A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

BCM, Blue Sox and B-Line: Walter ‘Smoke’ Justis was proverbial ‘flash-in-pan’ but sports bar named for him

(EDITOR’S NOTE: What links an interesting bit of trivia to tonight’s Behringer-Crawford Museum’s “History Hour” to Covington’s newest stop on the coveted The B-Line bourbon experience? Read on. . .)

As professional baseball players go, Walter “Smoke” Justis was a proverbial flash in the pan … except that he never really flashed. Some would say he didn’t spark or smolder either. Justis pitched in exactly two games in the Major Leagues in 1905 – both for the Detroit Tigers – and boasted a career stat line of 0 wins, 0 losses, and an 8.10 ERA.

Walter ‘Smoke’ Justice (Photo courtesy of Smoke Justis)

But eight years later, on May 9, 1913, “Smoke” found himself on the mound in the home opener for the Covington Blue Sox, Covington’s entry in the Federal League (aka the “outlaw” circuit) … our attempts to attract an actual minor league team having been blocked by the Red Stocking-ed “bully” just to the north.

Alas, although “Smoke” threw heat that day, winning a 4-0 shutout (also reported as 6-0) before an overflow crowd, Covington couldn’t hold on to its team. The Blue Sox lasted only a few months and moved to Kansas City. Federal Park went on to host boxing and auto polo before being torn down so a tobacco warehouse could be built.

And “Smoke” was lost to history — lost that is until he became the namesake for a sports bar-restaurant that opened in 2016 in the Roebling Point District as part of Covington’s energetic renewal.

So, to wrap up … a popular Covington watering hole worships a slightly-better-than-mediocre pitcher with a cool nickname and a penchant for eccentric antics* who more than a century ago threw a red-hot gem of a game for a team that lasted about two months.

We’ll drink to that – and you should too, since Smoke Justis (the bar-restaurant) is known for its smoked meats, draft beer … and historic Blue Sox memorabilia.

So why are we writing about this?

• Tonight, the Covington Blue Sox are the subject of Behringer-Crawford Museum’s virtual NKY History Hour, as seen HERE.

• And Smoke Justis the bar is one of two new stops in Covington named recently to The B-Line, Northern Kentucky’s rendition of the bourbon trail. See HERE. The other new stop is Libby’s Southern Comfort. That now gives Covington NINE stops on The B-Line, which is one reason we’re getting some national attention within bourbon industry publications.
As they say, that’s an interesting package of news, all tied up nice and neat.
• • • • • •
(* By “eccentric antics” we mean this kind of HISTORY.)
Oh, and Smoke Justis – the pitcher, that is – is not to be confused with David Justice, the Covington Latin High School grad who played 14 years in the Majors, hit more than 300 home runs and drove in over 1,000 runs.
Of course, while Justice was Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star and has two World Series rings, he doesn’t have a cool sports bar in Covington named after him.

City of Covington

Related Posts

Leave a Comment