October 30, 1916 - March 13, 1995
Born in Alexandria, Va., on October 30, 1916, Leon Day was the second youngest of six children. The family came to Baltimore shortly after his birth. His father, Ellis Day, got a job at a glass factory in Westport. Day grew up in Mount Winans in Southwest Baltimore along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks.
Day grew up in a house on Pierpont Street with no electricity and no running water. Day would regulary make the long walk from Mount Winans to Maryland Baseball Park in Westport so he could watch the Baltimore Black Sox, a Negro League baseball team.
Day began playing with the the local men's team, the Mount Winans Athletic Club, between the ages of 12 and 13. Day, against his mother's wishes, left Douglass High School after two years because the school did not have a baseball team. He joined a semi-pro team called the Silver Moons. Midway through that summer, former Black Sox star Rap Dixon asked Day to join his professional team in 1934, which played out of Chester, Pa.
The team ran on a shoe-string budget and folded after a year. Day was lucky to get $2 or $3 a week out of a promised $60 per month.
Dixon went on to play for the Brooklyn Eagles and took Day with him. In 1936, the Eagles moved to Newark under new ownership. Day began getting paid regularly and began sending money home every week. He spent his winters playing baseball in Puerto Rico.
In 1942, Day's homecoming to Baltimore was a successful one. In a night game against the Baltimore Elite Giants, he struck out 18 batters, which historians regard as the Negro National League record. Day pitched against Satchel Paige in the Negro Leagues All-Star East-West Game, defeating Paige 5-2. In 1943, Day landed in Normandy after being drafted by the U.S Army. He fought the white supremacy of Nazi Germany in a segregated army. Day was a pitcher with his army unit after the war and played against General George Patton's Third Army team for the European theater of operations baseball championship. The two teams played in a Nuremburg stadium before a crowd of 100,000. The Third Army team included a few white major leaguers. Day pitched a four-hitter and defeated the major leaguers 2-1.
Day returned to the United States in 1946 and played for the Newark Eagles, pitching a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Stars. He pitched in 22 games and batted .385. That year, Day injured his arm at the end of the season. Nevertheless, the Eagles defeated the Kansas City Monarchs for the Negro Leagues championship. Between 1947 and 1948, Day spent his time playing in Mexico. In 1949, however, he returned to the United States and joined the Baltimore Elite Giants, who won the championship that year. Day played a few more years in Mexico and Canada, and was elected into the Negro League Hall of Fame in 1971. In 1970, he returned to Baltimore as a security guard for a transfer company, retiring in 1979. Day married Geraldine Ingram in 1980.
Day was nominated into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on March 7, 1995. He was in the hospital at time of the election. "I'm ready to get up out of this bed," said Day, who suffered from diabetes, gout and a bad heart. "This has been on the back of my mind for a long time." Leon Day died on March 13, 1995.
His plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame reads:
NEGRO LEAGUES 1934-1949
USED DECEPTIVE, NO-WIND UP, SHORT-ARM DELIVERY
TO COMPILE IMPRESSIVE SINGLE-SEASON AND
CAREER STATISTICS DURING 10 YEARS IN NEGRO
LEAGUES. ALSO PLAYED BALL IN PUERTO RICO,
CUBA, VENEZUELA, MEXICO AND CANADA. SET NEGRO
NATIONAL LEAGUE RECORD IN 1942 WITH 18 STRIKEOUTS
IN GAME. HURLED NO-HITTER ON OPENING DAY 1946
FOR NEWARK EAGLES VS. PHILADELPHIA STARS. PITCHED
IN RECORD 7 NEGRO LEAGUE ALL-STAR GAMES
In 1995, a section of Camden Street was named Leon Day Way and in 2000, Leon Day Park opened in the Rosemont/Franklintown neighborhood in West Baltimore.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum:
National Baseball Hall of Fame:
--Paul McCardellCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times