Thursday, July 12, 2012

Batting after Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard

I'm more stats-oriented, but I'll confess that I get all smarmy from overblown pieces about topics like baseball as metaphor for the national consciousness and whatnot. The works of A. Bartlett Giamatti come to mind. While that's a topic for another day, it's an appropriate segue into the topic at hand, the Negro Leagues and their legacy. For all of the fanfare surrounding #40, for all of the beautiful things written about the game, there should be broader public celebration of the Leagues themselves as well as of the men who played in them.

With regard to baseball cards, it appears that A&G has dropped Negro Leaguers as their subjects, which is more than a little sad for a set that includes everything from stands of dead presidents' hair to frisbee-catching dogs. As much as we tell ourselves that the hobby can play a part in educating young people about diverse topics, including the game, I'd like to think the Negro Leagues would have an important place in that set.

In the absence of 2012 cards, I went looking for cards from the past.
From the 1992 Front Row set, this Buck Leonard auto is one of my more prized cards. He's a Carolina boy (although from NC, not SC), whom Bill James ranked as the 65th greatest player of all time. He batted behind Josh Gibson on the immortal Homestead Grays teams, and is considered by many to be Lou Gehrig's peer, with Gehrig being the better batter and Leonard the superior fielder. 

From the NLBPA:

Buck Leonard was one batter that pitchers feared the most. Stocky, chesty, with powerfully built arms and legs, plus big hands to navigate a piece of lumber through the strike zone in warp speed. Add to this a great love for baseball, a starving appetite to hit the white apple and a God-given talent to coordinate muscle mass, eye and mind into one powerful swing, and you have Buck Leonard at the plate.

He was one of a number of Negro League stars for whom integration came too late. As quoted in his SABR bio, Leonard said

 “I was not bitter by not being allowed to play in the major leagues. I just said, ‘The time has not come.’ I only wish I could have played in the big leagues when I was young enough to show what I could do. When an offer was given to me to join up, I was too old and I knew it.”

From BR bullpen, this quote from Dodgers scout Elwood Parsons:

"I was talking about Robinson, Campy and Newk making it with Brookyln. I'll never forget Buck's eyes filling with tears when he said, 'But it's too late for me'." -- Elwood Parsons, Dodgers scout

There's a certain, almost tragic commitment to excellence there, as most report that Leonard declined to play in the big leagues because he knew he was past his prime and did not want to embarrass himself. It should also be stated that, although integration began in 1947, it would be awhile before African-American ballplayers would truly be integrated into the game. 

Leonard is a HOFer, and one of the true greats of the game by any measure.

As with the autos of most Negro League Stars, you can get Buck Leonard's auto's for relatively cheap.

This set above including the auto and COA, were less than a discount blaster at Wal-Mart. Franken cuts will cost you more, but given the state of the card companies at the moment I'm not sure what would make them preferable or more reliable.

Have a good one everybody and goodnight Pumpsie Green, wherever you are!

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