Maryland honors Day, star in Negro Leagues

May 19, 1992|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Leon Day says people are just discovering the legacy of the Negro Leagues.

And, in doing so, they're finding out more about Day, a man whom former teammate Clarence Israel once called "the most complete ballplayer I've ever seen."

Day, 75, a Baltimore resident, was honored at the State House yesterday by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who proclaimed yesterday as Leon Day Day in Maryland. The 20-minute ceremony included a number of questions from Schaefer about his guest's illustrious career in the Negro Leagues, as well as Day's tenure in the Puerto Rican Winter League and his 2 1/2 years in the Army.

As the ceremony drew to a close, Day gave Schaefer a replica Baltimore Elite Giants cap, a set of Negro Leagues baseball cards and an illustrated book of Negro Leagues legends.

"I loved it. I really loved it," said Day, who broke into professional baseball with the Baltimore Black Sox in 1934 and played for the Elite Giants in 1949. "It was an honor for the governor to ask me down here. I really appreciate it."

Wearing a pale-blue suit and a Newark Eagles cap, Day spoke of the differences in playing conditions and salary between the players of his era and today. He recalled coming down with soreness in his pitching arm in 1938 and regaining lost strength by holding two flat irons in his right hand and waving them in a circular motion alongside his body.

Spring training, he said, consisted mainly of a week's worth of running. He wasn't sure how many games he played during a given season, but added, "If it didn't rain, we played."

Few have played the game quite like Day, who grew up in Mount Winans. He appeared in a record seven Negro Leagues All-Star Games between 1935 and 1946, once striking out 14 batters in a game. In 1942, while pitching for Newark, he established a Negro Leagues record with 18 strikeouts.

Day also had a lifetime batting average of .300 and was versatile enough to play every position except catcher.

Still, he made his highest salary, $5,000, while pitching in Mexico in 1947 and never received more than $2 a day in meal money.

"You couldn't make enough money during the summer," he told Schaefer. "If you didn't go away in the winter, you had to get a job."

Though he has not been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Day has been honored by President Bush for Black History Month and by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who declared Jan. 31, 1992, as Leon Day's Day in Baltimore.

"You've deserved a lot of recognition," Schaefer told him yesterday, "and you're finally getting it."

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