One day in July

  • A mural representing one-time Boston Red Sox pitcher and Millers Falls resident Douglass Smith sits on a Central Railroad bridge footing in Millers Falls. Wednesday marked the 107-year anniversary of the day Smith made his lone appearance in the majors against the St. Louis Browns. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2019 10:00:13 PM

As Kevin Herlihy drove over the Millers Falls Bridge and cut right onto Newton Street around lunchtime on Wednesday, he couldn’t help but notice the sizable painting on the base of the wall to his left. The Greenfield resident’s eyes locked on the date listed at the bottom: July 10, 1912 — exactly 107 years to the day.

“I’m like, ‘Holy cow, it’s like a Field of Dreams moment,’” he recalled Wednesday night. “It was bizarre.”

Indeed, Wednesday marked 107 years since the Major League Baseball debut of Millers Falls’ Doug Smith. The 20-year-old Turners Falls High School alum pitched three innings for the Boston Red Sox in a 9-2 loss to the St. Louis Browns at Fenway Park on July 10, 1912. He allowed just one run in those three frames, closing out the game, yet Smith never stepped foot on a MLB field again.

Herlihy was unaware of that history when he drove past the mural that depicts the piece of Franklin County sport history on the footing of the Central Railroad bridge. A self-proclaimed Red Sox and baseball junkie, he was intrigued by the story which was depicted in artist Marco Correia’s 2017 mural.

“It was definitely the first time I’d ever seen (the mural),” Herlihy said. “Just the story that goes along with it is amazing.”

Smith’s journey to the mound at Fenway Park for his one-game tenure began on the fields of Turners and Millers Falls. The hard-throwing left-hander was born on May 25, 1892 and grew up on River Street in Millers Falls. Smith, and parents Judah and Elizabeth, lived on a small farm where they raised cows, horses and chickens. Doug was one of seven children, and he quickly became a star on the diamond upon entering TFHS. He was even recruited to cross the river and attend rival Greenfield High School, though remained loyal to his hometown side.

According to Michael Foster’s article about Smith for the Society for American Baseball Research, Smith immediately set his sights on playing in the majors upon graduation in 1912.

“Former Red Sox manager-turned-scout Patsy Donovan arrived in Millers Falls to watch Doug pitch for the town team,” Foster wrote about Smith’s post-high school summer. “Attracted to the idea of joining a strong club nearer to home, Doug readily agreed.”

Come late June, Smith was on a Boston & Maine train to Boston, joining the Red Sox in uniform and watching for two weeks from the bench. He had a front-row seat to an impressive winning streak, as Boston mowed down opponents and returned to Fenway for a three-game series against St. Louis on July 8. After two wins, the Sox fell into a hole on July 10 against the Browns on a 97-degree days at the Fens.

Trailing 8-2, manager Jake Stahl inserted Smith into the game for the top of the seventh inning. He danced around trouble in the seventh and eighth innings without allowing a run, and limited the damage with just one run in the ninth. Stahl lifted Smith for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth, depriving the youngster of what would have been his lone major league at-bat. The Browns won the game, 9-2.

“It wasn’t a perfect outing for Doug Smith, but eyewitnesses were impressed nonetheless and all agreed that his future looked promising,” wrote Foster.

“Young Smith did very commendable work while he was on the hill-top,” lauded Boston Herald sportswriter R.E. McMillan. “He had fine speed, a sharp breaking curve and good control. After a year or two of seasoning he will be heard from.”

The Globe’s Mel Webb agreed, stating that Smith’s “left-hand service looked mighty good. Smith was a little nervous as well he might be in his first day in fast company, but the high school boy came over the shoulder nicely on his delivery and seemed to have a lot more on the ball than mere speed.”

Shortly after the game however, Smith was shipped off to play in the minor leagues for the Lowell Grays of the Class B New England League. At the time, there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t return, but that July 10 performance at Fenway Park wound up being the beginning — and the end — of his big-league career.

Why didn’t Smith return to the bigs? The story goes that around that time, Red Sox owner Jimmy McAleer received a letter saying that Smith had “black blood.” In fact, he was tri-racial, and was black, Native American and white. A sign of the times, Smith was essentially shunned from Major League Baseball. It wasn’t until April 15, 1947 when Jackie Robinson donned a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform that the league officially desegregated.

Smith bounced around the minors and several independent leagues, was drafted into the Army in 1919, and ultimately gave up the sport in 1924. He settled down in his hometown, working for Millers Falls Paper Company for 38 years before retiring in 1962 at the age of 70.

Along with the image of Smith at the mound pitching, the mural in his hometown Millers Falls has the phrase “What color is our blood?” in white lettering on red and black backgrounds, as well as a small paragraph explaining who he is and what happened. The scoreboard depicting the score at the time of his insertion into that July 10 game in the top of the seventh inning is visible over his shoulder while on the mound at Fenway.

The 1912 Red Sox went 105-47 and beat the New York Giants to win the World Series.

Smith passed away on Sept. 18, 1973 at the age of 81. He was laid to rest in Highland Cemetery two days later.


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