FanPost

The long forgotten Elmer "Mike" Smith

Elmer "Mike" Smith is a cool Pirate with the short career I think deserves a little mention. He batted .325/.416/.466 for 7 years for the Pirates in the 1890s. wRC+ in the area of Al Kaline and Vladimir Guerrero. Also led the American Association in ERA for Cincinatti in 1887 before becoming a hitter in his seven years with them, really good guy to use in trivia to confuse moderately intelligent baseball fans into guessing Babe Ruth when asked about the first player to finish in the top 5 in ERA and OPS at some point in their careers. The Pirates history is so rich that players like him completely fall into the cracks and don't get mentioned. I mean, if Arky Vaughan, a pretty much consensus top 5 all time shortstop, barely gets a mention then what's the odds of a guy like Elmer Smith, simply a great player for 7 seasons, getting his due?

The man was born in Pittsburgh and died in Pittsburgh, but baseball wise his career was sandwhiched by Pittsburgh. He started his career with the Cincinatti Red Stockings in 1886 as an 18 year old young man. He only pitched 9 games in his rookie year, going 4-4 with a 94 ERA+ but that was just the beginning. As a 19 year old he didn't just improve, he dominated. He led the American Association with a 2.94 ERA in 52 games pitched, (49 of those being complete, being 1887 and all). He went 34-17 and also was the most unhittable pitcher in the league that year, with a league low 8 hits/9 innings. His next year was down from that, his ERA plummetted farther still to 2.74, but the league as a whole improved dramatically in run prevention, to the point his ERA+ dropped from 148 in 1887 to 113 in 1888, still very respectable, and his record was still decent at 22-17 as well. In 348 and a third innings pitched he did not give up a single home run is one of the distinctive features of that year pitching that I felt was worth mentioning. In 1889 the wheels did fall off with him pitching only 203 innings, with a 4.88 ERA, (ERA+ of 81), caused by a sharp uptick in walks and a homer rate that went from under .1 for his first three seasons to .5 in his 4th season.

What was special about his forth season was the emergence of his bat in the eyes of his peers. In his first 3 seasons he performed adequately with the bat, doing really well in his cup of coffee batting wise in 1886 and hitting well for a pitcher with .253/.298/.371 and .225/.329/.271 lines in 1888 and 1889, but in 1890 he batted .277/.348/.410, (though at the time they probably only cared he batted above .270, it was the 1880s remember).

From what I have been able to gather, his pitching arm developed problems which led to him becoming a hitter, but I do not have any records of what happened to him baseball wise in his age 22-23 seasons. What I do know is in 1892 he signed for the Pirates as an outfielder and hit .274/.375/.384. It only got better from there, batting .346/.435/.525 in 1893 in his age 25 season, a 158 OPS+ with the raw ops of .960 being 4th in the league. He went on to play well for the Pirates, hitting over .300 every season, until he was traded to Cincinatti again in 1897. He finished his career with Cinci, the New York Giants, and the Boston Beaneaters, (yes there was a team named such).

This might not be the most comprehensive or best post to make about such a man, but I wanted to give him something, and I appreciate all of you taking the time to think about a man who did great work for the Pirates in the era before Wagner. Thank you.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the managing editor (Charlie) or SB Nation. FanPosts are written by Bucs Dugout readers.

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