Position: Pitcher; Outfielder; Second Baseman
Teams: Baltimore Black Sox; Brooklyn Eagles; Newark Eagles, 1934-1949
By the time Leon Day finally received the news that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame, he was confined to a hospital bed with diabetes, gout, and a heart condition. Just one week later, he died. So, even though he lived to hear the tidings, Day could not enjoy them to the extent he would have wished. He even said so. “It’s too bad they waited so long,” he said. “They could have done it when I could have enjoyed it more.”
If Leon Day had been born in a different
time, he might not have had to wait
so long for recognition.
Thus, one final time, Day’s timing had been imperfect. First, he was a black baseball player in an era when organized baseball employed a color barrier. By the time the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson smashed that line in 1947, Day’s career in the Negro Leagues was almost finished.
As a result, Day scarcely enjoyed the exposure that went to his white contemporaries, and it was left up to the Veterans Committee -- more than four decades after his retirement -- to bestow the honor he so deserved.
Day (1916-1995) was born in Alexandria, Virginia, and grew to a physical stature that was average at best. His talent, however, was so abundant that he was able to play three positions in pro ball. A right-handed arm and bat, he was primarily a pitcher, using a no-windup style that he developed at second base.
He owned the basic pitches: fastball, breaking ball, and changeup. He also owned a pitcher’s heart, wanting the ball in a big game. When he was not pitching, he played second base and the outfield.
Day broke in with the Baltimore Black Sox in 1934, but he spent most of his career with the Newark Eagles. His best year came in 1937, when he went 13-0 with a .320 batting average. Among his other feats, Day served a stint in the Army (where he pitched in exhibitions), and he also played ball in Mexico. Day made seven appearances in Negro League All-Star games.
While in the Army in Germany, he beat Cincinnati standout Ewell Blackwell in an exhibition game. He once pitched a no-hitter on Opening Day. On another occasion, he struck out 19 men in a game. In head-to-head competition against the legendary Satchel Paige, he won three out of four decisions.However, Day did not display the flamboyant personality that Paige did. He proceeded about his business in his own way, and that was enough for those who saw him. Fellow Hall of Famer Monte Irvin compared Day to Bob Gibson on the mound and Willie Mays in the outfield. Buck O’Neil called him a “great ballplayer.” Larry Doby, Day’s teammate on the Newark Eagles, called him one of the best pitchers in the Negro Leagues.
As black players slowly began to make their way into the major leagues, the Negro Leagues started to dissolve, and Day’s career wound down as well. By that time, he had shown enough of what it takes to be a Hall of Famer.
Here are Leon Day's Negro League totals*:
*Note: Day's career statistics are incomplete.
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