Leon Day, Newark Eagles
Leon Day (October 30, 1916 – March 13, 1995) was an American professional baseball pitcher who spent the majority of his career in the Negro leagues. Recognized as one of the most versatile athletes in the league during his prime, Day could play every position, with the exception of catcher, and often was the starting second baseman or center fielder when he was not on the mound. A right-handed pitcher with a trademark no wind-up delivery, Day excelled at striking batters out, especially with his high-speed fastball. At the same time, he was an above-average contact hitter, which, combined with his effectiveness as a baserunner and his tenacious fielding, helped cement Day as one of the most dynamic players of the era.
Debuting in the Negro leagues in 1934, Day played with the Baltimore Black Sox, Newark Eagles, and Baltimore Elite Giants during his career. In 1937, Day had the best season of his career as a member of the Eagles, finishing with a perfect record of 13–0 and a batting average over .300. Day also played Puerto Rican winter ball in the offseasons. He holds both the Negro and Puerto Rican league records for strikeouts in a game, and appeared in the most East–West All-Star Games.
Because of his soft-spoken demeanor, Day’s accomplishments were not immediately recognized as opposed to other elite pitchers of the league like Satchel Paige. Nonetheless, Day is considered one of the best pitchers of the Negro leagues, equaling and sometimes surpassing the abilities of his rivals. In 1995, Day was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, just six days before his death at 78 years old.
From Baseball in Wartime:
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 Mount Winanas 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 Blackwell, Harry Walker, Johnny 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.