When a person thinks of knuckleball pitchers the last thought on their mind is a man of accuracy. Not only did Dutch Leonard have impeccable accuracy for a knuckleballer but he had exceptional accuracy in general. The longtime Washington Senator once teamed in a rotation with Mickey Haeffner, Roger Wolff and Johnny Niggeling–all knuckleball pitchers.
Dutch got his first Major League look with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1933. The following year, his first full Major League season, he won 14 games and averaged just 0.179 walks per inning pitched. He wasn’t the type of pitcher that had to hone his accuracy at the highest level–he had it upon his debut. His average was better than Hall of Famers Waite Hoyt (0.225), Dizzy Dean (0.240) and Lefty Gomez (0.340).
Brooklyn skipper Casey Stengel used Dutch in the bullpen in 1935 and he topped the National League in saves. It wasn’t until the Washington Senators selected him in the Rule Five Draft that Dutch became a starter. Inserted into the Senators rotation in 1938, Dutch tied for second in the shutouts department. The following year he went 20-8 and finished seventh in MVP voting. Although he trimmed his ERA in 1940, Dutch nevertheless led the AL in losses that year saddled to a rather poor Washington club.
Dutch bounced back to win 18 games in 1941 while tying for second in the junior circuit in shutouts. The Senators were hit hard by the draft for World War II, losing stars like Cecil Travis and Buddy Lewis early, but they lost Dutch to injury in 1942. The Senators finished dead last in 1944 but Dutch still mustered 14 wins for the lowly club. Still showcasing pinpoint control, Leonard averaged just 0.162 walks per inning.
The Senators turned things around in 1945 with their knuckleball heavy rotation. Dutch finished the season 17-7 with a 2.13 ERA but the Senators failed to catch the Tigers at the end of the year and were spectators come October once again. When the players came back from the war, Dutch still flourished. In 1947 he won 17 games on a 2.68 ERA for the Phillies who acquired him before the start of the season. But the Phillies were even more lowly than the Senators and Dutch paced the NL with 17 losses in 1948 despite a flattering ERA of 2.51.
Dealt to the Cubs for the 1949 season, the 40-year-old Leonard tossed 180 innings for Chicago. He followed up that campaign by posting a .833 winning percentage for the Cubs in 1950. Although he was a grizzled veteran, Leonard still possessed a fine knuckler and kept his ERA down in 1951 to a team best 2.63. He trimmed his ERA even further the following year to 2.15–saving eleven games out of the Cubs pen. In his final year in the Majors, the 44-year-old Leonard finished fourth in the NL in the saves department.
W 191/L 181/PCT .513/G 640/CG 192/IP 3,220/H 3,304/BB 737/SO 1,170/SHO 30/ERA 3.25