With Black History Month upon us, MLB Tonight is featuring prominent players from the Negro Leagues. Wednesday's spotlight falls on Buck Leonard, who was arguably one of the best first basemen in Negro League history.
Leonard was a slick fielder and left-handed-hitting slugger who often drew comparisons to Yankees great Lou Gehrig. Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, gives Leonard the edge because of his defensive prowess.
"He had the total package," Kendrick said about Leonard. "He was such a cerebral ballplayer who had great physical tools. He utilized those tools for many years."
According to Negro Leagues historian James A. Riley, Leonard averaged 34 home runs during an eight-year stretch.
Leonard played his entire Negro Leagues career with the Homestead Grays. Led by Leonard and Josh Gibson, the Grays won nine consecutive championships during the late 1930s and early '40s.
Leonard's talent on the diamond didn't go unnoticed by the Major Leagues. According to Riley, Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith had interest in signing Leonard and Gibson. Baseball integration didn't come until 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Dodgers.
Leonard went on to play professional baseball until age 48. His last season was in 1955 for Durango in the Central Mexican League. He hit .312 with 13 home runs. Leonard was rewarded for his 23 years of service on the diamond in 1972, when the Veterans Committee elected him into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He died in 1997 at age 90.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.