A two-way star during the 1800s, Elmer Ellsworth Smith was a top pitcher in the American Association who once led the league in ERA. But when his arm went south in 1889 he had to redefine himself as an outfielder. He worked himself into a devastating offensive presence who could post a .400 on-base percentage in his sleep.
Smith joined the Cincinnati Red Stockings as an 18-year-old in 1886 and showed signs of brilliance in nine starts. Those signs signaled success in 1887 when he paced the AA in ERA while fashioning a 34-17 record. He trimmed his ERA down another 20 points in 1888 while notching 22 wins for Cincy. Gifted at avoiding contact, Smith’s numbers took a turn for the worse in 1889 when he surrendered 50 more hits than innings pitched. Cincinnati effectively lost interest in their young southpaw.
Elmer didn’t resurface at the Major League level again until 1892 when the Pittsburgh Pirates summoned him. Although adequate his first year as an outfielder, albeit with a weak fielding percentage, Smith came into his own as an offensive terror in 1893. That year he scored 121 runs and drove in an added 103 runs. Smith finished fourth in triples and total bases while posting an amazing on-base percentage of .435. He would reach the elusive .400 on-base percentage five times in his career.
He led Pittsburgh with a .357 batting average in 1894 on a strong offensive team that boasted the likes of Hall of Famer Jake Beckley and greats Jack Glasscock, Lou Bierbauer, Jake Stenzel, Denny Lyons and Patsy Donovan. But the Bucs pitching staff was atrocious with Frank Killen the lone moundsman with an ERA below 5.00. After an off-year in 1895, Elmer had perhaps his finest season in 1896. That season he hit .362 (8th in the NL) with a whopping .454 on-base percentage. He was a member of an all 100 run scoring outfield with Stenzel and Donovan.
When Elmer’s batting average fell to .301 in 1897 the Pirates traded him and pitcher Pink Hawley to the Reds for a handful of players. Back in Cincinnati, Smith had his last great year in 1898 when he hit .342 with an on-base percentage of .425 for Buck Ewing’s third place finishing Reds. The Reds loaned Elmer to the Giants in 1900 but his star status was waning. He spent time with the Pirates and Braves (then called the Beaneaters) in 1901 before ending his Major League career.
G 1,237/R 913/H 1,456/2B 197/3B 136/HR 37/RBI 665/SB 233/BA .310/SA .434/OBP .398