Smead Jolley was born on January 14, 1902, in Wesson, Arkansas. Everyone in the family but Smead found a future in farming in Arkansas. Although all the boys played baseball, all six of them on the town team their father managed, Smead was the only one to play pro ball.
Some time after graduating from high school, he broke into the minor leagues as a pitcher, signing with Shreveport in 1922.
He was signed and immediately farmed out to the Greenville (Mississippi) Bucks. In 1924, still under contract to Shreveport, Smead pitched for the Texarkana Twins (D ball, East Texas League). He was 9-9 in 21 games as a pitcher, and led his team in hitting with a .371 average, mostly while playing outfield.
Come 1925, Smead spent most of the year in D ball again, this time with the Corsicana Oilers of the Texas Association, hitting .362. The team won the Texas Association pennant and his 180 hits tied him for the league lead. Sold on to San Francisco, he played with the Seals at the very end of the year.
Smead found a home with the Seals and played there for the next four seasons, 1926-1929. He pitched seven innings in 1925 and eight in 1926, with a 1-0 record each year, but his forte was clearly as a hitter. His .397 led the league in 1927, and his 163 RBIs led the PCL as well.
His 1928 season was one of the greatest in minor-league history, winning the Triple Crown and seeing the San Francisco Seals to the Pacific Coast League title. He led in almost every offensive category, winning the Triple Crown, hitting .404, with 45 homers, and 188 RBIs, though itís worth noting with regard to the homers and RBIs that the Seals played 191 games that season.
Batting as well as he did, however, it wasnít surprising that Smead caught the eyes of major-league scouts. Brand new White Sox manager Donie Bush badgered the tightfisted owner Charles Comiskey, into buying him. The White Sox signed Smead in November 1929 and he was ready by Opening Day at Comiskey Park. In his first season with Chicago, 1930, he appeared in all but two games, drove in 114 runs, and batted .313.
Smead is also said to have once committed three errors on one play. Itís one of the most widely circulated stories poking fun at his alleged ineptitude in the field and it tells of a ball hit to him in the outfield that rolled between his legs and then caromed off the wall behind him, shooting back between his legs again the other direction. He did commit 44 errors in 418 games, and had a career major-league fielding percentage of .944. His minor-league fielding percentage was nearly the same, .954.
His first year in the majors was his best year. Come 1931, he was saddled with injuries and maladies. But from July through August, he stroked five consecutive pinch hits. His record as a pinch-hitter in 1931 was .448, including one home run and six doubles.
In 1932, he appeared in 12 games with the White Sox that April, hitting .357 and driving in seven runs, but was traded to the Boston Red Sox. The 1932 the White Sox were the very worst team in the history of the franchise, losing 102 games for a winning percentage of .325. They were, however, a notch above the 1932 Red Sox, who also fielded the worst team in their history with a 43-111 record and a .279 winning percentage.
Smead was second on the Red Sox with a .309 mark. He got in a full year, playing in 137 games, banged out 18 homers and drove in 99 runs. There were more gaffes in the field however. Smead took apparent umbrage at taking guff over a ball that had struck him on the head instead of nestling in his glove.
Spring of 1933 started with a dislocated finger in March while catching, knocking him out of action for two weeks. It appeared to be a somewhat less adventurous year in the field, though he played fewer games (118) and committed only nine miscues. Percentage-wise, though, that was a decline, and his batting average fell to .282 with 65 RBIs. It was the only time in his 20 seasons of professional baseball that he hit below .300.
During the winter meetings, Smead found himself shipped to he St. Louis Browns. Then the Browns traded him back to the Pacific Coast League, and the Hollywood Stars. His .360 led Hollywood in 1934, and his 23 homers were just one short of tops on the team. In 1935, he again was third in the league with his .372 average.
Smead also got into a movie in 1935, playing an uncredited role, in the baseball comedy Alibi Ike.
In 1936, Smead came back east, playing in the International League for the Albany Senators. He led the league in batting .373, and his 221 hits, with 52 doubles also led the league. His .951 fielding percentage also led the league, as the worst regular outfielder.
It was a disappointing season in 1937, only getting into only 65 games. The International Leagueís Jersey City Giants signed him, but after only 12 games, released him to the Southern Associationís Nashville Volunteers in May. He was sold by Nashville after 53 games there, but refused to report back to Albany, now an A-level ball club in the New York-Penn League. He hoped to catch on with the Portland Beavers for 1938, but wound up with the Oakland Oaks.
Smead was resurgent in 1938, hitting an even .350 for Oakland and Hollywood. In 1939, he played the whole year for the Oakland Oaks and hit .309. It seemed to remain his fate however, to be playing for teams either in the cellar or a step or two above. Oakland actually released him after the 1938 season.
Things changed in 1940, when Smead played in the Class B Western International League for the Spokane Indians. The team finished first, though losing to Tacoma in the playoffs. Smead topped all batters again with a .373 average, and led the league with 181 runs batted in, too. And he went out on top in 1941, again leading the league in hitting with a .345 BA, playing for Spokane and then Vancouver. His 128 RBIs took first place, too. He was on the all-star team each year.
He was under contract to the Salem Senators club in the Western International League for 1942, but the league had shrunk from six teams to four, and finally folded late in the year and Smead was out of a job.
After baseball, he worked for many years as a house painter for the Alameda (California) Housing Authority. He also took in the occasional Oakland Aís game, and went to a few sports dinners in the Bay Area, but largely spent time by himself.
Smead Jolley passed away after a stroke, on November 17, 1991 in Alameda, California, at the South Shore Convalescent Hospital, at the age of 89.