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Great Moments: Baseball

 

DAY TO REMEMBERLeonDay

Common baseball lore holds that Bob Feller is the only big-league pitcher to hurl a no-hitter on Opening Day. Strictly speaking, this is true; “Rapid Robert” no-hit the Chicago White Sox on April 16, 1940. However, six years later, on May 5, 1946, another Hall of Famer, Leon Day, duplicated this feat for the Newark Eagles in the team’s season opener against the Philadelphia Stars.

Prior to World War II, Day had earned wide recognition as one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, black or white—and one of the game’s best all-around players. He was a nine-year veteran of the Negro League before being drafted in 1943. Day served in an amphibious supply unit and was on Utah Beach during the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944. Less than three months after his discharge in 1946, he was back on the mound for the Eagles.

Newark’s Ruppert Stadium was abuzz for the Sunday opener. Day fanned six and allowed just three Philadelphia hitters to reach base—two on walks and a third in a fielding error—in an exciting 2–0 victory. He injured his arm on a fielding play that preserved the no-no, which contributed to the sore arm he developed over the course of the season. Yet he still managed to lead the Negro National League in wins and strikeouts, and batted a lusty .469.

With Jackie Robinson having broken baseball’s color line that year, major-league scouts filled the stands for his appearance in the 1946 Negro League World Series. Unfortunately, Day pitched poorly and, at age 30, fell of the big-league radar. He did play minor-league ball in the early 1950s, but was well past his prime by then.

Day returned to Newark after his playing days, working for many years as a bartender. He eventually moved to Baltimore, where he had grown up, working as a security guard in the 1960s and 70s. In 1995, Day was voted into the Hall of Fame. He learned of the news a week before his death at age 78.

 

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