The clamor amongst the fans filing into Muehlebach Stadium in Kansas City was almost unanimously for the battery of the Buck O’Neil All Stars in game one of a best of nine against the Oscar Charleston squad. The consensus seemed to be that Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson would be too much for any team no matter how great. Hilton Smith, however, refused to play second fiddle.
Paige pitched well despite walking three, an uncharacteristic bout of wildness for the fireballer who once said “Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw strikes. Home plate don’t move.” Through seven innings he struck out 9 from “Charlie’s” crew giving up just one earned run. But it was Hilton Smith who really shined. Not only did he not walk anybody, but Smith didn’t give up a single earned run, throwing just as hard as ol’ Satch, but also keeping batters off balance with a curve many said after the contest was the greatest they’d ever seen in the Negro Leagues.
Just for good measure, Hilton came to the plate in the 2nd inning with Martin Dihigo on 2nd and promptly took a Paige fastball to center field for an RBI single. It was a moment of retribution for Smith who spent years pitching alongside Satch, but because of his more subdued demeanor never garnered the same level of fame. Hilton once said, “Being in the shadow of Paige really hurt me… My personality was opposite of that of Satch. I never did crawl out from under his shadow.” Hilton Smith pitched at Prairie View A&M for two years (while also making the dean’s list both years) before leaving school to pursue his professional playing career. He pitched for the Monarchs in Kansas City for 12 years and recommended Jackie Robinson to owner JL Wilkinson after playing alongside Robinson in the army. Many have said his fastball was every bit as fast as Satchel Paige’s, but that he was a tougher opponent than Satch because of his devastating curveball. Smith would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a teacher, as well as an area scout for the Chicago Cubs, and he spent his later years writing often to the Baseball Hall of Fame asking Cooperstown to recognize more of the Negro League greats.
Ultimately neither starting pitcher would factor in the outcome. Both bullpens melted down, allowing 7 runs combined over the final two and a half innings. Oscar Charleston helped his squad out by leading off the top of the 9th with a triple and promptly scoring on a John Beckwith single. Martin Dihigo capped off the 5 run inning with a two run home run. Buck O’Neil’s squad wouldn’t go quietly, however, scoring two in the bottom half before Rube Foster finally recorded the 27th out to give The Oscar Charleston All Stars a 1-0 lead in the best of nine championship series.