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I was there with Judy. He is ready as always, just as he is shown on that indoor field in Kansas City, to scoop up any grounder hit his way. Jonah Winter, Fair Ball! Baseball Hall of Fame library archives.

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Katzman and Soulsman, Wilmington News-Journal. Negro Leagues Baseball Museum wall display. Frederic Kelly, Sun, February 1, Holway, Josh and Satch, Holway, Hall of Fame file interview.

Jack Lang, Sporting News, March 1, Holway, John, Josh and Satch. Westport, CT: Meckler Publishing, A left-handed hitter, Leonard was a feared batter in any lineup during his playing days with the Baltimore Stars, but mainly the Homestead Grays, between and Leonard batted. His hair was limited to the sides of his head and it had turned white. He wore a mustache that was thick in the middle and thin on the edges. Of all the great Negro Leagues ballplayers, Leonard was one of the luckiest who did not make it into the majors, for he was remembered and revered anyway, his feats admired and rewarded.

His long toil in anonymity was appreciated by enough long-lived eyewitnesses who made a public case for him when it mattered most. Paige and Gibson are considered to be of legendary caliber. One is the greatest pitcher in Negro Leagues lore, the other the greatest hitter. If so, Leonard may be characterized as the greatest Negro Leagues supporting actor of all time.

Gehrig earned his own slot in the Hall of Fame. If Leonard was overshadowed by Gibson, no one doubted their dual prowess as a one-two punch for the perennial pennant-winning Homestead Grays of the s and s. The team won nine flags in a row with the twosome working together. Between , when he broke into the lineup, and , when he retired from Negro Leagues play, while Gibson provided the power, Leonard provided the high average, hitting. Leonard batted third in the order and Gibson batted cleanup. Illustrating how those in the know realized his stardom, Leonard was also a record twelve-time Negro Leagues All Star in the East-West game.

When the Major Leagues began integrating in , Leonard was already forty years old and realistically assessed that no white club would seriously pursue him. Leonard was the son of a railroad fireman named John Leonard and one of six children born to his mother Emma. When he was very young, Leonard shined shoes at the nearby railroad station. Leonard was eleven when his father died of influenza and he went to work fulltime.

When he was seventeen, he was working at the railroad shop and obtained a free ticket for much of the ride to Washington, D. He traveled alone, and sat alone in Griffith Stadium, studying the form of the tremendous Yankees star. While holding down a full-time railroad job, Leonard played semipro ball. It was not until he was nearly twenty-seven that he hooked on with the Grays.

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The late start cost Leonard in terms of statistical accomplishment, but is hard to quantify. He had a good glove, as well. I remember him as a nice, quiet man who would ride the bus or sit in the hotel lobby working crossword puzzles rather than going to the night spots. Buck Leonard was unique.


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He was probably the most studious man in the Negro Leagues, and all the young ballplayers would come and talk to him. He was a player-manager in North Carolina and was twenty-five before he had to wonder about a steady source of income coming from anywhere else. This topic became more urgent when Leonard married in He remained with his wife Sarah until she died in Leonard already had a first-rate reputation as a man who could handle himself on a ball field when he broke into the top league.

He linked up with independent teams first, one a bunch called the Portsmouth Firefighters that already included his brother Charlie on the roster pitching, and then the Baltimore Stars. The players cannot afford their hotel bill and their cars are confiscated to be auctioned off and cover the debt. Leonard lived through just such an event.

He said the Stars were staying in a New York hotel when they heard a commotion through the windows. It was an auction peddling their cars. The Baltimore team disbanded and a little later Leonard found a new team with a bit more stability. Homestead gave him a tryout nevertheless and despite his not being six feet tall, decided to keep him.

Leonard was fortunate to have a job during the Depression. Players received 60 cents a day for meal money. A haircut was 15 cents, a shave 10 cents. After his sojourn with the defunct Baltimore Stars, he signed on with another independent team, the Brooklyn Royals. One night, drinking in a bar near the park where the team practiced, Leonard bumped into Smokey Joe Williams.

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Williams, one of the top hurlers of the day, told Leonard he was wasting himself. But Leonard was serious about his hitting prowess. He hit prolifically in Mexico until he was forty-eight. He was a smooth swinger, not a free swinger, a hitter who was disciplined at the plate and could hit a ball where intended. By then he was about eighty.

It hit an elevated train track on the fly. And he came near to hitting one out of Yankee Stadium. But the longest home run I ever saw him hit was in Monessen, Pennsylvania, a little town outside Pittsburgh.

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It went over the center field fence, over the top of a schoolhouse, feet. The mayor of the town measured it. He stopped the game and had it measured. The answer, of course, had everything to do with their race and the exclusion of the Leonards and Gibsons from the majors.


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It has long been known that Negro Leagues stats were incomplete. Baseball researchers and historians are haunted by the gaps. Gibson briefly established himself with the Pittsburgh Crawfords, but the Crawfords and Grays engaged in a bidding war for his talents and he landed with the Grays in Especially when he was young, Gibson was also a good clubhouse companion. He was a fun fellow. He always wanted to have some fun, and he was always saying funny things. Everybody liked him. Nobody disliked him. He never did fight anybody, molest anybody, never did ride the umpire.

Just seemed to be a nice fellow. Although Leonard was not a youthful rookie, he had never faced a thrower like Paige and when he played against him for the first time with the Grays, the masterful Satch had his number. Paige was a magician on the mound, mixing speeds in his tosses, but even more confounding for the batter, switching delivery motions and windups.