Many stories, some true and some slightly exaggerated, have been passed down through time about the great Negro League ballplayers. Stories telling of the speed of James “Cool Papa” Bell, the batting power of Josh Gibson, and the pitching antics of Satchel Paige have all become a part of Negro League baseball lore.
But Walter Fenner “Buck” Leonard, born September 8, 1907 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, did not have his exploits on the baseball diamond glorified through tales and myths. His place in Negro League baseball history was established by his baseball skills and his exemplary character displayed both on and off the field. Leonard had the respect of teammates, opponents, and everyone throughout the Negro Leagues during his entire career.
After first playing with the Brooklyn Royal Giants in 1933, the 5’10’’ 185 pound Leonard spent 16 years with the Homestead Grays. Many good players like “Cool Papa” Bell, Josh Gibson, Jud Wilson, Ray Brown, and others wore a Grays’ uniform at one time or another during those years. But it was Leonard, the team’s first baseman who was the constant presence.
He was an excellent fielder, but not flashy. The left handed slugger hit over 30 home runs many years and batted over .300 yearly. He and Gibson had a hitting tandem compared to the New York Yankees hitting pair during the 1920s of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig; Leonard drawing comparison to the latter. The Grays won ten Negro National League pennants, nine in a row from 1937 - 1945 and three Negro League World Series championships during his tenure with the team.
Buck Leonard was selected by fans 12 times to play in Negro League baseball’s yearly national showcase, the East-West All Star Game. In 44 plate appearances, he batted .272, hitting a home run in three of the games.
He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
Which team defeated Leonard and the Grays in the 1945 Negro League World Series?