Leon Day



"Leon Day was probably the finest all-around player I've ever seen. He was a good pitcher, had the heart of a lion and a real good fastball. He threw as hard as Bob Gibson, he was a good hitter, he could outrun me and played a great outfield."
--Hall of Famer Monte Irvin
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Negro Leaguer of the Month
May, 2005

Leon Day

Born: October 30, 1916 in Alexandria, Virginia
Died: March 13, 1995, in Baltimore, Maryland
Ht:5'-9", Wt: 165
Batted right and threw right
Position: pitcher
Years: 1934-1954
Teams: Baltimore Black Sox, Brooklyn Eagles, Newark Eagles, Winnipeg Buffaloes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela.

Leon Day, along with Hilton Smith, was probably the top right-handed pitcher in the Negro Leagues in the late 1930s and 1940s, and, like Smith, could do so much more.

Besides being a flame-throwing strikeout artist, Day was an excellent second baseman and outfielder, had great speed afoot, and was a fine hitter.

Day grew up in Baltimore, and quit high school to sign with the Baltimore Black Sox, a Negro League team on the decline. The next season, 1935, Day made the big time at age 18 when he was signed by Candy Jim Taylor to pitch for the Brooklyn Eagles. The Eagles boasted such stars as Double Duty Radcliffe, Ed Stone and Rap Dixon. Radcliffe took a liking to the young Day, and tutored him on the finer points of pitching, including an effective pick-off move.

Day was good enough to make the East's squad in the East-West All-Star game, pitching 4 innings, allowing 4 runs on 6 hits and striking out 3.

Despite the poor showing in his first All-Star game, Day's lifetime East-West totals are some of the most impressive in history. In 9 East-West tilts, Day won his only decision, struck out 23 batters in 21-1/3 innings, and had an ERA less than 1! Day is the all-time East-West leader in innings pitched, career strikeouts and strikeouts in one game (5, achieved twice).

In 1936, the Eagles moved to Newark, and Day would flourish. In 1937, Day would boast a perfect league record of 13-0.

Over the next decade, Day would win nearly 75% of his decisions, and would average nearly 10 strikeouts per game using his well-stocked personal budget of pitching, including a great fastball, a sharp-breaking curve ball, and straight change.

On July 23, 1942, Day struck out 18 Baltimore Elite Giants to set a Negro National League record, and he broke the 20 strikeout plateau in several non-league games.

Day spent two of his prime ball playing years in the army during World War II, but picked up where he left off by throwing an no-hitter against the Philadelphia Stars on opening day of 1946, finishing with a 13-4 league record. Day would lead a talented Eagles' squad, including Monte Irvin and Larry Doby, to the Negro National League pennants, and a World Series championship in seven games over the Kansas City Monarchs.

In game seven, Day may have save the game and series when, while playing centerfield, he robbed Buck O'Neil of his second home run of the game and preserved a 3-2 win.

Day was 30 years old when Jackie Robinson broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers in '47, and he thought he still had enough to make a Major League squad. When no offers came in, Day ventured north to Canada in 1950 to play with the Winnipeg Buffaloes of the Manitoba-Dakota League.

In '50, Day batted .324 with 14 RBIs and went 4-2 on the mound and in '51 he was batting .250 and was 3-1 on the mound when he was signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League, a step from the Majors. He went 1-1 on the mound and batted .259 with Toronto and never received real consideration for a Major League job.

In 1952, Day played with Scranton of the Class A Eastern League where he went 13-9 with a 3.41 ERA and a .314 batting average, and in 1953, Day played with Edmonton in the Western International League and posted a 5-5 record.

After retiring from baseball, Day held several jobs, including a stint as a bartender at a bar owned by ex-Newark Eagle teammate Lennie Pearson.

Day was elected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY in 1995, the same year he died.

*Some information regarding the Man-Dak League from "The Mandak League," by Barry Swanton. East-West information from "Black Baseball's National Showcase," by Larry Lester, and some stats from "The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues," by James A. Riley.

 


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