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Birth:
30 Oct 1916 1
Death:
13 Mar 1995 1
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Full Name:
Leon Day 1
Birth:
30 Oct 1916 1
Death:
13 Mar 1995 1
Residence:
Last Residence: Baltimore, MD 1
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Social Security:
Last Payment: Baltimore, MD 1
Social Security Number: ***-**-8183 1

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Arguably the best pitcher in baseball's Negro Leagues in the 1930s and early 1940s, Leon Day notched one of the top percentages of games ever won in the history of baseball, whether segregated or integrated. Pitching for the Newark Eagles and several other clubs, he appeared in seven Negro League All-Star Games, once struck out 18 batters in one game, and emerged the winner in three of four head-to-head pitching duels with the famed pitcher and quipster Leroy "Satchel" Paige. "Leon was as good as Satchel Paige, as good as any pitcher who ever lived," Baseball Hall of Fame member Monte Irvin told the New York Times, after Paige's death in 1995. "But he never made any noise. Leon was never the promoter Satch was."

The fifth of six children, Day was born in Alexandria, Virginia, on October 30, 1916; his father, Ellis, worked in a glass factory. The family moved to the Mt. Winans neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland, when Day was a baby. As a child he climbed fences to see the games of the local Negro League team, the Baltimore Black Sox, and played with local semi-pro teams on Sundays after church. Family members recalled that the usually quiet youngster would become highly animated when he talked about becoming a baseball player, and when he was 17 he dropped out of Baltimore's Douglass High School to join the Black Sox.

Joined Brooklyn Eagles

After his mother's death in 1934, Day left Baltimore to join the Brooklyn Eagles for a salary of $50 a month. He stayed with the Eagles through their move to Newark, New Jersey, in 1936, and remained until the early 1940s. His fastball, delivered in a unique sidearm motion without a windup, quickly began to terrorize Negro League batters, and he was a strong hitter and bunter, as well as an effective outfielder or second baseman, on days when he did not pitch. Day notched a 9-2 record in a 50-game season in 1935, appearing in his first Negro League All-Star Game that year, and in 1937 he went undefeated with a 13-0 record and had a batting average of .320.

Day's win totals reflected only a part of his accomplishment, for black baseball teams of the day played many games beyond the official league schedule. Though Negro League baseball was well-loved among white Americans, its players were miserably compensated. "A lot of times we didn't have a hotel or a rooming house so we just slept on the bus," Day told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We weren't eating right, and my corns would be killing my feet," he added in conversation with the Washington Post. "The only time I got rubbed down was by myself. You had to love it to go through it." Day had another banner year in 1942, when he struck out 18 players on July 23 and beat Paige 4-1 while pitching for the Washington Homestead Grays in the Negro League World Series.

In 1942 and 1943 the Pittsburgh Courier ranked Day ahead of Paige as the league's top pitcher, but Day's career was sidelined in 1944 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Day was part of a unit that landed on the Normandy coast of France six days after D-Day. "I was scared as hell," Day told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I'll never forget June 12. I lost a lot of good friends." Toward the end of the war, Day pitched in two integrated servicemen's games in Nuremberg, Germany, and Marseilles, France, besting white major-leaguers in front of huge crowds. He was discharged from the army in February of 1946 and worried that he had lost his touch as a pitcher. But he threw a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Stars on the first day of the 1946 season.

Played in Latin America

That year, though he struggled with a persistent injury to his pitching arm, he notched a 13-4 record and started two games in the Negro World Series, in which the Eagles beat the Kansas City Monarchs. He batted an impressive .469 in 1946 as well. The next year he followed other top players, both black and white, who left U.S. leagues for more financially rewarding Latin American baseball diamonds. Playing in Mexico in 1947, Day made his all-time best salary of $5,000. He played winters in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela as well, once notching 19 strikeouts in a game in the Puerto Rico Winter League. During several seasons he played baseball for nearly 12 months of the year.

Day returned to the Newark Eagles in 1949 in the wake of Jackie Robinson's courageous initial season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and by that time the color line in the major leagues was well on its way to breaking down completely. Robinson and other players had extended feelers to Day in 1946 about signing with the Dodgers, but he was already under contract to the Newark team, and a loss in his first outing in the 1946 series directed the attention of major league scouts elsewhere. But in 1951, clearly in the twilight of his career, Day was signed to Toronto, Canada's team in the International League, one step below the major leagues. He had a 1-1 record that year, with an earned-run-average of 1.58.

After playing for several more years in Canada and with the Scranton, Pennsylvania, farm team of the Boston Red Sox, Day retired in 1955. His winning percentage has been estimated at .698 and .708--Negro League statistics were often sketchy, but either figure would place Day ahead of any other pitcher in baseball's Hall of Fame. Day returned home to Baltimore, got married, and worked as a bartender, security guard, and a janitor at a Holiday Inn. His characteristic modesty showed in his relationship with his wife Geraldine, from whom he hid his illustrious background. "I think we were living together two years before I found out he played," she told the Buffalo News. "I think I heard him talking on the phone and that's how I found out."

Radio Host Championed Hall Induction

Day emerged into the limelight occasionally in his later years, appearing on radio's Larry King Show and visiting the White House twice (he met President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore). He exemplified two linked problems: the destitute economic state of many former Negro League players, and the underrepresentation of Negro Leaguers in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Baltimore talk show host Bob Hieronimus was aware that Day had developed cancer, diabetes, and heart and kidney problems, along with their high medical costs, and he began to drum up support for Day's induction into the Hall of Fame, knowing that the former player would immediately begin to reap lucrative rewards from baseball card shows and other celebrity appearances after his induction.

For several years in the early 1990s, however, Day was passed over, and his condition worsened. "He'd say, 'I know what they're waiting for,'" his sister Ida Mae Bolden told the New York Daily News. "'They're waiting for me to die, but I ain't going nowhere.'" On March 7, 1995, Day was finally voted into the Hall. The elated ballplayer made plans to attend the induction ceremonies in Cooperstown the following July. "It's too bad they waited so long, God almighty," Day told the Chicago Sun-Times. "They could have done it when I could have enjoyed it more." He died in Baltimore on March 13, 1995, six days after being named to the Hall of Fame.

Awards

Selected: Played in seven Negro League All-Star Games, 1935-42; inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame, 1995.

Remembering Their Game

Birth date: Oct. 30, 1016 
Current home: Baltimore 
Occupation: Retired bartender 
Playing career: Baltimore Black Sox, 1934; Brooklyn Eagles, 1935; Newark Eagles, 1936-43, 1946, 1949; Scranton Miners, Eastern League, 1952; Canada, 1949-55: Winnipeg Buffaloes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Eskimos, Winnipeg Goldeyes 
Position: Righthanded pitcher

"The best thing about playing in the big league parks was the showers. Really great showers, lot of water pressure. And they always had plenty of soap and towels. Sometimes we would see no water for a long time after a game. If we were staying in a private home, three of us would sometimes have to take a bath using the same water. But the big league parks, now they were special. There'd be soap all over. We'd load up, stuff it everywhere. I remember the Dodgers used Lifebuoy. And the managers would give us socks, those real nice white kind to play in. A lot of the major leaguers wouldn't wear them if they'd been worn before, so they'd just give them to us. Everything helped in those days. I started at $60 a month but probably saw only $40 the first few months I was there. Getting paid was tough. But once I got more established, I got paid regular.

"The toughest team to pitch to was the Homestead Grays. They had Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard, and some days I should have just stayed home. You couldn't walk them both. You had to get one of them out.

"In 1946, Opening Day against the Philadelphia Stars, I threw a no-hitter. I didn't realize it, though, until the last out, when everyone came running out of the dugout. I said, 'What? What?' We celebrated good into that night. I threw quite a few one-hitters after that. In 1942 against the Baltimore Elite Giants, their leadoff got a single, and it was the only hit they got. Had 18 strikeouts that game. Had 19 in a game in Puerto Rico once. That was sure fun to me. Heck, I would have played for nothing."

Leon Day WWII

Leon Day was born on October 30, 1916 in Alexandria, Virginia. The Day family moved to Baltimore in 1917 when he was 6 months old. His father worked in the segregated community of Westport and the family lived on Pierpont Street in MountWinanas in a house that had no electricity or running water.

After two years at Frederick Douglass High School, Day left to play semi-pro baseball with the Silver Moons. At 17, he joined the Baltimore Black Sox, but financial troubles soon caused the team to disband and he joined the Brooklyn Eagles. In his first season with the Eagles, Day was 9-2 and hurled a one-hitter.

 

The Eagles relocated to Newark in 1936, and the following season he compiled a perfect 13-0 record while batting .320. Day had established himself as a star of the Negro Leagues as well as turning in outstanding performances in Mexico and Puerto Rico.

 

The 1942 East-West all-star game played in Chicago was a classic showdown between Satchel Paige and Leon Day. Both pitchers entered the game in the seventh inning with the score tied at 3-3. Day struck out five of the first seven batters he faced and held the West team scoreless while Paige allowed three runs to take the loss.

 

In 1943, Day was 4-5 and batted .304 for the second from last-placed Eagles. It was his last season in professional baseball for three years. The Army drafted 26-year-old Day on September 1, 1943. He served with the 818th Amphibian Battalion in Europe and was at Utah Beach on D-Day.

 

When the war in Europe ended, Day was in France along with fellow Negro Leaguers Johnny Hayes, Max Manning, Charlie Parks and Willard Brown. Day and Brown were both selected to play with the integrated OISE All-Stars baseball team run by Phillies’ pitcher Sam Nahem.

 

The All-Stars – on paper a mismatch of minor league, Negro league and semi-pro players – breezed through the opposition and reached the ETO World Series championship finals where they faced the formidable 71st Infantry Division representing the Third Army. The 71st Infantry line-up featured Ewell BlackwellHarry WalkerJohnny Wyrostek and Maurice Van Robays.

 

Before a crowd of 50,000 at Nuremberg Stadium in Germany, undoubtedly the biggest crowd to see a baseball game in Europe during WWII, Ewell Blackwell of the 71st easily defeated Bob Keane of the OISE All-Stars, 9-2.

 

But Game Two, with Leon Day on the mound was a different story. Day allowed just four hits and struck out ten to lead the All-Stars to a 2-1 victory and even the series at one game apiece.

 

The All-Stars clinched Game Three by a score of 2 to 1 with Sam Nahem on the mound and Day came back to pitch Game Four. This time, however, he was not as successful, beaten by the 71st, 5-0.

 

Nevertheless, the All-Stars clinched the series in the final game on September 8. Sam Nahem and Bob Keane combined for the 2-1 win.

 

OISE All-Stars - ETO Champions 1945 (Leon Day is front row, far right)

 

Day was discharged in February 1946 and returned in style to the Newark Eagles in May. He hurled an opening day 2-0 no-hitter against the Philadelphia Stars. Day faced only 29 hitters and struck out six. “Day dazzled the Stars with his speedball,” wrote the Baltimore Afro-American on May 11, 1946, “allowing only three to reach first base, one on a walk and two on errors by teammates.”

 

He finished the season with a 14-4 record, and led the league in strikeouts, innings pitched, and shutouts, as the Eagles cruised to the Negro National League title. Unfortunately, Day came up with a sore arm towards the end of the season. With the Polo Grounds full of major league scouts, the 30-year-old was ineffective in his only World Series appearance against the Kansas City Monarchs.

 

In 1947, the year Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League baseball, Day played for the Mexico City Red Devils of the Mexican League. He was 10-11 on the mound and batted .359. He was back with the Red Devils in 1948 and posted an 8-9 record and 4.34 ERA. He continued to play in the Mexican League in 1948 but returned to the Negro National League in 1949 to help the Baltimore Elite Giants win the pennant.

 

Day went to Canada to play for the semi-pro Winnipeg Buffaloes of the Man-Dak League in 1950. Then, in 1951, aged 34 and well past his prime, he entered organized baseball, pitching for Toronto of the International League. He also pitched for Scranton of the Eastern League in 1952 and compiled a 13-9 record and 3.41 ERA.

 

Day returned to Canada in 1953 to play for the Brandon Greys in the Man-Dak League. He ended his career with the Greys in 1955.

 

"People don't know what a great pitcher Leon Day was,” says Monte Irvin. “He was as good or better than Bob Gibson. He was a better fielder, a better hitter, could run like a deer. When he pitched against Satchel, Satchel didn't have an edge. You thought Don Newcombe could pitch. You should have seen Day! One of the best complete athletes I've ever seen."

 

On March 7, 1995, the Veteran's Committee elected Leon Day to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was the 12th Negro League star elected. Leon Day had been admitted to St Agnes Hospital in Baltimore with a heart condition a few days earlier and died on March 14, aged 78.

 

“It is rare that you find an individual with talent, ambition and humility,” declared the Honorable Kweisi Mfume in the House of Representatives on March 15, 1995. “But those are just some of the defining and wonderful qualities of Leon Day, one of Baltimore's true heroes.”

 

In 2001, Day’s widow, Geraldine Day, founded the Leon Day Foundation in Baltimore, Maryland, to assist at-risk youth by providing opportunities for them to participate in organized sports

 

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