Dutch Leonard

Dutch Leonard

Boston Red Sox pitcher, Dutch Leonard, circa 1914

May 16, 1892
5' 10"
185 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-12-1913 with BOS

Emil "Dutch" Leonard was one of the first pitchers to rely heavily on the knuckleball. Pitching almost exclusively for losing teams during his 20 years in the ML, he nevertheless won 191 games. His success with what was until then considered a trick pitch inspired a whole generation of knuckleball specialists, including Hoyt Wilhelm. He holds the major league modern-era record for the lowest single-season ERA of all time — 0.96 in 1914. The all-time record holder is Tim Keefe with a 0.86 ERA in 1880

After his 14-11 year with the Dodgers in 1934, a sore arm threatened Leonard's career. Eventually he was sent to Atlanta of the Southern Association where, with the help of the knuckleball, he posted two strong seasons. He returned to the majors with Washington in 1938 and the next year enjoyed a 20-8 year with the sixth-place Senators.

Although Leonard occasionally mixed in a fastball or slip pitch to keep hitters off-balance, the knuckler was his primary out pitch. He had exceptional control of all his pitches, averaging only 2.06 walks per nine innings pitched.

After an 18-13 season in 1941, Leonard missed almost all the next year with a broken ankle, but he came back to post double-digit win totals for the Senators through 1946, including a 17-7 mark in 1945. An oddity that season, aside from Washington's uncharacteristic second-place finish, was that three other regular Senator hurlers - Roger Wolff, Mickey Haefner, and Johnny Niggeling - were knuckleballers.

Leonard was sold to the Phillies after the 1946 season and was traded with Monk Dubiel to the Cubs for Eddie Waitkus and Hank Borowy two years later. Though he had always been a starting pitcher, he became an outstanding reliever with the Cubs. He once cited as one of his greatest thrills a game in which he was called in against the powerful Dodgers to protect a one-run lead in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and no outs. He retired Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, and Roy Campanella without a run scoring.

Early years

Born in Birmingham, Ohio, Leonard played baseball for the Saint Mary's College of California "Gaels" in Moraga, California, from 1910-1911. In 1912, he played for the Denver Grizzlies of the Western League, where he compiled a 22-9 record with 326 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.50.

Boston Red Sox

Leonard broke in with the Boston Red Sox in 1913. In his second year in the major leagues, 1914, Leonard led the American League with a remarkable 0.96 ERA – the modern era MLB record for single-season ERA, not counting Tim Keefe's record of 0.86 in his first MLB season. Leonard also pitched well in Boston's 1915 and 1916 World Series victories. He won Game 3 of the 1915 World Series, outduelling the Phillies' Grover Cleveland Alexander 2-1. He also won Game 4 of the 1916 World Series against the Brooklyn Robins.

Leonard also pitched two no-hitters for the Red Sox, the first in 1916 against the St. Louis Browns and the second in 1918 against the Detroit Tigers.

Detroit Tigers

In January 1919, the Red Sox sold Leonard to the Detroit Tigers, where Leonard played from 1919–1921 and 1924-1925. Leonard became embroiled in a salary dispute with Tigers' owner Frank Navin in 1922, and Leonard opted to play for Fresno, in the San Joaquin Valley League in 1922 and 1923. Leonard was suspended by the American League for his actions, but he rejoined the Tigers in 1924 where he feuded with Tigers manager Ty Cobb. Leonard pitched his final major league game in July 1925.

Dutch Leonard and Ty Cobb

Even before their player-manager feud, Leonard and Cobb had a history. In 1914, Leonard hit Cobb in the ribs with a fastball. In the next at bat, Cobb dragged a bunt which the Red Sox first baseman was forced to field. Cobb later described the play as follows: "Leonard ran to first to take the throw. When he saw I was going for him and not the bag, he kept running into the coaching box. Damned coward. I ignored the bag, drove right through after him ... he ran toward the dugout and missed cutting him by inches." (Al Stump, Cobb: The Life and Times of the Meanest Man Who Ever Played Baseball, p. 213)

A full feud broke when Cobb took over as the Tigers' manager in 1921. Cobb took pleasure in fining Leonard, who enjoyed late nights, for violating curfew. At one point in the 1921 season, Leonard was 11-13, despite a respectable ERA; Cobb left his office door open so that Leonard could hear him on the phone, faking a call: "I'm putting that damned Dutchman on waivers." (Al Stump, Cobb, p. 140) In 1922, Leonard and Cobb fought over how to pitch to George Sisler and Tris Speaker. Leonard cursed Cobb to his face during the dispute, and Leonard ended up quitting the team in 1921, calling Cobb a "horse's ass." (Al Stump, Cobb, p. 340)

When Leonard returned to the Tigers in 1924 after two seasons in the San Joaquin Valley League, the feud with Cobb resumed. By the middle of the 1925 season, Leonard was 11-3, but that did not stop Cobb from accusing Leonard of being a shirker. In front of the team, Cobb berated Leonard: "Don't you dare turn bolshevik on me. I'm the boss here." (Richard Bak, Peach, p. 147) Leonard accused Cobb of over-working him, and Cobb responded in July 1925 by leaving Leonard on the mound for an entire game despite Leonard's giving up 20 hits and taking a 12-4 beating. After that, Leonard refused to pitch for Cobb. As a result, the Tigers put Leonard on waivers, and when no team picked him up, his baseball career came to an end. (Al Stump, Cobb, p. 364)

Rumors began to spread that Leonard was claiming he "had something" on Cobb. Leonard was quoted as saying, "I am going to expose that bastard Cobb, I'll ruin him." (Al Stump, Cobb, p. 371) And in 1926 Leonard sought his revenge, contacting Kenesaw Mountain Landis and accusing Cobb of being involved in gambling and/or fixing games with Tris Speaker. Leonard claimed that Speaker and Cobb had conspired before a 1919 Tigers-Indians game to allow the Tigers to win, enabling the team to reach third place and qualify for World Series money. To corroborate his story, Leonard produced letters written at the time (one by Cobb and one by Smoky Joe Wood) that obliquely referred to gambling or game-fixing. When Landis made Leonard's letter public in December 1926, it started a scandal.

Cobb was called to testify at a hearing before Commissioner Landis, and denied Leonard's allegations. Cobb noted that Leonard "had the reputation in the past of being a bolshevik on the club." (Al Stump, Cobb, p. 382) Leonard declined to appear and testify at the hearing, saying he feared a physical attack from "that wild man." In the absence of Leonard's testimony, Landis found Cobb and Speaker not guilty.

Career outside baseball

Leonard did well for himself after baseball. He became a very successful California fruit farmer and wine maker. He was also an expert left-handed golfer. Leonard died in 1952 at age 60 from complications of a stroke. He is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Fresno, California. His estate at the time of his death was reportedly worth $2.1 million ($17,375,849 in current dollar terms).

Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Dutch Leonard
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