Buck Leonard

Walter Fenner "Buck" Leonard (September 8, 1907 – November 27, 1997) was an American first baseman in Negro league baseball and in the Mexican League. After growing up in North Carolina, he played for the Homestead Grays between 1934 and 1950, batting fourth behind Josh Gibson for many years. The Grays teams of the 1930s and 1940s were considered some of the best teams in Negro league history.

Leonard never played in Major League Baseball (MLB); he declined a 1952 offer of an MLB contract because he felt he was too old. Late in life, Leonard worked as a physical education instructor and was the vice-president of a minor league baseball team. He and Gibson were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. In 1999, he was ranked number 47 on the 100 Greatest Baseball Players list by The Sporting News.

Buck Leonard
Buck Leonard
First baseman
Born: September 8, 1907
Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Died: November 27, 1997 (aged 90)
Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Batted: Left Threw: Left
Negro league baseball debut
1934Homestead Grays
Last appearance
1950Homestead Grays
Career statistics
Batting average.320
Slugging percentage.527
Negro leagues


Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Election MethodNegro Leagues Committee

Early life

Born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina,[1] Leonard's father worked as a railroad fireman while his mother was a homemaker who cared for the six Leonard children. Leonard's parents called him "Buddy", but his younger brother began mispronouncing it "Bucky". Family members began calling him "Buck", a name which stuck with him throughout his life.[2] When Leonard was about seven years old, he would sneak over to the baseball field of the local white team and watch games through the fence. Local police even once arrested Leonard and his friends when they were caught peeking through the fence at the segregated field.[3]

Leonard's father died when he was eleven and Leonard picked up jobs after school to help his family. There was no black high school in Rocky Mount, so Leonard finished the eighth grade and went to work shining shoes for a rail station.[4] He also worked in a hosiery mill and for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. He later earned a GED by correspondence. He began playing semiprofessional baseball while working for the railroad, then decided to pursue his living with the sport.[5]

Negro league career

He began his Negro league career in 1933 with the Brooklyn Royal Giants, then moved to the legendary Homestead Grays in 1934, the team he played for until his retirement in 1950. The Grays of the late 1930s through the mid-1940s are considered one of the greatest teams of any race ever assembled. The team won nine league pennants in a row during that time.[6]

Leonard batted fourth in their lineup behind Josh Gibson. He led the Negro leagues in batting average in 1948 with a mark of .395, and usually either led the league in home runs or finished second in homers to teammate Gibson. Since Gibson was known as the "Black Babe Ruth" and Leonard was a first baseman, Buck Leonard was inevitably called the "Black Lou Gehrig." Together, the pair was colloquially known as the "Thunder Twins" or "Dynamite Twins".[7] In fact, Negro league star Monte Irvin said that if Leonard had been allowed in the major leagues, baseball fans "might have called Lou Gehrig the white Buck Leonard. He was that good."[6] The Monarchs disbanded after 1950.[8]

Mexican League career

Beginning in 1951, Leonard went to the Mexican League. Teams played three games per week in this league, a pace that worked well for the aging player.[9] Leonard said that he got sick from the water every year that he returned to Mexico, but he otherwise enjoyed the league. For much of his time in Mexico, he was managed by Cuban baseball star Martín Dihigo. Leonard was impressed by Dihigo's baseball knowledge. In 1952, Leonard was offered a major league contract, but he believed that at age 45 he was too old and might embarrass himself and hurt the cause of integration. He stayed in Mexico through 1955, playing for teams in Torreón, Xalapa, Durango and Obregón.[10]

Later life

Buck Leonard HOF plaque in Cooperstown 2014
Baseball Hall of Fame induction plaque

After retiring as a player, Leonard worked as a truant officer, served as a physical education instructor and started a realty company. From 1962-1975, he was vice president of the Rocky Mount Leafs.[5] In the 1970s, the Leafs were a Class A Carolina League farm team for the Detroit Tigers.[11]

Leonard was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 along with Gibson. At his induction ceremony on August 7 of that year, Leonard said, "We in the Negro leagues felt like we were contributing something to baseball, too, when we were playing. We played with a round ball and we played with a round bat. And we wore baseball shoes and wore baseball uniforms and we thought we were making a contribution to baseball. We loved the game and we liked to play it. If we didn't, we wouldn't have played because there wasn't any money in it."[8]

Leonard was also inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1974.[5] He suffered a stroke in the 1980s.[5] In 1994, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was held in Pittsburgh, hometown of the Grays, and the 88-year-old Leonard was named an honorary captain. He appeared wearing a model of a Grays uniform. Shortly before his death in 1997, Leonard was the subject of a North Carolina General Assembly proclamation recognizing his contributions to baseball. His death late that year stemmed from complications of his earlier stroke.[5]


In 1999, he ranked Number 47 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, one of five players so honored who played all or most of their careers in the Negro leagues, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

Leonard's contemporaries, including catcher Roy Campanella and pitcher Dave Barnhill, cited his quick bat as one of his greatest strengths. "You could put a fastball in a shotgun and you couldn't shoot it by him," Barnhill said.[6] Negro league pitcher Leon Day said that he would have rather pitched against Gibson than Leonard.[6] Grays owner Cumberland Posey described Leonard as one of the most talented clutch hitters in the Negro leagues.[6]

He was named to the Washington Nationals Ring of Honor for his "significant contribution to the game of baseball in Washington, D.C" as part of the Homestead Grays on August 10, 2010.

Career statistics

Negro leagues

The first official statistics for the Negro leagues were compiled as part of a statistical study sponsored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and supervised by Larry Lester and Dick Clark; a research team collected statistics from thousands of boxscores of league-sanctioned games.[12] The first results from this study were the statistics for Negro league Hall of Famers elected prior to 2006, which were published in Shades of Glory by Lawrence D. Hogan. These statistics include the official Negro league statistics for Buck Leonard.

1934 Homestead 20 79 16 28 4 0 5 14 0 3 .354 .595
1935 Homestead 36 147 26 50 10 1 3 10 3 15 .340 .483
1936 Homestead 17 62 15 15 1 1 2 3 1 12 .242 .387
1937 Homestead p 28 105 39 39 8 1 7 17 1 20 .371 .667
1938 Homestead p 27 99 21 33 0 0 3 8 0 11 .333 .424
1939 Homestead 22 72 23 30 5 0 5 23 2 17 .417 .694
1940 Homestead p 44 152 40 60 12 3 8 44 4 32 .395 .671
1941 Homestead p 36 123 40 36 4 5 8 29 6 30 .293 .602
1942 Homestead p 26 87 10 18 3 0 0 10 1 14 .207 .241
1943 Homestead c 55 200 55 59 11 7 4 41 2 38 .295 .480
1944 Homestead c 34 121 30 34 8 5 5 27 1 18 .281 .554
1945 Homestead p 16 59 7 17 1 2 0 7 0 7 .288 .373
1946 Homestead 30 102 18 27 3 1 3 26 3 24 .265 .402
1947 Homestead 11 30 7 16 0 0 4 8 1 8 .533 .933
1948 Homestead c 10 34 5 9 3 0 3 8 0 8 .265 .618
Total 15 seasons 412 1472 352 471 73 26 60 275 25 257 .320 .527
   p = pennant; c = pennant and Negro World Series championship.


Mexican League

1951 Torreón 83 273 64 88 19 1 14 64 5 87 .322 .553
1952 Torreón 86 295 50 96 15 1 8 71 12 90 .325 .464
1953 Torreón 58 190 39 63 20 2 5 38 4 58 .332 .537
Total 3 seasons 227 758 153 247 54 4 27 173 21 235 .326 .515


Minor League Baseball


  1. ^ "Leonard Buck | Baseball Hall of fame". Hall of Famers. National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
  2. ^ Payment, p. 13.
  3. ^ Payment, p. 15.
  4. ^ Payment, p. 18.
  5. ^ a b c d e Whirty, Ryan (July 21, 2012). "Baseball star Buck Leonard still remembered in Rocky Mount". The News & Observer. Archived from the original on January 28, 2015. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d e Riley, James (2012). Of Monarchs and Black Barons: Essays on Baseball's Negro Leagues. McFarland & Company. pp. 129–132. ISBN 0786491302. Retrieved January 24, 2015.
  7. ^ Payment, p. 40.
  8. ^ a b Lew Freedman (2007). African American Pioneers of Baseball: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-313-33851-9. Retrieved January 24, 2015.
  9. ^ Payment, pp. 82-83.
  10. ^ Lew Freedman (2010). Latino Baseball Legends: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-313-37867-6. Retrieved January 24, 2015.
  11. ^ "Three blacks enshrined in halls of fame for baseball and football". Jet. February 24, 1972. p. 56. Retrieved January 24, 2015.
  12. ^ Hogan, p. 381.
  13. ^ Hogan, pp. 392–93.
  14. ^ Clark and Lester, p. 165.
  15. ^ Treto Cisneros, p. 176.


  • Clark, Dick; Lester, Larry (1994), The Negro Leagues Book, Cleveland, Ohio: Society for American Baseball Research
  • Hogan, Lawrence D. (2006), Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball, Washington DC: National Geographic, pp. 392–93, ISBN 0-7922-5306-X
  • Treto Cisneros, Pedro (2002), The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics, 1937–2001, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, ISBN 0-7864-1378-6
  • Payment, Simone (2002), Buck Leonard, New York, New York: The Rosen Publishing Group Inc., ISBN 0-8239-3473-X

External links

1942 Negro World Series

The 1942 Negro World Series was a best-of-seven match-up between the Negro American League champion Kansas City Monarchs and the Negro National League champion Washington-Homestead Grays. In a six-game series, the Monarchs swept the Grays four games to none, with two additional games not counted in the standings. The Monarchs actually won the 1942 series 5-1, but a second game played in Yankee Stadium on September 13 (a seven-inning victory by the Monarchs) was not counted by prior agreement, and the only game played in Kansas City was thrown out on appeal when the Grays used unauthorized players from other NNL teams.

It was the first World Series between eastern and western Negro Leagues champions since 1927, resuming after a 14-year lapse since the collapse of the Eastern Colored League had ended the previous post-season meetings. The series featured seven members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, three from the Monarchs (Satchel Paige, Hilton Smith, and Willard Brown) and four from the Grays (Josh Gibson, Jud Wilson, Ray Brown, and Buck Leonard). One additional Hall of Famer, Leon Day, played in one of the games that was not counted, Monarchs legend Bullet Rogan umpired in that same game.

The Monarchs and Grays had met during the regular season in two exhibition games, in which the Grays had twice defeated Monarch ace Satchel Paige in extra innings. Some of the pre-Series publicity had concentrated on whether Paige would be seeking revenge for his losses or whether the Grays truly held a "jinx" over him and would continue to dominate him. Paige pitched in all four official games and earned one victory and one save.

This was the Grays' first appearance ever in the Negro World Series, though this was their third consecutive NNL pennant, and fifth in six seasons. They would appear in the next three CWS, winning in 1943 and '44. It was the third appearance by the Monarchs (going back to 1924) in the CWS, their second championship, and their fifth NAL pennant in six seasons. They would appear one more time, losing to the Newark Eagles in 1946.

1943 Negro World Series

In the 1943 Negro World Series, the Washington Homestead Grays, champions of the Negro National League beat the Birmingham Black Barons, champions of the Negro American League, four games to three, with one tie. The games were played in seven different cities.

1944 Negro World Series

In the 1944 Negro World Series, the Washington Homestead Grays, champions of the Negro National League were matched against the Birmingham Black Barons, champions of the Negro American League, for the second year in a row. The Grays won the series again, four games to one.

1972 Baseball Hall of Fame balloting

Elections to the Baseball Hall of Fame for 1972 followed the system established one year earlier.

The Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) voted by mail to select from recent major league players and

elected three: Yogi Berra, Sandy Koufax, and Early Wynn.

The Veterans Committee met in closed sessions to consider executives, managers, umpires, and earlier major league players.

It also selected three people: Lefty Gomez, Will Harridge, and Ross Youngs.

The Negro Leagues Committee met for the second time and selected Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard.

1972 Major League Baseball season

The 1972 Major League Baseball season was the first to have games cancelled by a player strike. It was also the last season in which American League pitchers would hit for themselves on a regular basis; the designated hitter rule would go into effect the following season.

1972 in baseball

The following are the baseball events of the year 1972 throughout the world.

Ben Taylor (Negro leagues)

Benjamin Harrison Taylor (July 1, 1888 – January 24, 1953) was an American first baseman and manager in baseball's Negro leagues. Taylor played for the Birmingham Giants, Chicago American Giants, Indianapolis ABC's, St. Louis Giants, Bacharach Giants, Washington Potomacs, Harrisburg Giants, and Baltimore Black Sox. His playing career played lasted from 1908 to 1929. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

California Winter League

California Winter League is a former baseball winter league. It was the first integrated league in the 20th century as players from Major League Baseball and Negro League Baseball played each other in training games. The league was in existence from the turn of the 20th century to 1947.

East–West All-Star Game

The East–West All-Star Game was an annual all-star game for Negro league baseball players. The game was the brainchild of Gus Greenlee, owner of the Pittsburgh Crawfords. In 1933 he decided to match the Major League Baseball All-Star Game with Negro league players. Newspaper balloting was set up to allow the fans to choose the starting lineups for that first game, a tradition that continued through the series' end in 1962. Unlike the white All-Star game which is played near the middle of the season, the Negro All-Star game was held toward the end of the season.

Because league structures were shaky during the Great Depression and also because certain teams (notably the Kansas City Monarchs and the Homestead Grays) sometimes played entirely independent of the leagues, votes were not counted by league, but by geographical location. Hence, the games were known as the East-West All-Star Games. Votes were tallied by two of the major African-American weekly newspapers of the day, the Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier.

Fleming Stadium

Fleming Stadium is a sports stadium in Wilson, North Carolina. It is primarily used for baseball and is the home of the Wilson Tobs of the Coastal Plain League. It opened in 1939 and has a capacity of 3,000 people.

The grounds are also home to the North Carolina Baseball Museum. It also has bricks with names of the donors right in front of the museum.

The stadium has been used by teams in several different minor leagues over the decades, including the Class D Coastal Plain League, the Bi-State League, and the Carolina League. The Carolina Mudcats used the ballpark as their temporary home in 1991, before opening Five County Stadium at Zebulon in mid-season.

George Scales

George Louis Scales (August 16, 1900 - April 15, 1976), nicknamed "Tubby", was an American second baseman and manager in Negro league baseball, most notably with the New York Lincoln Giants and Baltimore Elite Giants. Born in Talladega, Alabama, he batted .321 over a 25-year career during which he played several positions. He also managed for twelve seasons in the Puerto Rican winter league, winning six pennants, and led the Caribbean World Series champions in 1951.

Buck Leonard claimed that George Scales was the best curveball hitter he ever saw.At age 52, Scales received votes listing him on the 1952 Pittsburgh Courier player-voted poll of the Negro Leagues' best players ever.After retiring from baseball in 1958, he became a stockbroker. He died at age 75 in Compton, California.

Homestead Grays

The Homestead Grays (also known as Washington Grays or Washington Homestead Grays) were a professional baseball team that played in the Negro leagues in the United States.

The team was formed in 1912 by Cumberland Posey, and remained in continuous operation for 38 seasons. The team was originally based in Homestead, Pennsylvania, adjacent to Pittsburgh. By the 1920s, with increasing popularity in the Pittsburgh region, the team retained the name "Homestead" but crossed the Monongahela River to play all home games in Pittsburgh, at the Pittsburgh Pirates' home Forbes Field and the Pittsburgh Crawfords' home Greenlee Field.

From 1940 until 1942, the Grays played half of their home games in Washington, D.C., while remaining in Pittsburgh for all other home stands. As attendance at their games in the nation's capital grew, by 1943, the Grays were playing more than two-thirds of their home games in Washington.

John B. Leonard

John Buck Leonard (1864 - 1945) was a pioneering bridge engineer and architect, early advocate for reinforced concrete, working mainly in northern California.

Legacy Awards (NLBM)

The Legacy Awards are presented annually by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) to the best players, managers, and executives in each league of Major League Baseball, for on- and off-the-field achievement. The awards—for performance and achievement—are named for legendary players of Negro Leagues Baseball. The awards were first presented for the 2000 Major League Baseball season.The first Legacy Awards—in 2000—were presented in November at the "Legacy 2000 Players’ Reunion and Awards Banquet", which was organized to honor the tenth anniversary of the opening of the museum and the eightieth anniversary of the establishment of the Negro National League. For the next nine years (2001–2009), each year's awards were presented at a banquet in January or February of the following year. In 2010, there was no banquet. Instead, the awards were presented at separate events at the museum and in various major-league ballparks through the spring of 2011. The twelfth annual awards (for 2011) were presented at an awards banquet on January 28, 2012.In January, 2013 Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick announced that the 2013 awards banquet would be the final one held. All further awards will be presented to the 2010 awards, at various MLB ballparks or if the award winner happens to be in Kansas City with his team to play against the Royals. The logistics of off-season travel were the primary reason cited by Kendrick for the permanent change. Indeed, of all those honored for their 2012 season only the Padres Everth Cabrera, traveling from his off-season home in Nicaragua, was able to make it to Kansas City for the January 12th banquet and presentation. Previously, the proceeds from the Legacy Awards annual banquet were used for the benefit of the museum.

Lick Carlisle

Matthew "Lick" Carlisle (born February 5, 1910 - November 18, 1972) was an American professional baseball infielder who played in the Negro leagues. He spent the majority of his career with the Homestead Grays.

Carlisle was born in Wenonah, Alabama; as an adult, he worked as a coal miner. In 1931, he played as the starting shortstop for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro leagues, batting .268 for his rookie season. The following year, Carlisle signed with the Montgomery Gray Sox, and had stints with teams active in Memphis and New Orleans in 1934.In 1935, Carlisle signed with the Homestead Grays, situated as the team's starting second baseman. Hitting .379 on the season, he was nonetheless better known for his defensive capabilities on the field and as a legitimate base stealing threat on the basepaths. Oftentimes, Carlisle hit second in the line-up, in front of teammates Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard. His struggles in 1938, however, after posting just a .139 batting average (BA), precipitated the loss of Carlisle's starting role to Sammy Bankhead in 1939.A year later, Carlisle was reinserted as a starter, batting .278. With the Grays, he won the 1943 Negro World Series but went 0-for-9 during the series. Carlisle spent the remainder of his baseball career as a utility man before retiring in 1946.Carlisle died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1972; he was 62 years old.

List of Negro league baseball players

This list comprises players who have appeared in Negro league baseball.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) is a privately funded museum dedicated to preserving the history of Negro league baseball in America. It was founded in 1990 in Kansas City, Missouri, in the historic 18th & Vine District, the hub of African-American cultural activity in Kansas City during the first half of the 20th century. The NLBM shares its building with the American Jazz Museum.

Ray Brown (Negro leagues pitcher)

Raymond Brown (February 23, 1908 – February 8, 1965) was an American right-handed pitcher in Negro league baseball, almost exclusively for the Homestead Grays. Brown was most notable for many pitching accomplishments. While he was considered a very good pinch hitter and a solid bat, his arm earned him high praise. In February 2006, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Satchel Paige

Leroy Robert "Satchel" Paige (July 7, 1906 – June 8, 1982) was an American Negro league baseball and Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher who is notable for his longevity in the game, and for attracting record crowds wherever he pitched.

Paige was a right-handed pitcher, and at age 42 in 1948, was the oldest major league rookie while playing for the Cleveland Indians. He played with the St. Louis Browns until age 47, and represented them in the All-Star Game in 1952 and 1953.

He was the first player who had played in the Negro leagues to pitch in the World Series, in 1948, and was the first electee of the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in 1971.Paige first played for the semi-professional Mobile Tigers from 1924 to 1926. He began his professional baseball career in 1926 with the Chattanooga Black Lookouts of the Negro Southern League and became one of the most famous and successful players from the Negro leagues. While his outstanding control as a pitcher first got him noticed, it was his infectious, cocky, enthusiastic personality and his love for the game that made him a star. On town tours across the United States, Paige would sometimes have his infielders sit down behind him and then routinely strike out the side. He played his last professional game on June 21, 1966, for the Peninsula Grays of the Carolina League.

Veterans Committee
Negro League Committee
J. G. Taylor Spink Award
First basemen
Second basemen
Third basemen
Designated hitters
Executives /

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