Walter "Buck" Leonard
Position: First Baseman, 1933-1950
Height: 5' 10"
Weight: 190 lbs.
B/T: Left, Left
Born: 1907 in Rocky Mount, N.C.
Died: Nov. 27, 1997, Rocky Mount, N.C.
Hall Of Fame Induction: 1972
A superb first baseman, Leonard was a model of consistency, digging throws out of the dirt, seizing bunts, and showcased an accurate and powerful throwing arm. He was often compared to George Sisler because of his smooth style of play. "Buck Leonard was as smooth a first baseman as I ever saw," reported Eastern booking agent Eddie Gottlieb. "In those days, the first baseman on a team in the Negro Leagues often played the clown. They had a funny way of catching the ball so the fans would laugh, but Leonard was strictly baseball: a great glove, a hell of a hitter, and drove in runs." The rock-steady, dependable, quiet, easy going Leonard was named captain of the Homestead Grays team and served in that capacity until they folded in 1950.
Teaming with Josh Gibson, Vic Harris, Howard Easterling and Cool Papa Bell, Jud Wilson and others, the Grays won nine straight league championship from 1937 to 1945, with a repeat performance in 1948. In 1948, 40-years-old, and without the late Gibson batting behind him, pitchers still respected Leonard. He tied with teammate Luke Easter for the NNL home run crown with 42 and grabbed the batting title with a .395 average. He had also won a batting title in 1940 with a .383 average.
The 1948 edition of the Grays was Leonard's favorite team. They featured Easter, Sam Bankhead, Luis Marquez with Wilmer "Red" Fields as their ace. Leonard won his only batting title that season with a hefty .395 average. The Grays defeated an up and coming Birmingham Black Barons team who featured rookie Willie Mays, for a unprecedented third Negro World Series championship.
At the time of the Grays' demise, Leonard was earning a grand each month and two bucks a day for meal money. Quite a ways from his initial salary of $125 a month and 60 cents a day meal money, when signing in 1934. By 1948, Leonard claimed he was earning about $10,000 annually, including winter league ball. When he retired, it was reported that he was the third highest paid player in Negro League history behind Satchel Paige and Gibson.
While barnstorming with Leonard, Roy Campanella noted, "If Leonard batted fourth, behind Gibson, we could pitch around him and make him hit an outside pitch. He had a real quick bat, and you couldn't get a fastball by him. He was strictly a pull hitter with tremendous power."
Buck Leonard was one batter that pitchers feared the most. Stocky, chesty, with powerfully built arms and legs, plus big hands to navigate a piece of lumber through the strike zone in warp speed. Add to this a great love for baseball, a starving appetite to hit the white apple and a God-given talent to coordinate muscle mass, eye and mind into one powerful swing, and you have Buck Leonard at the plate.