Overshadowed by his more famous big brother Gene DeMontreville during most of his career, Leon was thought by many to have as much talent as his sibling. Early in his career, Chicago Cub manager Frank Selee predicted that, with more experience, Leon would turn out to be a better player than Gene.1 However, Gene played 11 years in the majors, while Leon’s big-league career amounted to just a half-season with the 1903 St. Louis Cardinals. The brothers were both middle infielders and rather small (Leon was 5’7” and weighed 140 pounds during his playing days). They shared other traits. Both were prone to eccentric behavior and each was supremely self-confident — bordering at times on arrogance.
Leon (often shortened to “Lee” during his baseball career) DeMontreville was born on September 23, 1874 in Washington County, Minnesota, which is east of Minneapolis/St. Paul on the Wisconsin border. His father, Clarence, was of French ancestry and was born in New York. His mother, Mary, was also from New York. Leon was the second-youngest of nine children. He had three brothers (Clarence Jr., Walter, and Eugene) and five sisters (Irene, Eva, Edna, Esther, and Inez). By the time of the 1880 U.S. Census, when Leon would have been around six years old, his family had moved to St. Paul.
The elder DeMontreville, a Civil War veteran, was a pioneering dentist in the area and helped form the first dental organization in Minnesota. He owned property on Lake Emma (since renamed Lake DeMontreville), a popular resort area in Oakdale Township in Washington County.2 The site now includes the DeMontreville Jesuit Priest Retreat House.
Few records from the 1890 U.S. Census remain, but sometime prior to that year, when Leon was a teenager, the family moved to Washington, D. C. Leon’s name appeared in Washington city directories in 1890, 1891, 1892, and 1894, working as a clerk. His father died in 1892, so he may have been forced to find work to help support his widowed mother and siblings. Gene began his major-league career for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1894. Leon honed his skills by working out with his brother’s major-league teammates when Gene joined the Washington Senators the following year.
One report suggested that Leon played with Peoria, Illinois, in the Western Association as early as 1896.3 However, no information could be found to verify that. Leon began his documented professional career with the Fort Wayne Indians of the Interstate League in 1898. He apparently begged for a spot with the club; one report said, “Not only is he writing to manager [Eddie] O’Meara but has induced some friends to do the same. He offers all kinds of recommendations.”4 He convinced O’Meara to offer him a tryout, but the engagement in Fort Wayne lasted just seven games. His whereabouts the rest of that season are unclear, but at some point during that year he also played with Chatham, Ontario in the Canadian League.5
DeMontreville’s exact whereabouts during much of 1899 are unknown. He did play for an independent club in Flint, Michigan. One report said that he planned to play for Oswego in the independent New York State League.6 However, his name does not appear on team rosters.7 He briefly played for Saginaw, Michigan of the International League in 1900 and later for an independent club in Coldwater, Michigan in 1900.8
The circumstances surrounding his signing were not clear, but DeMontreville was acquired by the Boston Beaneaters in 1901 and invited to spring training in Norfolk, Virginia. Late in the exhibition season, manager Frank Selee implied that Leon would make the big-league roster as a reserve infielder.9 In the final cuts, though, he was farmed to Syracuse of the Eastern League.10 He had played in just 24 games when he sustained a broken leg. He, five teammates, and numerous other passengers were injured after a trolley car they were riding in jumped the tracks and overturned.11
DeMontreville was soon up on crutches but was unable to play the rest of the season. Because his injury occurred on the way to the grounds rather than on the field, the Syracuse club refused to pay his salary or grant his request for a release. Left without an income, DeMontreville even made an unsuccessful appeal to National League president Nick Young to intercede on his behalf.12 He filed suit against the Lakeside Street Railroad Company for $25,000.13 Later that fall, he received a settlement of $2,000.14
Three major-league teams were dickering for DeMontreville’s services. One of them, the New York Giants, viewed him as a possible replacement for incumbent shortstop George Davis.15 In December 1901, however, he signed with Rochester of the Eastern League. That winter Jim Manning, owner of the Kansas City Blue Stockings of the Western League, met with DeMontreville in Washington and tried to recruit him for his club. When Leon told him that he was already under contract with Rochester, Manning reportedly told him that he would “fix that all right.”16 Manning met with DeMontreville again a short time later and told him that he had purchased his contract from Rochester and Leon was free to sign with his club. Manning had, in fact, done no such thing, and when DeMontreville tried to return money Rochester advanced him on his salary, Rochester management was tipped off that something was up.
Under contract with both teams, DeMontreville was suspended pending an investigation into which club held his rights, Rochester or Kansas City.17 The resolution was not reported, but he started the season in Kansas City, batting .288 in 26 games. He was returned to Rochester in May but was released in July. One report said that he requested the release because of his poor hitting (a .221 batting average in 42 games).18 However, another story said that his release was due to “gold-bricking tactics.”19 He reportedly negotiated with Los Angeles of the California League but eventually hooked on with Lawrence, Massachusetts of the New England League for the rest of the 1902 season.
Most ball players of the era held off-season jobs to supplant their meager baseball salaries, and DeMontreville held one of the most unusual. He worked as a referee in something called the Western Roller Polo League. Apparently he used the same bluster and self-confidence to secure this line of work that he used in pursing baseball engagements. It was said, “Demont had not an idea of the responsibilities of the position when he sought the appointment, but on the way west he perused a brief history of the game and has since been dispensing knowledge and decisions in huge installments.”20 Roller polo officials must have been under the same scrutiny as baseball umpires. It was reported, “After a game in which Dermont (sic) had performed poorly he escaped via the back window.”21
DeMontreville began the 1903 season back with Lawrence. At some point he moved on to the Haverhill Hustlers of the same league, but was released by them in early July. At first it was thought that he would join his brother Gene, who was playing in Worchester, Massachusetts at the time, but he was signed by St. Louis Cardinals manager Patsy Donovan and brought up to the big leagues.
On July 5 in Boston, Otto Williams substituted at shortstop for an injured Dave Brain, and committed two errors, leading to a 9-5 Beaneaters win over the Cardinals. So, on July 10, Donovan gave the rookie DeMontreville a try, inserting him into the lineup starting at shortstop against the New York Giants at League Park. He walked and singled in four plate appearances in his major league debut. The St. Louis press seemed impressed with the new recruit, saying, “He goes after everything with a true ‘scent’ of a ball player. Little of his attention is devoted to the grandstand, and the chances are the youngster will become a regular member of the Cardinals. He gracefully accepted all the chances sent his way.”22 He singled and laid down a sacrifice bunt the next day against the Phillies and was again highlighted in the game story; “Young De Mont played a very neat and clever game at short.”23
He played regularly for a couple of weeks, but once Brain returned to the lineup, DeMontreville was regulated to a utility role the rest of the season. He filled in at short and second on occasion, along with pinch-hitting. In 26 games he hit .243, collecting two doubles and a triple among his 17 big league hits. He played 15 games at shortstop and four at second base and committed 12 errors in 100 chances. One source provided the following assessment of DeMontreville, “Leon is a smooth chap who is unreliable in the field and weak at bat. But he makes pretty plays occasionally.”24
Leon played one game in the outfield that season for the Cardinals and had a forgettable day in the unfamiliar position. He started in right field in the second game of a doubleheader on September 7 against the Reds in Cincinnati. In the ninth inning, Joe Kelley of the Reds hit a ball his way and DeMontreville, “went after it in a dog trot.”25 That allowed Kelley to circle the bases for an inside-the-park home run. A few batters later Mike Donlin lifted a fly ball to right, and “DeMontreville distinguished himself by a rank muff.”26 Donlin reached base and later came around to score in a 7-3 Reds win.
DeMontreville was released by the Cardinals after the season, but the following February it was reported that he had signed with the St. Louis Browns of the AL, and that manager Jimmy McAleer would take him south to spring training.27 Instead, he was sent to Minneapolis of the American Association. The Millers soon shipped him off to Indianapolis, which in turn sent him to Fargo, North Dakota, of the Northern League. His constant moves that spring came because the previous winter, he had been hit on his right arm by a polo ball during a match he was refereeing. His arm had not healed to where he could throw effectively.28
In a cost-cutting move in mid-July, Fargo manager Perry Werden released the team’s five highest-salaried players — DeMontreville among them — and replaced them with local semipros.29 A few days later Werden quit and DeMontreville was brought back to manage the club. However, a couple of weeks later, DeMontreville was again released by Fargo “in the interests of economy.”30 He then went to New York state and landed with the Corning White Ponies, and later the Addison White Sox, both of the independent Southern Tier League. There he spent the balance of the 1904 season (no statistics are available).
DeMontreville signed on to play shortstop for the Charleston (South Carolina) Sea Gulls of the South Atlantic League in 1905. When the team was sold in May, Leon was named manager of the club, in addition to duties as team captain. That lasted only until July, when he quit the team following some unspecified disagreement with the new owners. Around the same time, he filed a complaint against Arlie Latham, then an umpire in the league, accusing him of betting on a game in which he was officiating.31 There was a report that DeMontreville had signed to play with Wheeling, West Virginia in 1906.32 However, no record could be found that he ever played there. Apparently he retired from baseball at that point.
Leon married Mabal Kennedy on August 7, 1898 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. No information could be found as to how that marriage ended, but he married Catherine Gillette on November 20, 1901, in Auburn, New York. They had one child, a daughter named Doris, born on May 23, 1904. As an adult, Doris became an author of children’s books.
By the time of the 1910 U.S. Census, Leon, Catherine, and Doris were living in the small Rockland County town of Clarkstown, just north of New York City on the Hudson River. Leon listed his occupation as proprietor of a grocery store that year; he was still working as a storekeeper in 1920. His 1918 draft registration card showed that he was also employed as the postmaster in Bardonia, New York (also in Rockland County). He held that position until his retirement.
DeMontreville made the news one more time. In 1936 he was charged with operating a chain of unregistered stills throughout Rockland County. The case went to trial and the judge imposed suspended sentences of one year and one day on him and seven other codefendants.33
Leon DeMontreville died on March 22, 1962, at the age of 87 at Pelham Manor, New York. He was survived by his wife and daughter, and was buried at Germonds Presbyterian Cemetery in New City, New York.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics from DeMontreville’s playing career are taken from Baseball-reference.com and genealogical and family history was obtained from ancestry.com.
1 “Players Deserting Rochester,” Buffalo Enquirer, July 25, 1902: 4.
2 Jim Anderson, “Old-Time Major League Siblings Called Washington County Home,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 27, 2015: https://www.startribune.com/old-time-major-league-siblings-called-washington-county-home/297856901/
3 “Players Deserting Rochester,” Buffalo Enquirer, July 25, 1902: 4.
4 “Leon DeMontreville Insists on Playing Here,” Fort Wayne (Indiana) Sentinel, March 19, 1898: 2.
5 Saginaw (Michigan) News, July 12, 1899: 4.
6 “Sporting Notes”, Denver Post, May 23, 1899: 3.
7 1899 Oswego Gray Statistics at https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/team.cgi?id=d6fe9805
8 Coldwater (Michigan) Reporter, June 9, 1900: 4.
9 “Selee To Keep L. Demont,” Boston Herald, April 4, 1901: 8.
10 Boston Herald, April 8, 1901: page10.
11 “Trolley Care Wrecked and 20 Passengers Including Six Ball Players Injured,” Worcester Spy, June 6, 1901: 1.
12 “Sporting Notes”, Worcester Spy, August 27, 1901: 3.
13 “Sporting Notes”, Worcester Spy, June 20, 1901: 3.
14 “Base Ball Notes”, Washington (D. C.) Star, November 19, 1901: 10.
15 “Base Ball Notes”, Boston Herald, April 3, 1902: 4.
16 “DeMontreville Here: Hard-Hitting Player Ready to Play for the Rochester Club,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, May 28, 1902: 13.
17 “Second Baseman Suspended,” Hornell (New York) Evening Tribune, May 24, 1902: 1.
18 “Players Deserting Rochester,” Buffalo Enquirer, July 25, 1902: 4.
19 “From All the Leagues”, St. Paul Globe, August 5, 1902: 6.
20 Worcester Spy, March,12, 1903: 3.
21 “The Polo Players”, Waterbury (Connecticut) Evening Democrat, January 24, 1903: 8.
22 “Donovan Tries New Player,” St. Louis Republic, July 11, 1903: 4.
23 “Donovan Tries New Player.”
24 “Sporting Notes”, Worcester Spy, March, 7, 1904: 3.
25 “Kelleyites Should Have Taken Both,” Kentucky (Covington) Post, September 9, 1903: 6.
26 “Kelleyites Should Have Taken Both/”
27 “Base Ball Notes”, Washington Star, February 20, 1904: 9.
28 “Baseball”, Minneapolis Journal, April 13, 1904: 12.
29 “Fargo’s New Manager,” Fargo (North Dakota) Forum and Republican, July 19, 1904: 4.
30 “Werden Quits Fargo,” Fargo Forum and Republican, July 20, 1904: 4.
31 “Arlie Latham in Trouble,” Buffalo Enquirer, June 3, 1905: 8.
32 Evansville (Indiana) Courier, February 28, 1906: 7.
33 “Start Trial of Distillery Ring,” Hackensack (New Jersey) Record, March 30, 1936: 1.