Monday, February 11, 2013

#501 - Eddie Leon

Topps keeps the action shots going with this one of Eddie Leon about to deliver a throw to first. Eddie looks sort of relaxed on the throw. Maybe he just speared a line drive and is kicking off an around-the-horn. He appears to be in Oakland, the same venue at which a few other Sox guys were shot. ’73 was Eddie’s first year in Chicago, he being traded there after the previous season for Walt Williams. It would be his last year as a regular as a bad back and a young guy named Bucky Dent conspired to push him to a reserve role the next season. Eddie actually had a pretty good season in the field, putting in considerable time at shortstop for the first time in four years. But that back thing really knocked the crap out of his average and so by this point the writing was pretty much on the wall for him baseball-wise.

When Eddie Leon grew up in Tucson, Arizona, he developed enough of a reputation as a shortstop that he was dogged pretty consistently by a Phillies scout. His high school was sort of a baseball powerhouse and Eddie was on a state champ each year. After high school he opted to go to the University of Arizona where he was a starter for three years. In ’65 as a sophomore he hit .328 and was tabbed by the Twins in the first round. But the team’s offered bonus was way shy of what he wanted so he stayed in school. In ’66 he hit .378 with over 70 RBI’s and led Arizona to the CWS, also earning All-American honors. So he again was tabbed in the first round, this time by the Cubs. Again he declined, but that was because he was only a few credits shy of his degree in civil engineering and he wanted to get that done. So he returned for his senior year, hit .340 and that summer was drafted – first round of course – by Cleveland. (Baseball-Reference indicates he was a second-rounder but a few sites elsewhere say he went in the first round and that sounds better.) Eddie finished his summer split between Double A and Triple A but it was pretty forgetful with his .209 average. In ’68 he spent the year at Triple A Portland where he did much better, raising his average to .245 while also putting up significantly better numbers in the field. In ’69 he had a pretty good spring training and returned to Portland where he hit .262 in a bit over half a season. That July he was called up to Cleveland after third baseman Max Alvis went down with an injury.

When Alvis went out a contingent of people took his spot at third and Leon became the regular guy at shortstop. That .239 average wasn’t so hot and his E totals were a tad high but they were both better than anyone else’s at the position and it was Cleveland. So in ’70 when rookie Jack Heidemann came up, he got the shortstop gig and Eddie was moved to second to keep him in the lineup. The result wasn’t exactly an All-Star year, but both his offense and his defense picked up at a pretty good clip in what was basically a seamless transition. Eddie remained at second in '71 and continued to improve his offense even though Cleveland was headed the other way. At least he did until mid-summer when a nasty back injury took him out of the lineup. That injury would prove to be pretty much a career killer and when Eddie returned in ’72 it was difficult for him to torque his frame during his swing, his average fell a bunch, and he became the infield backup guy behind newbies Jack Brohamer at second and Frank Duffy at short. After the season he moved to Chicago. His ’74 year was all strictly backup behind Dent with only a handful of at bats and after the season he was on the road again, this time to NY where for the Yankees he had a game up top before he went down to Mexico to finish up that year and all of the next for Tampico. Eddie finished with a .236 MLB average and a .243 in the minors.

Staying in school proved to be a wise decision for Leon. Before he was done playing he was using his civil engineering degree for some construction work and he moved into planning and building real estate in and around his home town of Tucson. He became a big deal on local civic boards and a pillar in the community, making his county’s hall of fame in the 2000’s.

So this one I never get. How was Eddie able to play semi-pro ball and continue to play in college? Maybe the semi- part was no pay. He would finish with 55 sacrifice hits during his career, a pretty good number considering it was done in about three full seasons.

Eddie and Lee’s brother Carlos played together for a bit but that doesn’t really help:

1. Leon and Vada Pinson ’70 to ’71 Indians;
2. Pinson and Lee May ’65 to ’68 Reds.

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