I finished paying my respects to Medal of Honor recipient John Hickman, before turning my attention toward another notable person who rests within the borders of Altoona’s Calvary Cemetery. Knowing he was buried in the same section as Hickman, my father and I spread out to search the stones for the early baseball player buried nearby. Note: more about the Medal of Honor recipient can be found here: John Hickman.
After a short walk among the stones, my father called out he found the resting place of George and Isabelle Smith. I carefully approached the weathered stone and studied it. The names on the stone appear to have been chiseled into it many years after the stone was originally erected as they are still clear and easily read. At the top there appears to have once been a banner carved into the stone and the center of the stone shows a set of steps leading to an eternal reward.
Part of me wished I could have seen the stone in it’s glory before it had faded due to the elements.
George J. “Germany” Smith was born in Pittsburgh on April 30, 1859. On April 17, 1884, at the age of twenty-four, the right-handed short stop would make his professional debut. The first team Smith played for was the Altoona Mountain City in the Union Association. After twenty-five games, the organization folded and Germany Smith moved to the Cleveland Blues of the National League. Note: exactly when or how George obtained the nickname Germany is something I have not been able to uncover.
At the end of the 1884 season, Germany was sold to Brooklyn in the American Association.
On June 17, 1885, Germany Smith, along with the rest of the team decided to punish their new pitcher, John Francis “Phenomenal” Smith. Phenomenal Smith, a left-handed pitcher whose ego preceded him and in his cockiness, gave himself the nickname “Phenomenal” – a nickname not earned from his teammates.
In his only appearance for Brooklyn, Phenomenal Smith was handed a loss – not from the opposing team, but from his own team. The 18-5 loss came as a result of fourteen errors by the Brooklyn team who wanted to teach the arrogant Phenomenal Smith a lesson. Germany Smith had an impressive seven errors during the game.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the guilty Brooklyn players were fined $500 each for their actions. Phenomenal Smith was released to keep the team happy.
When the American Association folded 1890, Germany Smith, along with many of his teammates went to the National League’s new Brooklyn team. Although he had been a reliable shortstop, Germany lost the position to the team’s new manager and shortstop John Montgomery Ward.
With his career in Brooklyn over, Germany Smith joined the Cincinnati Reds, but in 1897 would return to Brooklyn when Brooklyn and Cincinnati traded shortstops. In his final year as a professional, Smith played fifty-one games for the Saint Louis Browns, ending his professional career on October 9, 1898.
In the fifteen years he played professional baseball, Germany Smith appeared in 1712 games with 597 hits and 800 RBIs. He had 95 triples, 47 home runs, and 235 stolen bases.
Upon his return to Altoona, he took a position with the Pennsylvania Railroad as a gate watchman. Germany Smith was stepping from a streetcar along Fourth Avenue on the night of December 1, 1927 when he was struck by an automobile. He never regained consciousness and passed due to his injuries. George “Germany” Smith was laid to rest next to his wife, Isabelle.
I finished paying my respects to George “Germany” Smith before leaving him to slumber on the sacred hills of Calvary Cemetery.