A hard-throwing, spectacularly talented left-hander who posted the best
single-season earned run average in American League history in 1914, Dutch
Leonard was also one of the Deadball Era’s most controversial figures. At nearly
every stop along his journey in professional baseball, Leonard feuded with
management over his salary, and at one point was even suspended from organized
baseball for nearly three years for refusing to report for work. Regarded as a
selfish, cowardly player by many of his contemporaries, Leonard frittered away
much of his major league career, alternating periods of brilliance with long
bouts of inertia.
After exiting the game in 1925, Leonard touched off one of
the biggest scandals in baseball history when he accused Ty
Speaker of conspiring to throw a baseball game in 1919. Commissioner Kenesaw
Mountain Landis dismissed the charges, and Leonard retired to his California
ranch, where he earned millions of dollars growing grapes.
Hubert Benjamin Leonard was born on April 16, 1892, in Birmingham, Ohio, the
youngest of six surviving children of David and Ella Hershey Leonard. In 1911, “Dutch” (a moniker hung on him during his childhood
because he “looked like a Dutchman”) pitched for the highly regarded St. Mary’s
College team while attending classes there.
He was spotted by a scout for the Philadelphia Athletics, who signed him during
the 1911 campaign. With the Athletics rotation already loaded with the likes of Jack
Bender and Cy
Morgan, Leonard never appeared in any games. The following year, Leonard
joined the Boston Red Sox for spring training, but developed a lame arm and
failed to make the team. Sent to Worcester of the New England League, Leonard
was bombed in one of his first outings and shortly thereafter abandoned the
club. He showed up at Boston team headquarters and complained to club president Jimmy
McAleer. Still sensing promise in the young left-hander’s arm, Boston
sent Leonard to Denver of the Western League, where he overcame a midseason
suspension for insubordination to win 22 games and strike out 326 batters in 241
innings of work. The following spring Leonard made the Red Sox squad out of
spring training and joined the rotation.
Darkly-complexioned and built more like a football player than a baseball
player, the stocky 5’10 ½ Leonard relied on the classic combination of an
overpowering fastball and sharp-breaking curve. Later in his career he mixed in
the spitball, and in 1920 became one of the “grandfathered” pitchers allowed to
continue throwing the pitch after it was made illegal.
In his rookie season with
the 1913 Red Sox, Leonard posted a 14-17 record and 2.39 ERA in 259 1/3 innings
of work. His biggest problem was his control. For the season he struck out 144
batters but also walked 94. All in all, it was a solid performance by the
21-year-old southpaw, but it gave little indication of the dominance he would
achieve the following year.
Leonard’s historic 1914 campaign was cut short by a wrist injury in early
September, but in the 36 games in which he pitched, including 11 in relief, the
left-hander posted an astounding 0.96 ERA, still the lowest mark in the
twentieth century and the second best all-time, behind Tim
Keefe’s 0.86 recorded for the 1880 Troy Haymakers of the National League.
(Keefe’s record was established in just 105 innings, good enough to qualify for
the record only because his team played just 83 games that season.) Leonard
pitched 224 2/3 innings in his record-setting summer, striking out 176 (giving
him a league-best strikeout rate of 7.05 per nine innings) and lowering his walk
total to 60 while hitting eight batters. For the season, he allowed just 24
earned runs (10 unearned) and won 19 games against five defeats.
He didn’t win his first game of the season until his fourth start, a 9-1 victory
on May 4th against Philadelphia. After dropping a game to Washington on May 30th to
run his record to 5-3, Leonard did not lose another game until August 13th,
running off a 12-game winning streak during which he struck out 92 batters in
118 innings. Despite his microscopic ERA, Leonard did not enjoy any long
scoreless inning streaks or periods of noteworthy invincibility. Rather, he
remained thoroughly consistent throughout the season, shutting out his opponents
in seven of his starts and allowing just one run in 10 other starts. He
surrendered more than two runs in a game just four times all season, and never
allowed more than four runs in any start.
Because Leonard’s season was curtailed by injury, the pitcher failed to reach
many of the milestones that were most noted at the time. He failed to win 20
games, and except for ERA (which had only been an official American League
statistic since the previous season) did not lead the league in any major
pitching category. For this reason, Leonard’s 1914 performance went largely
unheralded in the press. Even Leonard regarded his work that year as incomplete.
Nonetheless, Leonard’s 1914 season did raise expectations for the 1915 campaign,
which would prove to be a resounding success for the Boston franchise but a
turbulent year for its ace southpaw. After receiving a raise in salary to $5,000
per year, Leonard reported to the team out of shape, and started only three
games in the first six weeks of the season. In late May, Leonard was suspended
by the club for insubordination. According to newspaper reports, Leonard accused
club owner Joseph
Lannin of undermining manager Bill
Carrigan’s authority and generally mistreating his players. Leonard did not
return to the starting rotation until early July, though he finished the season
strong, posting a 15-7 record and 2.36 ERA. For the second consecutive year,
Leonard led the American League in strikeouts per nine innings pitched, with 116
strikeouts in 183 1/3 innings. He rounded out his season in impressive fashion,
beating Philadelphia’s Pete
Alexander in Game #3 of the World Series, 2-1. The Red Sox prevailed in the
Series over the Phillies in five games.
Leonard proved more durable over the next two seasons for the Red Sox, throwing
a combined 568 2/3 innings in 1916 and 1917, and winning 34 games against 29
defeats. Although his strikeout rate continued to fall and he was no longer
considered one of the game’s overpowering pitchers, Leonard did pitch his first
no-hitter in 1916, a 4-0 shutout over the St. Louis Browns on August 30th. That
autumn, Leonard also won his second and final World Series start, pitching
Boston to a 6-2 victory over Brooklyn in Game #4, helping the Red Sox win another
Series, in six games.
In 1918, Leonard pitched a second no-hitter, a 5-0 shutout victory, this time
over the Detroit Tigers on June 3rd. His season came to an end a few weeks later
when he circumvented the draft by joining the Fore River (MA) Shipyard team, for
whom he won three games.
Prior to the 1919 season Leonard was included in the trade which also sent Ernie
Shore and Duffy Lewis to the New York Yankees. Unlike Shore and Lewis, however,
Leonard never appeared in a Yankee uniform and became a salary holdout.
Now relying more on the spitball, Leonard spent the next three seasons with the
Tigers. In 1925 Leonard started 18 games for the Tigers, posting a solid 11-4
record despite a pedestrian 4.51 ERA. However, the pitcher feuded constantly
with manager Ty Cobb, who had long disliked Leonard and would later claim that
the southpaw was one of only two players he ever intentionally spiked during his
career. Matters finally came to a head in July, when Leonard suffered the most
brutal loss of his career. Despite the pounding, Cobb kept Leonard in the game
for the full nine innings. Later that month, he placed Leonard on waivers and
pulled strings to make sure that no other team claimed him. Leonard was
particularly hurt that Tris Speaker, manager of the Cleveland Indians and a
former teammate, passed on him. Once Leonard had cleared waivers, Cobb traded
him to Vernon of the Pacific Coast League, but Leonard characteristically
refused to report. With that, his professional baseball career came to an end.
Throughout his career Leonard had invested his money wisely, and by the time of
his retirement operated a lucrative grape ranch just east of Fresno. But
embittered by the manner in which he had been treated, Leonard quickly focused
on exacting his revenge. Early in the 1926 season, Leonard told American League
president Ban Johnson that
in 1919, he had conspired with Cobb, Speaker and Indians
Wood to place bets on the following day’s game against the Cleveland
Indians, which Speaker had promised to lose in order to help the Tigers finish
in third place. The Tigers did win the game, and Leonard, who did not play
in the game, put up the money to bet on the outcome, receiving a modest $130 as
his share of the winnings. To back up his story, Leonard produced two letters,
one from Cobb and one from Wood, written shortly after the 1919 season, in which
both made reference to the bets, though neither letter specifically stated what
the bets had been for or whether the Indians had deliberately lost the game, as
Nonetheless, when presented with the letters, Johnson informed both Cobb and
Speaker that their days in the American League were over, and after the 1926
season convinced both to resign their respective managerial positions and retire
from the game. However, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a long-time foe of
Johnson’s, saw the matter differently and decided to launch his own
investigation. He asked Leonard to come to his office in Chicago to answer
questions, but the ex-pitcher declined the invitation. Cobb, Speaker, and Wood,
in turn, declared their innocence of the game-fixing charges and demanded an
opportunity to face their accuser. With Leonard stubbornly refusing to leave his
California ranch, the public sided with the accused stars.
Faced with a lack of evidence corroborating the game-fixing charge (indeed,
Cobb, who supposedly had played the game to win, went only 1-for-5 at the plate
with two steals that day, while Speaker, who was supposedly throwing the game,
went 3-for-5 with two triples), as well as Leonard’s unwillingness to come to
Chicago, Landis publicly cleared Cobb and Speaker of any wrongdoing prior to the
1927 season, and Cobb signed with the Philadelphia Athletics, where he concluded
his Hall of Fame career, while Speaker was sold to the Washington Senators.
Leonard, meanwhile, spent the rest of his days turning his grape ranch into a
multimillion dollar enterprise. Leonard enjoyed a comfortable retirement in his
lavishly-furnished home, which sat on a 2,500-acre plot of land. Among his most
prized collections was a record collection totaling 150,000 discs.
Leonard remained in good health until 1942, when he suffered a heart attack. To
the end of his life he remained reluctant to discuss the details of his
Dutch Leonard died in Fresno of a cerebral hemorrhage on July 11, 1952. To his
heirs (a sister, four nephews, and a niece) he left an estate totaling more than
$2.1 million. He was buried in Mountain View Cemetery, in Fresno.