Leon Day was so reserved that his widow says the couple was together two years “before I even found out he played baseball.”
“He never did try to promote himself,” Geraldine Day, 81, said in an interview Friday. “He would talk about the other guys.”
Because he was neither an extrovert nor a self-promoter, Day — who played for the Baltimore Black Sox and Baltimore Elite Giants — did not attain the fame of other Negro Leagues stars such as Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson.
His widow and others hope a new Negro Leagues exhibit in Northeast Baltimore will help remedy that, raising the pitcher’s profile — and that of his teammates — in his hometown.
“He would be happy about this,” Day said about the exhibit being set up and scheduled to open next month at The Sinclair, a privately owned events venue for weddings and other ceremonies that opened a week ago.
On Saturday, The Sun previewed the exhibit-in-the-making, which includes oversized photographs of Day along with other Negro Leagues memorabilia showcasing Baltimore’s sizable contribution to baseball before the major leagues permitted Black players. There are oversized, black-and-white photographs of the two Baltimore teams, Negro Leagues history timelines, and reproductions of old jerseys.
“Baseball may have been called the national pastime, but the major league game was not always open to all,” reads a plaque being readied for display. It said Baltimore “was a hotbed of Negro League Baseball,” which continued into the late 1950s, after the color barrier was broken by Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
The Sinclair is located near the site of Bugle Field, where the Black Sox and Elite Giants each played for a time.
“Awesome,” Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins said in an interview about the creation of a new venue dedicated to Negro League history.
The Sinclair site will join a Negro Leagues display that opened in 2014 at the Owings Mills branch of the Baltimore County Public Library.
Several years ago, Mullins, 26, visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
“It simply is a part of history — no different than the Smithsonian Museum. I knew about the Satchel Paiges and Josh Gibsons,” Mullins said, and he learned about Cool Papa Bell, who played for the St. Louis Stars and was known for his speed.
“It’s crazy to think,” Mullins said of all the records that Negro Leagues players would have set in the major leagues if they had been permitted to join earlier.
Mullins said he had heard Leon Day’s name but didn’t know much about him yet.
Ray Banks, 73, of Baltimore, who calls himself a Negro Leagues “ambassador,” said Saturday he was thrilled to hear of Mullins’ interest.
“The Orioles need to know what’s in their backyard,” Banks said.
In 1997, Orioles owner Peter Angelos provided the funding for the baseball diamonds, dugouts, basketball courts, playground and lighting system at a park in West Baltimore named for Leon Day.
Day “played every position except catcher,” said Tonya Thomas, Banks’ daughter, who was instrumental in organizing the new exhibit. Many of the items came from her father’s basement collection.
“A lot of the players have passed away, so who is going to tell their story?” she said.
Day’s widow, an Orioles fan who lives in Catonsville, said she was reminded of her late husband last week when Baltimore’s John Means threw a no-hitter. That’s because she knew that Day, then pitching for the Newark Eagles, threw a no-hitter on opening day of 1946 against the Philadelphia Stars.
She married her husband in 1960, about five years after his baseball career ended. He died in 1995 of heart failure at St. Agnes Hospital — six days after learning of his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. She and others have spent the past couple of decades making sure he won’t be forgotten.
“I think it’s very important, especially for the kids coming along, that they would learn about the Negro Leagues and that they were just as good as the major leagues were,” Geraldine Day said. “They should continue to keep the Negro Leagues alive.”