Slugging Smead Jolley and the San Francisco Seals

I’ll travel anywhere, anytime to debate anyone that no player in organized baseball has ever had four better back-to-back-to-back-to-back offensive seasons than Smead Jolley.

The issue is beyond dispute. Playing for the Pacific Coast League San Francisco Seals from 1926 to 1929, Jolley batted .346, .397, .404, and .387 with 138 homers in the four years. His .397 led the league in hitting in 1927 and his 163 RBIs led the PCL. In 1928, Jolley led in almost every offensive category to win the Triple Crown (.404, 45 homers, and 188 RBIs).

Readers inclined to dismiss Jolley’s Herculean feats as the stuff of watered down minor league pitching should remember that the PCL’s quality was always considered to be just a notch below the bigs.

Over his sixteen year minor league career, Jolley hit .367 and won two additional batting titles with the Texas League’s Corsicana Oilers.

Astonishingly, in 1928 and 1929 Jolley played in 191 and 200 games while batting 765 and 812 times and recording a mind-boggling 309 and 314 hits. Throughout the PCL’s history, very long seasons were common. Since the players were paid by the week and could often earn more in the PCL than in the big leagues, many of them preferred to stay on the West Coast where both the money and the weather were better.

The rap on Jolley was that while he could hit, he couldn’t field worth a lick. Jolley, while acknowledging that his fielding left plenty to be desired, took umbrage at the intensity of the criticism direct at him.

Jolley eventually made his way to the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox where he hit a solid .305 during his four years from 1930 to 1933. But, in 788 chances with the two Sox teams, Jolley made 44 errors for a .944 fielding average.

In an interesting footnote to his career, Jolley’s last game pitted him against Babe Ruth who, since the Yankees had lost the pennant to the Washington Senators, decided to pitch. Jolley went one-for-five while Ruth hung on for a 6-5 win.

In 2003, the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame elected Jolley.

According to an excellent essay written by my Society for American Baseball Research colleague Bill Nowlin, after baseball Jolley worked for many years as a house painter for the Alameda (California) Housing Authority. When he died in 1991, Jolley’s ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean not far from where he performed his incomparable slugging for the Seals.

About Joe Guzzardi

Joe Guzzardi is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com

9 thoughts on “Slugging Smead Jolley and the San Francisco Seals

  1. Joe, I’m beginning to think that you intentionally make outlandish statements just to see how much of a rise you can get out of other readers. At least, I always seem to compelled to post a comment pointing out the flaws in your thinking!

    Your claim that it is beyond dispute that, “no player in organized baseball has ever had four better back-to-back-to-back-to-back offensive seasons” is easily refuted.

    Jollet’s batted .385, slugged .626 and his OBA is not listed at BaseballReference.com. Those are
    astounding numbers. His 138 homers were good, but averaged out to about 1 homer per 20 at bats, which
    is nothing spectacular.

    From 1922 thru 1925, Rogers Hornsby batted .404, had a slugging average of .704 and a .479 on base average.

    From 2001 thru 2004, Barry Bonds slugged .809 with an
    OBA of .559. He also walked 755 times and hit 209 homers at a rate of better than 1 per every 8 at bats.

    From 1996 thru 1999, Mark McGwire slugged .704 with an OBA of .437 and hit 245 homers in just 594 games.

    From 1910 thru 1913, Ty Cobb batted .402, slugged .577, had an OBA of .461 and stole 260 bases.

    From 1941-47 (skipping 3 seasons due to WWII), Ted Williams batted .360, slugged .669, had an OBA of .511, walked 610 times and scored 543 runs in 599 games. He also hit 5 more homers than Jolley despite playing 134 fewer games.

    And don’t forget, Hornsby, Bonds, Cobb, McGwire and Williams were facing genuine MLB pitchers and not pitching that was “just a notch below”, as Jolley was. So there’s definitely an argument to be made that Jolley’s seasons were not clearly the best 4 back to back to back to back seasons of all time.

  2. One more tidbit of information for you. As good as Jolley was in that 4 year stretch, he did not even lead his own team in total bases for 3 of the 4 years. So he was obviously benefitting from hitting in an incredibly good environment for batters.

  3. @stratobill: The good news for me is that I did not have to pay to travel to debate you re Smead because I obviously would have lost hands down! But I hope you are at least a little impressed by 309 and 314 hits!

  4. Sir: My name is frank williams and I would like to tell you about my conversation with joe dimaggio one day at a golf tournement in Palm Springs. Joe was very impressed with smead jolly and had nothing but praise for him. As a kid, I lived two blocks from seals stadium in san francisco and went just about every day to the ball park after school. old rec as they called it. We could get in free after the 7th inning. I saw smead jolly and joe almost every day the seals were home. Littlle did I know at the time how great Joe dimaggio would become. smead jolly hit a little over 400 one year and had around 45 homers. There is no doubt that he was one of the greatest hitters in the paciific coast league. He is in the pacific coast league hall of fame. I could go on for hours telling about my experience with the san francisco seals. I am now 95 years old and how I wish for the old days.

  5. Smead Jolley still holds the White Sox rookie record for RBIs with 114 in 1930 that White Sox rookie standout Abreu might break this season after 84 years. This guy should have had a longer MLB career despite his defensive liabilities. Would have been a great DH.

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