Dutch Leonard

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.

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 WolffMickey 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 RobinsonGil Hodges, and Roy Campanella without a run scoring.