Position: First Baseman
Teams: Baltimore Stars; Brooklyn Royal Giants; Homestead Grays, 1933-1950
Buck Leonard was a left-handed power-hitting first baseman who was often compared to Lou Gehrig. Buck was a key ingredient to the domination of the Homestead Grays in the 1930s.
Walter Fenner Leonard (1907-1997) was born to a railroad fireman in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Buck also worked on the railroad until the Depression forced him out of a job. He played semi-pro baseball with clubs in North Carolina and Virginia until 1933, when the Baltimore Stars signed him. He traveled with the team until it ran out of money in New York and disbanded.
Buck Leonard was nearly 40 by the time the color line was finally dissolved.
Stuck in New York, he found a spot with the Brooklyn Royal Giants for the rest of the season. He dropped by a bar owned by Joe Williams, a retired player who had starred on Cumberland Posey’s Homestead Grays. Williams now had his eye open for talent, because the Grays had been all but wiped out by player raids and retirement.Leonard had a tryout, and he signed to play first base for the Grays. The team began to regain respectability, and when Josh Gibson came aboard in 1937, the Grays caught fire, winning nine consecutive flags. But when Gibson jumped ship to play in Mexico in 1940, it was Leonard who carried the club, hitting .392 in 1941 to lead the Negro National League. He had already won a pair of home run titles in his long career and at age 41 won another batting title, hitting .395.
Buck was fairly well paid for his services. The Homestead Grays were based both in Pittsburgh and Washington, playing games in Forbes Field when the Pirates were out of town and in Griffith Stadium when the Senators were on the road. Since the Grays were able to fill both stadiums, they were able to pay their stars more than other Negro League teams.
The lure of Mexican baseball was also a boon to Leonard. The Grays were forced to match the salary that he was being offered to play south of the border, and he was able to command over $1,000 per month in 1942, and even more later -- good amounts for the Negro Leagues. He stayed with the Homestead Grays for his entire career instead of jumping to other teams as other Negro League stars had done.
Buck played in Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela in the winter, and he also barnstormed with Satchel Paige’s All-Stars. He played in Mexico in the early 1950s after he retired from the Grays. In 1972, Leonard was selected for the Hall of Fame.
Here are Buck Leonard's Negro League totals*:
|BA||G||AB ||H||2B ||3B ||HR ||SB |
| .324||382||1,587||514|| 85||33 ||71||10 |
*Note: Leonard's career statistics are incomplete.
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