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.