There isn’t any doubt as to whom the town of Ouray considers to be its most famous “son.” It would have to be “Smoky Joe” Wood, who at the age of 22 was perhaps the best baseball pitcher in the world for one incredible year.
The year was 1912 and all the flame-throwing right-hander did was post a 34-5 record for the Boston Red Sox, who won the American pennant and went on to beat the New York Giants in a stirring seven-game World Series. Wood won three of four games that he pitched in the series, including the seventh and deciding game against the great Christy Mathewson.
Joe “Smoky Joe” Wood was born in Kansas City, Kansas, on October 25, 1889. He came to Colorado in the spring of 1899 at the age of nine. He lived for the next several years in or near Ouray where he became proficient enough as a 14-and 15-year old to pitch for the town team. Wood’s family moved back to Kansas in 1916 when young Joe was 16, and he soon began his meteoric rise in the baseball world.
The Ouray County Museum has as its central display the old baseball uniform of “Smoky Joe” Wood. In 1940, Wood and his wife Laura brought their three sons and one daughter to Ouray “to see where Dad grew up.”
During his incredible 1912 season, Wood pitched 344 innings, had 10 shutouts, 258 strikeouts, 35 complete games, a 1.91 earned run average, and had a 16-game winning streak – an American League record he stills shares with Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson, and Schoolboy Row. Possibly the most heralding pitching match up of that era pitted Wood against Johnson at Fenway Park. Wood bested Johnson, arguably the greatest pitcher who ever lived, in an epic 1-0 duel.
Probably no Colorado athlete in history personified the triumph and tragedy of sports in quite the visible manner as Wood. At age 23, just a year after his fantastic 1912 season, Wood broke his thumb fielding a ground ball in spring training, and arm trouble followed.
Despite his misfortune, Wood continues to pitch for the Red Sox, compiling an earned run average of 1.49 in 1915. His lifetime ERA was 2. 03, the third best among all major league pitchers since 1893. In 1981, Wood still held all or part of 30 Boston records although he had not pitched for 65 years.
Wood had to give up pitching and stayed out of baseball in 1917. But he missed the game so much that he switched positions and came back in 1918 to play five more seasons for the Cleveland Indians as a good-fielding, fair-hitting out fielder, winning another World Series in 1920. He then coached college baseball at Yale University for 20 years.
He died in 1984 at the age of 95.
I threw so hard I thought my arm would fly right off my body.