"If I was managing and needed a hit, I'd pick Buck Leonard. Was he a great clutch hitter? Ha, ha! Great all-kinda-hitter!"
--Double Duty Radcliffe

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Negro Leaguer of the Month
February, 2005

Walter 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
Years: 1934-1953
Teams:Portsmouth Firefighters, Baltimore Stars, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Homestead Grays, Mexican League, , Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Minor Leagues

When 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.

"You couldn't shoot a fastball in a cannon past him," remarked Negro Leaguer Sherwood Brewer.

And 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.

In 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:
The 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), hitting 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.

Leonard, 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!

Leonard 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.

Buck 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.

In 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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