Born on this date in 1864. Pitched for eight seasons in the majors, from 1884 to 1891, with six teams, including the Philadelphia Athletics, the Brooklyn Grays, the Detroit Wolverines, and the Baltimore Orioles. (Okay, and the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Pittsburgh Alleghenies. That’s all of them.) His lifetime record was a pedestrian 54-74, with a 3.89 ERA, which makes you wonder what was so Phenomenal about John Francis Smith? And why did he change his name from John Francis Gammon?
Well, he acquired his nickname after tossing a no-hitter against Baltimore on October 3, 1885. Two batters reached first, on a walk and an error, and he picked them both off. That’s kind of phenomenal, I guess.
Smith also allegedly “discovered” Christy Mathewson in 1899, and allegedly developed him into an outstanding pitcher during the 1900 season, when Smith was managing in the minors with the Norfolk Tars. Mathewson went 21-2 for Smith in 1900, with a decent 0.74 ERA. How much credit should Smith get for that? Well, hard to say. But Mathewson was 2-13 in 1899 for the Taunton Herrings. So perhaps Smith had some effect. (“Throw strikes, Kid.”)
Smith passed away in 1952, at the age of 87.
Happy birthday, Phenomenal Smith. Good game.
Happy Birthday, too, to Redleg Snyder (1854), Bugs Reisigl (1887), Pee Wee Wanninger (1902), Flea Clifton (1909), and Clyde Kluttz (1917). A good day for baseball names. Happy Birthday all you ballplayers.