Yes, I was dead wrong about Day, one of Negro Leagues' greats

BASEBALL

March 15, 1992|By JIM HENNEMAN

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Somebody said a long time ago that if you were in this business long enough, you'd eventually make every possible mistake.

I've now officially been in this business long enough. And if Leon Day thinks I've been in it too long, he's got a legitimate reason.

It seems that while culling information about Earl Weaver's possible nomination to the Hall of Fame and the nominees under consideration by the veterans committee, there was a serious case of miscommunication. It was mentioned that one problem the veterans committee has is the difficulty of nominating candidates while they are alive -- and that most of Weaver's competition would come from among the deceased.

Day, one of the great players from the Negro Leagues, and his friends were no doubt startled that he had been included in that group. Day is not only alive but also living in Baltimore, where he played for part of his career, first with the Black Sox and then with the Elite Giants.

What makes the issue doubly embarrassing is that as a `f youngster I probably saw Day play -- either at old Bugle Field, where Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and most of the major leagues' early black stars first appeared in Baltimore, or when he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the early 1950s, when I was a clubhouse boy for the International League Orioles.

An arm injury and service time during World War II, after which baseball's color line finally was broken, may have kept Day out of the big leagues. Primarily a pitcher, his bat kept him in the lineup as a second baseman and outfielder through most of his career.

Day, 75, broke in with the Black Sox in 1934, six months before he turned 18. In 1937, with the Newark Eagles, he compiled a 13-0 record and batted .320 -- but an arm injury sidelined him the following year.

In the winter of 1940-41, Day hit .330 in Cuba, and topped that the following year with a .351 average.

After three years in the Army, Day celebrated his return by pitching a no-hitter for Newark on Opening Day 1946. He was 9-4, with a .469 batting average that year.

He spent the next two years in Mexico, then closed out his Negro League career with the Elite Giants in 1949. His last year was 1952, when Day posted a 13-9 record and hit .314 for Scranton, a farm team of the Boston Red Sox.

Among Day's most notable accomplishments during his Negro League years were a record seven All-Star appearances, the Opening Day no-hitter in 1946 and beating the legendary Satchel Paige while pitching for Newark in 1942, right before he entered the Army.

The embarrassing case of mistaken identity reminded me of a similar misadventure years ago. The Sporting News, then considered infallible in baseball matters, had wrongly identified an ex-player as "the late John Doe."

When the player wrote to inform that he was, indeed, still alive, J.G. Taylor Spink, the colorful editor and owner of TSN, shot back this reply:

"We are well-aware that you are alive -- unfortunately so is the person who wrote that story."

Fortunately, my bosses, concerned as they were over the misinformation, were not quite as severe. In a phone conversation last week, Day graciously accepted my apology, for which I am grateful.

Now that I have made all of the possible mistakes, I trust this is one that will never be made again. And, hopefully, this resume of Leon Day's career will get more attention than his previous mention in this column.

*

Nellie gets another shot: The veterans committee will meet and vote on its Hall of Fame nominees Tuesday in Tampa, Fla.

The most interesting name on the ballot is that of Nellie Fox, who, in his final year of eligibility, missed by the slimmest of margins in the regular voting conducted by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

The veterans committee is allowed to elect no more than two to the Hall of Fame -- and no more than one from either the playing or non-playing categories. The latter includes all former Negro League players, which means Day and Weaver cannot be elected in the same year.

*

Hart act to follow: John Hart, former Orioles third-base coach who succeeded ex-Orioles general manager Hank Peters as Cleveland's president, has a timetable for the Indians. He figures their estimated time of arrival as American League contenders will be 1994 -- which will coincide with the opening of Cleveland's new stadium. Does that sound familiar?

The Indians have revamped their club with youth, but if there's one city that should have an identity crisis with its players, it should be Cleveland.

Consider this: The Indians have not had a batting champion since Bobby Avila (1954), a home run champion since Rocky Colavito (1959), a leader in hits since Dale Mitchell (1949), a leader in runs since Al Smith (1955), a leader in stolen bases since George Case (1946) or an MVP since Al Rosen (1953). On the pitching side, Gaylord Perry was the last to lead the league in wins and win a Cy Young Award (1972).

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