They Called Him “Oil” Because They Couldn’t Say “Earl”: Grant County’s Finest

Saving energy for fightin’.

On June 8, 1963, Sheridan native Earl “Oil” Smith, a three-time World Series champion catcher, died.  Smith played for minor league teams in Waxachachie (Texas), Fort Smith, Tulsa and Rochester (N.Y.) before breaking into the National League with the New York Giants in 1919. In 1921-22, Smith helped the Giants beat the Yankees in consecutive World Series and then headed to Pittsburgh where he help the Pirates win the 1925 World Series and batted a career-high .346 the next year. Four seasons in the majors, he batted over .300.

All the while, Smith developed a reputation as an extremely temperamental player.

“Smith probably was involved in as many fights as any player in the game,” according to a 1963 obituary in the Pine Bluff Commercial.  Unfortunately, no reasons are provided as why, exactly, Msr. Smith was so angry but here’s a guess: He was frustrated as hell. You would be, too, if the people you were around all the time COULDN”T PRONOUNCE YOUR VERY EASY-TO-PRONOUNCE AND NOT-AT-ALL-COMPLICATED NAME.

According to the Commercial, Midwest sports columnist Westbrook Pegler nicknamed Smith Oil “because, Pegler said, easterners had a hard time saying Earl.”

Fortunately for Smith, he returned to friendlier phonetic climes when he went to St. Louis in 1928 and there played in another World Series.

After his playing career ended in 1930, Smith showed Easterners it wasn’t anything personal against them by choosing to start work as a minor league manager in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. He then retired to Hot Springs, Ark. with one brief exception: a one-year turn as coach of the Hot Springs Bathers in the Cotton States League.

Smith, who died at age 66 from a lengthy illness not specified in his obituary, is buried at Little Rock National Cemetery.

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