- P, OF
- Deacon, The Goshen Schoolmaster
- December 23, 1871
- 5' 10"
- 175 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 5-26-1898 with PIT
He was a quiet, sober man who spent his off-season as a teacher in his native town of Goshen, Ohio which prompted his nickname, “the Goshen Schoolmaster”, but when it came to pitching for the Pirates in the first decade of the twentieth century, make no mistake Sam Leever, was anything but quiet.
Over the course of his 13 year career, Leever used his sharp breaking curve ball to win 194 games good for a .660 winning percentage, 10th best of all time, including a 2.47 ERA, the 37th lowest in major league history. Out of the big four starters for the Bucs during their championship run, Leever, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill and Jack Chesbro, noted baseball statistical guru Bill James said in his book “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame” that it was Leever and not the Hall of Famer Chesbro, that in fact had the best career of the group.
He was brought into the show in 1898 winning his only decision before breaking into the starting rotation the following year where he won 20 for the first time, unfortunately also losing 20 with a 21-23 mark. It would mark the last time that the Buckeye native had a losing record. The next season the Bucs were sold to Barney Dreyfuss who brought an arsenal of players over from his former club Louisville, including Hall of Fame great Honus Wagner, whom Leever would call one of his best friends, and at one point and time was rumored to be buying a minor league club in Grand Rapids, Michigan with (they never did though).
The schoolmaster took to his new teammates, and led the circuit in winning percentage in 1901 with a .737 mark. He went 15-7 in 1902 before having his career season in 1903 when Sam led the NL in winning percentage again at .781 while also topping the field in ERA at 2.06. His 25-7 mark was a pivotal reason the Bucs won their third consecutive National League pennant and a spot in the first modern World Series. Unfortunately for Leever, he would hurt his arm late in the season Skeet shooting (he was a champion at the sport). It would affect him and the team in World Series against Boston as he lost two games with an uncharacteristic 5.40 ERA in the Pilgrims upset win over Pittsburgh. The injury would plague Sam the rest of his career.
Through it all, he was still one of the best pitchers in the majors despite the injury winning 20 games in back to back seasons of 1905 and 1906including a 20-5 mark the former season when he won his third winning percentage title at .800.
After a couple more decent seasons in the starting rotation, the 38-year old hurler found himself mostly confined to the bullpen during the Pirates championship run in 1909. Even with the demotion, Leever still contributed with an 8-1 mark and a 2.83 ERA in 70 innings. Regrettable, Sam would not get a chance for retribution for his 1903 lackluster performance in the Fall Classic as he did not get a chance to pitch in the series.
When the club stumbled out of the gate the next season, the pitching staff did not perform up to expectations causing wide spread criticisms including on a Leever who was accused of not being able to take the every day grind of pitching anymore. The scribes were right about it though and the schoolmaster retired after the end of the season.
In retirement, Sam got a chance to run the Covington, Kentucky team in the newly formed Federal League in 1913. The circuit would grow and become a major league the next season, as Covington didn’t take the trip with them. The Schoolmaster, although through with his career, certainly had a success past to look at, one that saw him ranked as one of the better pitchers in the annuls of the game.
- Sam Leever