Walter Fenner “Buck” Leonard (1907-1997)

Walter Fenner “Buck” Leonard
Walter Fenner “Buck” Leonard

Walter Fenner “Buck” Leonard was a professional baseball player who played the first baseman position in the Negro League Baseball and the Mexican League. Leonard was born on September 8, 1907 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina to John Leonard and Emma Leonard. He had three sisters, Fanny, Willa, and Lena Leonard, and two brothers, Herman and Charlie Leonard. His younger brother Charlie gave him the nickname “Buck” because he had trouble calling him “Buddy,” which was the nickname his parents gave him.

Leonard’s father died from the World War I-era influenza outbreak when young Leonard was 12. A few years later Leonard left school because there were no high schools in the Rocky Mount area that accepted black students. He took a job on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. While working there he started playing baseball for two Rocky Mount black teams, the Rocky Mountain Elks and Daughtry’s Black Revel (later named Black Swans). After losing his job at the railroad in 1932, Leonard focused on playing professional baseball as a full-time career. In 1933, he joined his first Negro League Baseball team, the Baltimore Stars, where he played first base.

When the Stars went bankrupt later that year, Leonard was signed with the Brooklyn Royal Giants where he played for the rest of the 1933 season. In 1934, Leonard moved to the Homestead Grays after he was recommended by ex-pitcher Smoky Joe Williams to Cumberland (Cum) Posey, the owner manager of the Grays. Leonard teamed up with catcher Josh Gibson and the two would be called The Thunder Twins because of their frequent home runs. Between 1937 and 1945, Leonard and the Grays won nine consecutive championships in the Negro National League. They also won in 1948. Leonard remained with the Grays until the team was disbanded in 1951.

In 1952 Leonard began playing in the Mexican Baseball League. He played for four cities in Mexico, Torreon, Xalapa, Durango, and Obregon. In 1955, Leonard officially retired from baseball. After retirement he worked as a school truant officer, a physical education instructor, and started a real estate company. From 1962 to 1972 he was vice president for the Rocky Mount Leafs, a minor league baseball team. From 1973 to 1975 he held the same post with the Rocky Mount Phillies.

In 1972, Leonard was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and two years later he was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. On April 4, 1986, Leonard suffered a stroke that affected his right side. In 1994, when the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Leonard was named an honorary captain. Leonard was married to Sandra Wroten in 1937 until her death in 1966. Leonard remarried to Lugenia Fox in 1986 until his death in 1997.

On November 27, 1997, Walter Fenner “Buck” Leonard died in Rocky Mount, North Carolina at the age of 90.