Baltimore Sports History: Leon Day

February 29th, 2024 by The Professor

by Andrew Ciofalo, host of After The Whistle

In celebration of Black History Month this year, I’d like to look back at the history of Negro League Baseball in Baltimore and some of the stars that helped break the color barrier to the MLB alongside of Jackie Robinson.

It is sad to see the records of Negro League Baseball players who barely missed out on the chance to play in the Major Leagues. There were so many talented players who had the skill to play that were a year or two away from the MLB color barrier being broken.

Leon Day played in the Negro Leagues for 10 years and like many others, never got his chance to show the rest of the country his skill. Day was a pitcher that some say was as good as, if not better than, Satchel Paige in his prime. I covered Paige in last week’s column in case you missed it! Paige got all the attention while he was playing, partly because he wanted it. Day was a more soft-spoken player and not one to seek the limelight. His focus was on his play, at which he excelled.

Leon Day was born in 1916, just outside of Washington D.C. in Alexandria, Virginia. His family moved to South Baltimore when he was 1 year old, where he would stay until 1935. Growing up in Baltimore, he loved to get out to Maryland Baseball Park to see the hometown baseball team. The Baltimore Black Sox had Day’s interest as a little kid, and that’s where he eventually got his first shot playing professional baseball.

Day’s love of baseball was so strong that he dropped out of his high school because they did not field a team. At the age of 17 he left Fredrick Douglass High School to play semi-professional baseball with the Silver Moons. There, he would play second-base and pitch on rare occasions. His play would attract the attention of the Baltimore Black Sox’s manager, Rap Dixon, and Day’s professional career began. Unfortunately for Day his chance to play for the hometown team was short lived as the organization would fold after the 1934 season, he appeared in only 2 games.

The real kickstart to his career came in his second year when he and Rap Dixon joined the Brooklyn Eagles in 1935. In his first season with the Eagles, Day had a 9-2 record and received All-Star honors when he was only 18 years old. He would go on to have 9 All-Star Game Selections in his career.

To be one of the best, you have to face the best. Leon Day matched up against Satchel Paige 4 times in his career. Day got the best of Paige in 3 of those occasions. Day told the story of one of their games, the game was scoreless in the ninth inning and Day came up to bat against Paige and hit a homerun to give himself the win.

Day’s baseball career was put on hold during his time serving in World War II. He was drafted in 1943 and served in the 818th Amphibian Battalion. He was deployed to Utah Beach, 6 days after the Battle of Normandy in 1944. He was discharged in February of 1946, enough time for him to re-join the Eagles for the 1946 season. Leon Day pitched on Opening Day and threw a no-hitter in his first game back after 2 years in the military. That season, Day would have a 13-4 record in his final year on the Eagles, including pitching 2 games of the franchise’s only World Series win.

Day played in the Mexico League in 1947 and 1948 before coming back to Baltimore to play for the Elite Giants for his final season in the Negro Leagues. The Giants would win the Negro American League Eastern Division Pennant that year. After his Negro league playing career, he floated from a semi-professional league in Canada to a few Minor league teams but never made it to the Major Leagues after a long career of battling arm injuries.

Leon Day had always hoped to be put into the Hall of Fame. His hope was realized when he was in hospice care in 1995. He received the call that he would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame while on his death bed. He passed away 6 days later from heart failure at the age of 78.

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