his death on November 18, 1983 and was later inducted into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown , New York in 2001.

NEXT: Leroy Matlock and The Streak.

NOTE: The Negro League Baseball Players Association and the African-American Registry contributed to this story.