Al Smith was born on February 7, 1928 in Kirkwood, Missouri. He was a versatile, multitalented athlete at Douglass High in Webster Groves, Missouri. The MVP of the baseball team, he also starred in football, basketball, and track, and was a Golden Gloves boxing champion. He scored 33 touchdowns in one football season and was reputed to have scored 10 touchdowns in one game.
Upon his graduation in 1946, Al signed with the Negro American League’s Cleveland Buckeyes. In 1947, he led the league with 27 doubles and 11 triples, and finished second with 12 home runs. In July 1948, the Cleveland Indians signed him to a major-league contract.
Al was sent to Class-A Wilkes-Barre in the Eastern League. He hit .316 the rest of the way, and then .311 with the same club in 1949. For 1950, he earned a promotion to San Diego in the Pacific Coast League, where he spent the next two seasons. In 1952 he moved once more, this time to Indianapolis in the American Association.
Al finally received the call to the Indians after posting a .332 average in the first half of the season, and debuted in the majors in July 1953.
In 1954, his first full season with the Indians, Al beat out veteran Dale Mitchell for the everyday job in left field. In Game Two of the World Series, he entered the record books by hitting a home run on the very first pitch of the game.
In 1955, Al ranked as one of the American League’s best players. His numbers included 22 home runs, 77 RBIs, and a league-leading 123 runs scored. He earned his first trip to the All-Star Game and after the season finished third in the MVP balloting.
Al's numbers fell off substantially in 1956 and his offensive decline continued in 1957. In December, he was sent to the White Sox with Early Wynn, for Minnie Minoso. White Sox fans were unhappy about the trade that cost them longtime favorite Minoso, and they took out their frustrations on Al, who was booed continuously throughout that season and the next.
In Game Two of the 1959 World Series, will forever been remembered for Al Smith’s embarrassing “beer bath,” a single instant that seemed to epitomize the White Sox’ frustrations throughout the fall classic. As he watched the ball disappear into the stands, a fan named Melvin Piehl, sitting in the first row, accidentally knocked over his beer trying to catch the ball and thoroughly drenched the startled left fielder. The incident was captured by a Chicago Tribune photographer, Ray Gora, stationed near the third-base dugout. Al kept a blow-up of the famous photo in his Chicago home, and once facetiously remarked that he had signed copies of the picture 200,000 times.
Al rebounded offensively in 1960, making his second trip to the All-Star Game. In 1961, he continued his resurgence and hit 28 homers, his career high, but was traded to Baltimore, in January 1963. After one season in Baltimore, Al was traded back to the Indians, his original team, but was released in August 1964 with a .162 batting average in 61 games. Picked up as a free agent shortly afterward by the Red Sox, he still didn’t hit, and played his last game in the majors in October.
After the end of his baseball career, Al worked for the city of Chicago, managing the park district’s baseball program, from 1966 through 1981. In addition to his baseball duties, he also served as supervisor of recreation at Ogden Park, on the city’s South Side, and worked as a part-time community relations representative for the White Sox.
Al Smith passed away at St. Margaret Mary Hospital in Hammond, Indiana, succumbing to cardiac arrest, after arterial surgery, on January 3, 2002 at age 73.