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Sun, 09.08.1907

Buck Leonard, Baseball great born

Buck Leonard

This date in 1907 marks the birth of Buck Leonard. He was a Black baseball player, one of the best at his position in the Negro Baseball leagues.

Leonard began his baseball career as a semi-pro star in his hometown of Rocky Mount, NC, but in 1933, he was forced by the depression to leave home to pursue a professional career.

That season he played successively for the Portsmouth Black Revels, Baltimore Stars, and Brooklyn Royal Giants, as an outfielder.  Smokey Joe Williams saw him playing with the Royals and Leonard remained with the Homestead Grays through the 1950 season. During his tenure in the Gray's flannels, he quickly gained the respect and appreciation of inside baseball men.  He was also a favorite of the fans, and became a fixture in the annual East-West All-Star classic.  In 1948, he was selected to the East squad's starting lineup, marking his 11th game, an All-Star record.  In this star-studded competition, he compiled a.317 average and banged out three home runs to establish another All-Star game record.

When the opportunity finally came to play in the major leagues, Le's age, legs, and good sense told him that the opportunity had come too late. Fortunately, although national recognition of his great talent also came late, it was not too late, for Buck was still able to smell the roses when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame along with Josh Gibson in 1972. He was the left-handed half of the homestead Gray's power tandem, Buck Leonard paired with Josh Gibson to lead Cum Posey's Grays to nine consecutive Negro National League championships during their untroubled years, 1937-45. While Gibson was slugging tape-measure home runs, Buck was hitting screaming line drives off the walls and over the walls.

Trying to sneak a fastball past him was like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster. Batting fourth in the lineup of the Grays' “murderers' row," the 5'11", 185 pound pull hitter displayed a powerful stroke. Possessing a smooth swing at the plate, he was equally graceful in the field. Sure-handed, with a strong and accurate arm and acknowledged as a smart ballplayer who always made the right play, Buck was a team player all the way. Respected by his teammates, his consistency and dependability were a steadying influence on the Grays.  So great were his contributions to the team's success that even in the years when Gibson was in Mexico, the Grays continued to win pennants. With Josh rejoining Buck in the Gray's lineup, the team won back-to-back World Series in 1943-44, featuring Buck's torrid .500 batting average in the latter series.

After a two-year absence from the Negro World Series, the Grays, under Leonard's inspirational leadership, became World Series champs again in 1948, coinciding with the last great year of the black baseball leagues. That year, following a.410 batting average the previous year, Leonard won his third batting title with a .395 average and tied for the league lead in home runs as well. Over a 17-year career in the Negro National League, his lifetime stats show a.341 average in league play and a .382 average in exhibition games against the major leagues. Buck Leonard died in 1997.

Reference:
The Negro Baseball Leagues: A Photographic History
By Phil Dixon with Patrick J. Hannigan
Copyright 1992, Jed Clauss and Joanna Paulsen
Ameron House Publishing
ISBN 0-88488-0425-2

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