SABR

Dave Leonhard

This article was written by Thomas Ayers.

Dave Leonhard had a mediocre high-school and college pitching career. He refused a scout’s first offer to sign him, then changed his mind and signed for a $9 bonus. From that humble start, he carved out a six-year career as a pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles.

David Paul Leonhard was born on January 22, 1941, in Arlington, Virginia. His mother, Marion Leonhard, was a civilian clerk for the Navy Department, and his father, Paul Leonhard, worked for the Social Security Administration. Neither knew much about baseball, Leonhard said in an interview, and he learned the game playing with friends and classmates and in Little League and American Legion baseball at various positions. As a youth Dave was nearsighted and when he batted he had difficulty picking up the trajectory of pitches. Once he realized he wasn’t much of a hitter, he concentrated on pitching and stayed at the position even after his vision problem was diagnosed.1

Leonhard had what he described as an undistinguished high-school pitching career. Afterward, he attended Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, where he played baseball and basketball, then transferred to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Sports aren’t an emphasis at the heavily postgraduate institute and it had produced only one alumnus who played major-league baseball, Otis “Old Gray Fox” Stocksdale, who had a four-year career in the 1890s. Leonhard pitched for the university’s baseball team and told teammate Jim Palmer that he didn’t pitch particularly well there and didn’t seriously entertain thoughts of a professional career.2 Leonhard graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1962. In his senior year, he won 3 games and lost 2.

A gift from his mother changed his life. “For Christmas in 1962 my mom gave me a pair of baseball shoes for a present,” Leonhard said. The shoes didn’t quite fit, so he went to exchange them at a sporting goods store in downtown Baltimore. There he ran into Walter Youse, a Baltimore Orioles scout who had seen him pitch the previous summer for Lady of Fatima, a church league team. Youse, who had coached an opposing team, was impressed with Leonhard and offered the 145-pound pitcher a contract on the spot.3

At the time Dave was teaching 11th grade history at Sparrows Point High School in Sparrows Point, Maryland, outside Baltimore. Believing that he was just a mediocre pitcher, Dave refused the offer. “I had a contract to teach through June and I didn’t want to leave,” he told the writer of a profile on him in a Johns Hopkins alumni magazine.4 Youse persisted and offered Leonhard $450 a month to play rookie ball after the school year. Leonhard accepted Youse’s offer, figuring it was a much better summer job than anything else he’d find, but said that he “had no intentions of being a professional ballplayer.” Meanwhile, since professional teams got a 30 percent discount at the store, Youse got Leonhard a $9 discount on the shoes. Leonhard joked, “My bonus amounted to the discount I got when I paid for the shoes.”5

Leonhard reported to Bluefield, West Virginia, in June 1963 as an atypical rookie-ball player. He was 22, and had married his high-school sweetheart, Judy, just after graduating from Johns Hopkins. Their romance had ended when they went away to college, but they reconnected at an alumni football game and rekindled their relationship. “Most of the ballplayers were just kids out of high school. … I was like an old man among them,” Leonhard recalled of his debut with the Appalachian League team. “Right away, I saw it wasn’t going to be a picnic. There were six- to seven-hour bus trips over bumpy mountain roads.”6 His apartment in Bluefield was small and cramped and he got just $3 a day in meal money.

But Leonhard quickly impressed, putting up an 0.82 earned-run average in 11 innings and was rapidly promoted to Appleton, Wisconsin, to play for Fox Cities in the Class A Midwest League. This was a full-season league and Leonhard immediately noticed a difference as “the kids there had been to spring training, and the caliber of play was better.”7 After two starts and one victory for Fox Cities, he spent a month with Aberdeen, South Dakota, of the Class A Northwest League, going 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA. That stretch included Leonhard’s most successful start in his minor-league career, a seven-inning no-hitter against Winnipeg on August 29.

Leonhard returned to Aberdeen the following season. Giving up just 135 hits in 181 innings and striking out 143 batters, he posted a 16-4 record with a 2.83 ERA. He led the Northern League in wins in 1964 and was second in complete games, third in strikeouts and fifth in ERA. In spring training that year, Dave met Jim Palmer, the future Hall of Famer, who became one of his best friends in baseball.

In 1965 Leonhard moved up to Double-A Elmira (Eastern League) and had another excellent season, finishing 20-5 and leading the league in victories and strikeouts (209). He was disappointed when he wasn’t promoted by the Orioles in September, believing his small frame and lack of outstanding stuff kept him down. Leonhard recalled, “I knew then that it wasn’t going to be easy to crack the big time.” Earl Weaver, Leonhard’s manager at Elmira and later with the Orioles, expressed the same sentiment: “Other young pitchers with great natural skills didn’t have to win like Dave did. Even with losing records, they’d get a longer look on account of having a fastball that really hummed. All Dave could do was to keep proving himself, keep winning.”8

Weaver believed in Leonhard’s talent and sometimes rode the Virginian hard, particularly when Dave grew discouraged or struggled with his concentration. Weaver recalled the time Leonhard lost to Pittsfield in the 13th inning by walking the pitcher and then hitting the next batter, Reggie Smith. Leonhard said Weaver was so exasperated with him that he began to cry. Weaver remembered that he “gave (Leonhard) hell for it” as “he had too much control for that.”9 After Weaver’s outburst Leonhard won 13 of his next 14 decisions. Despite Weaver’s fiery personality, Leonhard recalled that the manager knew “how and when to turn it on and off. He knew some guys would respond to screaming and others needed a pat on the back. That was what made him a success as a manager.”

Leonhard went to spring training in 1966 believing he had a chance to crack the Baltimore rotation. Instead, he wound up with a minor shoulder injury and followed Weaver to Rochester. The Vietnam War was on, and with the help of the Orioles, Leonhard, rather than wait to be drafted, joined the Air National Guard. The combination of the nagging shoulder injury and the stress of commuting to Baltimore for regular National Guard meetings led to an off-year, as Leonhard finished with 9 victories and 7 defeats and a 3.86 ERA in 30 games with Rochester.

Leonhard returned to Rochester in 1967 and pitched considerably better, finishing 15-3 with a 2.61 ERA. His minor-league record then stood at 66 wins and 21 losses. He was rewarded with a September promotion to the major leagues. On September 21 he made his major-league debut, starting against the Washington Senators before a sparse crowd of 1718 at D.C. Stadium. He allowed three runs, all on a home run by Bob Chance, in five innings, as the Senators defeated the Orioles in 11 innings. Manager Hank Bauer presumably saw something he liked as he tabbed the 26-year-old to start against Washington again four days later at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Leonhard fared better in this start, going 7⅓ innings and allowing two runs while striking out six, although he didn’t receive a decision as the Orioles won 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth. He made one more appearance that year, pitching the last two innings in a 4-0 shutout of the Cleveland Indians. He finished with a 3.14 ERA in 14⅓ innings.

While the 1967 season was a good step forward, Leonhard viewed the 1968 season as the one that would determine whether he had a future in the majors. In November he told a reporter, “Next year will be my last if I don’t make it.”10 He saw winter ball as an opportunity to improve his chances, so he played for Santurce in Puerto Rico during the off-season, the first of six seasons in which he would pitch winter ball. Leonhard said he gained more confidence from his performance that winter than he did from the two starts against the Senators, since “they weren’t much of a ballclub back then.”

Leonhard didn’t pitch well in spring training the following year and the Orioles sent him back to Rochester. He was upset, believing he had earned a chance to play in the majors. In the end the Orioles agreed to pay Dave half of the $5,000 bonus he had been promised if he spent 90 days on the big-league roster. As it turned out, Leonhard never made it to Rochester. After the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, Leonhard’s Maryland Air National Guard unit was called up for riot prevention patrol in Baltimore. He spent nine days on active duty.11
After he was deactivated, he spent a day, April 15, in Baltimore to pitch batting practice for the Orioles. That night Baltimore’s traveling secretary Phil Itzoe told Leonhard, “You’re coming with us to the West Coast.” Orioles pitcher Pete Richert had also been called up to his reserve unit in Washington and was still on duty. The Orioles wanted Leonhard as insurance during an eight-game road trip. Leonhard said, “I assumed I’d only stay until Richert got out.”12

Despite a rough start against the Angels (four runs in four innings), the Orioles kept Leonhard when Richert returned later in April. He solidified his place on the team with two great starts at home—a one-run, five-hit complete game against the Yankees and a one-hit shutout of the Tigers. He walked 13 men in the two outings, but with that pair of victories Leonhard began to feel as if he was a member of the Orioles team. “Before I won a game I just got sympathetic smiles from the players. … Little things indicate you don’t belong. Like card games. Nobody ever invited me to card games. Card games aren’t for transients. ….Now I’m in card games.”13

Leonhard took two losses in his next three starts, but on May 30 he got his second shutout, against the Chicago White Sox. Earl Weaver replaced the fired Hank Bauer in July and soon announced that Leonhard would be a regular in the pitching rotation. These plans were interrupted when Leonhard was recalled to the National Guard in late July. He pitched as a starter and reliever when he returned, finishing with a 7-7 record and a 3.13 ERA for his rookie season.

The coaches noticed that Leonhard had a lazy, short-arm delivery. He wasn’t using the top part of his body and coach Billy Hunter explained, “Davey …. doesn’t bring his arm way back and fire. It’s closer in to his body, which is against the principles of pitching. A pitcher of that sort tends to get sore arms, and doesn’t use the arm to full advantage. (Pitching coach) George Bamberger changed him a little.” Leonhard described his pitching style: “I had to get by on the life, not the speed, of the ball … on how that fastball wiggles. That and two other pitches that broke – a curve and a slider.”14

Dave got on well with most of his teammates, particularly Jim Palmer and Terry Crowley, as he liked joking around and having a good time. However, he noticed something about major-league players. “Ballplayers are a homogenous group. I don’t know why for sure. But as a rule, even if a guy is different, he soon gets molded. Either it happens unconsciously or, if he resists, he’ll be kidded to the point where he feels self-conscious.”15

The 1969 season was Leonhard’s most successful, and the one during which he saw the most consistent work. He pitched in Baltimore’s first two games of the season and picked up his first victory of the season in the second, with a scoreless 13th inning in a 2-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox. Dave also defeated the Red Sox in relief for his second victory, and picked up his third win with five innings of two-hit relief against the Oakland Athletics on May 23. Leonhard’s ability to do both short and long relief stints made him a valuable member of the bullpen.

Leonhard made his first start of the season on June 22, and shut out the Cleveland Indians on three hits. This effort was noteworthy because he was on weekend leave from his summer military training.16 On the 29th he got another victory with 6⅓ scoreless innings against Detroit, with six strikeouts, in relief of Tom Phoebus to improve his record to six victories and zero losses. He finished the year with a 7-4 record and a career-low 2.49 ERA in a career-high 37 appearances. He did not pitch in the American League Championship Series, in which the Orioles swept the Minnesota Twins, and appeared in one game in the World Series, which the Orioles lost to the New York Mets. He pitched two innings in Game Three, allowing one run on a home run by Ed Kranepool.

Leonhard often experienced teasing from his teammates about his education. “I try not to make anything out of [Johns] Hopkins,” he told the author of the Johns Hopkins Magazine article, “but the guys on the team like to kid me about it. They call me Professor or when I make a mistake – and I make my share of them – they ask, ‘Didn’t they teach you at Hopkins?’…The only time my educational background becomes a factor with the players is when somebody needs help with a crossword puzzle.”17

Leonhard reported to spring training in 1970 with a guaranteed place in the bullpen for the first time in his career. Though the season was a triumph for the Orioles – they won the World Series – it didn’t go well for Leonhard. He made 23 appearances, all in relief, and threw 28⅓ innings with a 5.08 ERA. Leonhard struggled with his control as he never had before, walking 18 batters, surrendering five home runs and throwing a career-high four wild pitches. He had no wins or losses and one save. “I was supposed to be the long man in relief. My job was to come in when McNally or Mike Cuellar got knocked out early. That never happened,” he explained.18 Leonhard did not appear in either the ALCS or the World Series. “I wasn’t looking to pitch; my confidence wasn’t high and I found it hard to get into a routine with those long stretches of inactivity,” he recalled.

Leonhard came to spring training in 1971 and was told he had to pitch his way onto the team, which he thought he accomplished with a 1.20 ERA in six spring appearances. When he was told he had been assigned to Rochester, he said that he would rather retire. “I can’t see it. … I want to force the team to trade me … or I want assurance that if I go to Rochester, I’ll be back in a month or so,” he told a Baltimore reporter.19

Leonhard soon changed his mind and joined Rochester. After winning seven games and losing four with seven complete games in 13 starts, he was called up to the Orioles on July 6. On July 10 he relieved Grant Jackson against Cleveland in the first inning with three runs in and finished the game, pitching 8⅓ innings of shutout relief in picking up the 11-3 victory. The only hit the Indians managed off Leonhard was a leadoff single by Chris Chambliss in the ninth inning. Weaver gave Leonhard his first start of the season on July 22 in Kansas City and his faith in the right-hander was rewarded as Leonhard threw a five-hit shutout, more than two years after his last major-league start.

Leonhard stuck with the Orioles as a long reliever and spot starter, pitching 54 innings and finishing with a 2-3 record and a 2.83 ERA. His strikeout rate, never high, fell to the lowest in his career as he struck out just 18 batters and he walked more than he struck out for the third season in a row. Leonhard didn’t pitch in ALCS against Oakland, but got into Game Five of the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, which the Orioles lost in seven games. He relieved Dave McNally in the fifth inning and pitched a scoreless inning.

After the Series the Orioles went on a tour of Japan, but Leonhard skipped it. He went back to Puerto Rico to play winter ball for the fifth time. It was a time of controversy for Leonhard, fueled by remarks he had made to Baltimore Sun sportswriter Phil Jackman the previous January. As it appeared in the Sun, the article, about his experiences playing in Puerto Rico, was comprehensive, but an excerpt published in Puerto Rico focused on negative things he said.20 The Spanish-language article was titled, “Leonhard Sees Island as Land of Dead Bugs, Lice and Roaches.”21 The excerpt focused on Leonhard’s recollections of the island’s problem with cockroaches, including a time that the team bus became roach-infested and some cockroaches literally carried his sandwich off the luggage rack.22 The excerpt also contained a reference to voodoo, but Leonhard explained that these were written in a joking manner and just included to add some humor to the article. During the season Leonhard received some angry mail from Puerto Ricans, and after the home opener in Puerto Rico he had to get a police escort home. “They booed me for about ten minutes,” he recalled. “They threw stuff at me in the bullpen. Their faces were contorted with hatred and I got kind of scared.”23 At another game, fans in the outfield stands unveiled a 30-foot-long sign that read, “Cucaracha Leonhard Go Home.” Cucaracha is Spanish for cockroach. Dave, who came to be known as Cucaracha Leonhard on the island, bought the sign from the fans during the game.24

It was eventually resolved when Leonhard and the Santurce team’s owner, Hiram Quevas, went to see the editor of the San Juan Star about the misunderstanding. They explained the confusion and the owner vouched for the fact that Leonhard was friendly with Puerto Ricans and had bought an apartment
on the island.25 Leonhard explained that he kept returning to the island for the love of the game and expressed his appreciation towards the fans, the island and his teammates. When Santurce manager Rubén Gómez also expressed his support for Leonhard, the situation seemed to be resolved.26 The events on the diamond, where Santurce wound up losing to Ponce in the national semifinals, seemed almost secondary that year.

The 1972 season was notable as Baltimore used only 11 pitchers all season, as Weaver depended principally on his four starters. Despite being on the roster all season, Leonhard appeared in only 14 games, in which Baltimore was 2-12, and pitched just 20 innings. He finished with no wins or losses, a 4.50 ERA, 12 walks, and seven strikeouts. Leonhard’s most effective appearance of the year was 3⅓ scoreless innings in relief of McNally in a 7-4 victory over Chicago on July 14. His final big-league appearance came on September 20 in Boston when he pitched two scoreless innings in a 9-1 loss.

That winter was also his last in Puerto Rico, where he finished with a career 26-21 record for Santurce with a 3.44 ERA in 406 innings pitched.27

Leonhard split 1973 between Rochester and the Salt Lake City Angels as, halfway through the season, he got his wish and was traded to California. Harry Dalton, who was familiar with Leonhard from Baltimore, acquired him for utility man Jim Hutto. Leonhard was never recalled by the Angels and was 6-6 with a 4.08 ERA in 15 appearances for Salt Lake City after going 3-1 with a 4.34 ERA in ten games for Rochester. He split 1974 between Salt Lake City and Wichita in the Chicago Cubs organization.

After the 1974 season, Leonhard was appointed as a pitching coach for the Québec Carnavals, the Expos’ affiliate in the Double-A Eastern League. In his two seasons there he found the time to throw 69 innings while tutoring Montreal’s prospects. Among Leonhard’s most famous pupils were Joe Kerrigan, who became a pitching coach himself; Shane Rawley, who won over 100 games in the majors; and Dan Schatzeder, who had a 15-year big-league career as a reliever. Dave also coached Gerald Hannahs, who, before pitching 71 innings in four major-league seasons, went 20-6 for Québec in 1976 to became the Eastern League’s first 20-game winner since Leonhard himself in 1965.

Leonhard said he “loved the life” of coaching, from the camaraderie to the active nature of the job. However, at that time coaches made very little money, even in the majors, and the job was insecure. He worried about how he was at the mercy of the front office with regard to events that didn’t necessarily reflect how well he was doing as a coach. He had offers to keep coaching, but decided after two years that he wanted more stable employment.

Dave’s marriage to Judy ended in divorce after a few years. During a road trip to Boston in the early 1970s he met Doris, who became his second wife. For a couple of years they ran a Christmas tree stand in the off-season in the Boston area. After he decided not to continue coaching he and Doris bought a flower shop in Beverly, Massachusetts, in May 1975 and turned it into a garden center. As of 2010 they owned seven greenhouses and sold flowers, shrubs, and various other garden supplies.28

Jim Palmer always said that Leonhard was his best friend during his big-league career.29 Decades after their careers ended, they still saw each other frequently. Leonhard was invited to speak at Jim Palmer Day in Baltimore in 1985. Known for a good sense of humor, Dave remarked, “It’s a grand event befitting a gentleman and a gentle man. But I don’t want to give you the idea he’s perfect because, number one, he introduced me to my wife, and number two, he introduced me to golf.”30

 

Notes

1 Dave Leonhard, interview with author, January 26, 2010.

2 Jim Palmer, and Jim Dale, Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine (Kansas City, Missouri: Andrews and McMeel, 1996), 36.

3 Phil Berger, “Hopkins’ Accidental Big Leaguer,” The Johns Hopkins Magazine, Volume XIX, Number 2 (Summer 1968), 16.

4 Berger, 16.

5 Lou Hatter, “Leonhard Chants New Lyrics to Old Oriole Song of Spring,” The Sporting News, March 17, 1963.

6 Berger, “Hopkins’ Accidental Big Leaguer,” 16.

7 Berger, “Hopkins’ Accidental Big Leaguer,” 18.

8 Berger, “Hopkins’ Accidental Big Leaguer,” 18.

9 Berger, “Hopkins’ Accidental Big Leaguer,” 18.

10 Doug Brown, “Orioles in ’68 or I Quit,’ Says Perpetual Prospect Leonhard,” The Sporting News, November 25, 1967.

11 Berger, “Hopkins’ Accidental Big Leaguer,” 20.

12 Doug Brown, “Mother-in-Law Punctures Leonhard’s Balloon,” The Sporting News, May 18, 1968, 20.

13 Berger, “Hopkins’ Accidental Big Leaguer,” 20.

14 Berger, “Hopkins’ Accidental Big Leaguer,” 18.

15 Berger, “Hopkins’ Accidental Big Leaguer,” 21.

16 Undated clipping in Leonhard’s file at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

17 Berger, “Hopkins’ Accidental Big Leaguer,” 21.

18 “Orioles ‘Fringe’ Pitcher Plugs Gap for Champs,” United Press International, May 24, 1971.

19 Phil Jackman, “Ticket Back to the Bushes Irks Dave Leonhard – He Balks,” The Sporting News, April 24, 1971.

20 Thomas E. Van Hyning, The Santurce Crabbers: Sixty Seasons of Puerto Rican Winter League Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1999), 119.

21 Dave Leonhard, interview by author, January 26, 2010.

22 Palmer and Dale, Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine, 37.

23 Van Hyning, The Santurce Crabbers, 119.

24 Dave Leonhard, interview.

25 Dave Leonhard, interview.

26 Van Hyning, The Santurce Crabbers, 119.

27 Van Hyning, Thomas E., and Eduardo Valero, Puerto Rico’s Winter League: A History of Major League Baseball’s Launching Pad (Jefferson. North Carolina: McFarland, 2004), 253.

28 Dave Leonhard, interview.

29 Palmer and Dale, Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine, 36.

30 Palmer and Dale, Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine, 166.

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