Leaguer of the Month
Fennar "Buck" Leonard
Born: September 8, 1907 in Rocky Mount, NC
Died: November 27, 1997 in Rocky Mount, NC
Ht:5'-11", Wt: 200
Batted left and threw left
Position: first base
Teams:Portsmouth Firefighters, Baltimore Stars, Brooklyn Royal
Giants, Homestead Grays, Mexican League, , Cuba, Puerto Rico,
Venezuela, Minor Leagues
I interviewed Negro Leaguers and asked them who the best hitters
they ever saw were, four names came up more than all others: Ted
Williams, Josh Gibson, Hank Aaron and Buck Leonard. Like the other
three, Leonard hit for average and power, usually batting about
.350 in his prime, with 40+ homers. Though he didn't have the
tape-measure power of Gibson or Mickey Mantle, Leonard most certainly
hit the ball as hard, and was very hard to strike out.
couldn't shoot a fastball in a cannon past him," remarked
Negro Leaguer Sherwood Brewer.
in the clutch? Maybe the best in Negro League history!
Leonard started his baseball career on the sandlots of Rocky Mount,
North Carolina, and worked full-time in a railroad shop while
playing semipro ball for his hometown.
1933, Leonard was recruited by old-time star Ben Taylor to play
with the Brooklyn Royal Giants, once a top team, but by '33 just
a strong semipro club. Taylor, who was considered the top-fielding
first baseman of his day, passed along his tricks of the trade
to his recruit. The next season, at the advanced rookie age of
26, Leonard joined the Homestead Grays and would stay with them
until they folded almost 20 years later.
Leonard and Josh Gibson, batting third and fourth in the Grays'
lineup for a decade, were the Negro League's version of Lou Gehrig
and Babe Ruth, and the Grays' lineup, which also included Sam
Bankhead, Cool Papa Bell, Howard Easterling, Jud Wilson and Vic
Harris was considered the Negro Leagues' murderers row. Note:
Grays won nine consecutive Negro National League pennants in the
1930s and 40s.
Leonard practically owns the East-West All-Star game record
book, playing in the most games (13), scoring the most runs (9),
the most homers (3), most RBIs (14), most total bases (27), even
the most stolen bases in a single East-West game (2). He also
ranks second in East-West at bats (48), and walks (7).
Leonard's homers, in 1937 against Ted Trent, in 1941 against Double
Duty Radcliffe, and in 1943 against Theolic Smith are some of
the biggest moments in black all-star history.
Besides being an outstanding hitter, Leonard was as slick a fielder
as ever played the position in the Negro Leagues. Though it's
hard to compare anyone to the great Lou Gehrig, Leonard was most
certainly a superior fielder, and came darn close as a slugger.
like Gehrig, was quiet and humble, and preferred to stay away
from the limelight. As a result, he was very popular with teammates
and the press. One reporter, Wendell Smith, raved about Leonard's
hitting, fielding, and the fact that after baseball he hoped to
become a mortician in his hometown!
played minor league ball for a few seasons after the Negro Leagues
faltered, the last with Durango of the Central Mexican League
in 1955 when he batted .312 with 13 homers in 62 games.
Leonard was given a high school diploma from Rocky Mount High
School in 1959, at age 52, as there were no high schools in
Rocky Mount for African-Americans
in the 1920s when Leonard was high school age.
1972, Leonard was elected to the Hall of Fame, along with Josh
Gibson. Leonard passed away at age 90 in 1997 in his favorite
town: Rocky Mount!
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