Walter Fenner "Buck" Leonard
Born: September 8, 1907, Rocky Mount
, North Carolina
Died: November 27, 1997, Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Buck Leonard was a star of the great Homestead Grays Negro League baseball teams of the 30s and 40s. Often called the "Black Lou Gehrig" for his power, excellent defense at first base, and tendency to play second fiddle to Josh Gibson, the Negro Leagues' answer to Babe Ruth. Won three batting titles and several home run titles over a 17-year Negro League career including 12 All-Star appearances and 10 Negro World Series championships.
Leonard never really intended to become a baseball player; he just played semi-pro ball to supplement his income. But when he lost his job in 1933, he left North Carolina in search of a job playing professional baseball. He signed with the Portsmouth, Va. Firefighters, and by the beginning of the 1934 season, after rising quickly through successively better leagues, ended up with the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League.
He played first base for the Grays for 17 years, and was universally well regarded in the baseball community. In the mid-40s, before Jackie Robinson integrated baseball, he and Gibson were reportedly approached by Clark Griffith, then owner of the Washington Senators of the American League, and asked to play major league baseball. They declined, and Leonard didn't get another chance until the end of the decade when Bill Veeck, owner of the St. Louis Browns asked Leonard to play. Leonard again declined, this time because he felt he was too old:
"I was not 'bitter' by
not being allowed to play in the major leagues. I just said, 'The time has not come.' I only wish I could have played in the big leagues when I was
young enough to show what I could do. When an offer was given me to join up, I was too old and I knew it."
After the Grays broke up in 1950, Leonard played several years in the Mexican Leagues and in 1953 played briefly in the minor leagues before retiring. He later would set up a minor league ballclub in his hometown of Rocky Mount, N. C., and served as vice president. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame with Josh Gibson in 1972.