There is an axiom in baseball that is as old as the game itself and it is a simple one; great pitching will beat great hitting.” It is a mantra which continues to be uttered and that is simply because it is true. It was true then and it is true today, so it is then apropos that the first player of the 1912 Red Sox we meet, after the manager, is non other than “Smokey” Joe Wood, the ace of the 1912 staff!
Wood first joined the Red Sox as an 18-year-old in 1908 and by the time he was 21 he was the top pitcher on the Red Sox pitching staff. He won 23 games in 1911, the only starter with a winning record, and as it turned out that was but a prelude to brilliance, for brilliant is what Wood was in 1912.
First the simplicity of the numbers; he was 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA! Ponder that for a second, 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA!
Now let’s fill in a few more blanks, his winning percentage was .872. That is the highest winning percentage in history for a pitcher with the most amount of wins in a season and it is the sixth highest win total in the modern era (Since 1901). Since the inception of the American League in 1901, only fourteen pitchers have won 30+ games and they have done it 19 times, none with the complete dominance of Joe Wood in 1912. He led the league with 10 shutouts, only 28 pitchers have thrown 10 or more shutouts in a season. He completed 35 of his 38 starts, to lead the league and he made five relief appearances. He was 3-1 in the 1912 World Series including a win in relief in the championship game.
A shoulder injury derailed what would have been a hall of fame career, however despite that he still managed a 117-56 record in eight seasons with the Red Sox. He was purchased by the Indians in the winter of 1917 and when he simply could not pitch anymore, he converted to the outfield and enjoyed five successful seasons there. His best coming in 1922 when he hit .297 with eight home runs and 92 RBI.
Red Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquette and “Smokey” Joe share a moment in the Red Sox dugout at Fenway Park in 1962. The Red Sox celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1912 World Championship team.
The most votes for the Hall of Fame Wood received was 18% in 1946. Although Cooperstown has eluded him, there are those who maintain that when he was healthy, there was nobody better, not Christy Mathewson, not Cy Young, not even Walter Johnson. He was a charter member of the Red Sox hall of fame, elected in 1995.
One thing is certain; in 1912 “Smokey” Joe Wood had the greatest season any Red Sox pitcher ever experienced, it was true then and it’s true today…..100 years later!
And so it was at this time in Fenway Park history, the winter of 1911.