Here is a passage from one of Ira Lewis’s “Passing Review” columns in the Pittsburgh Courier (September 11, 1926). It’s a fascinating discussion of publicity strategies in black baseball. The promoters and owners of clubs were often reluctant to hype their stars for fear of the individual players gaining too much bargaining power. Lewis argues, however, that “smart management” recognizes the importance of making ballplayers into “box office attractions.” The Homestead Grays, he says, finally broke through only when Cumberland Posey “got hep to the benefits of publicity and the wisdom of playing up his stars.”
Another takeaway from this piece: Lewis says of Joe Williams that “the Courier re-christened him from ‘Cyclone Joe’ Williams to ‘Smokey Joe’ Williams.” So the change in nickname is confirmed as a conscious publicity strategy, apparently cooked up by the Courier in cahoots with Posey (who was himself a columnist for the Courier).