Sunday, February 21, 2010
1. Leon Day
For my first card, I thought I'd start off with Leon Day. Back when I was a kid, my Grandfather would tell me stories about back in the late 30's seeing the Newark Bears and the Jersey City Giants, farm teams of the Yankees and Giants. He also told me about the Newark Eagles which was a negro team. A negro team? What the heck was that? He explained that before Jackie Robinson joined Brooklyn in 1947 blacks had their own leagues, the Newark Eagles being one of them. This piqued my interest and I searched in vain for any other mention of these mysterious black leagues, but this was back in the early 80's and information was scarce to say the least. Finally I stumbled across Robert Peterson's "Only The Ball Was White" and I got the story at last and a life-long interest in the Negro Leagues began. Fast forward to 1991 and I'm designing the graphics for Oriole Park at Camden yards in Baltimore. I get interviewed on local tv and I meet presenter Dr. Bob Hieronymus. Somehow or other we start talking about the Negro Leagues and find out we are both deeply interested in the subject. Dr. Bob introduced me to Leon Day, the great pitcher for the Eagles who lived in my neighborhood. I was fortunate enough to start up a friendship with Leon and I spent quite a few hours in his baseball room talking about his career and his contemporaries. Leon was a terribly modest man, never really bragging about how great a pitcher he had been back in the day. Getting him to talk about his career was tough, but he was quick to point out all the great players he shared the field with. Because of he and Dr. Bob I got to meet many of the living negro league players when they would get together for reunions. Leon would tell the other guys I was ok and not one of the scumbag baseball memorabilia dealers that would try to scam them out of their souvenirs. The stories I was privy to during these dinners were amazing! Thanks to Dr. Bob's efforts, Leon was finally given the honor he so deserved when the Baseball Hall of Fame opened it's doors to him in 1995. He learned about his enshrinement while lying in the hospital and died a day or so later. So it's only natural that card number 1 in the Infinite Baseball card Set belongs to my friend, the great Leon Day.
Leon Day had a screaming fastball and a sharp curve that made him one of the negro leagues most successful pitchers. He was a dangerous hitter as well as a fast base runner. Day was as complete a ballplayer as you’d want. He pitched from the stretch without winding up and he held the record for strikeouts in the Negro National League, Puerto Rican Winter League and the East-West All-Star Game. Day was the ace of the Newark Eagles staff from 1936 to 1943 and he went 13-0 in 1937, 16-7 in 1939, 6-0 in 1940, 3-0 in 1941 and 7-1 in 1942. He served in Europe with the Army and was an integeral part of the team that won the European championship in 1945. On opening day 1946 he pitched a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Stars and went 13-4 leading Newark to the World Series beating the Kansas City Monarchs. He played minor league ball in Canada until retiring in 1955 and he died in Baltimore in 1995.