Monday, February 11, 2013

#309 Jeff Leonard - San Francisco Giants

Jeff Leonard's fourth Topps card shows him wearing the Giants black jersey top in the action photo and although the inset is a similar angle, he's wearing the home whites there.

Player: Jeff Leonard was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an undrafted free agent in 1973.  He advanced steadily through the Dodgers system and made his debut with the Dodgers going 3 for 10 at the end of the season.  Leonard absolutely destroyed AAA pitching in '78 batting .365/.443/.532 before they traded him to the Astros in a deal that brought Joe Ferguson back to LA.  With just a few weeks left in the season, Leonard kept up his torrid pace hitting .385 in eight games.
Leonard began the '79 campaign as a reserve but by mid-May he was starting in rightfield.  He hit at a .290 clip with a .360 on base percentage and stole 23 bases but the cavernous Astrodome suppressed his power.  Although he hadn't been a prodigious home run hitter in the minors he had averaged around ten a season.  He along with a few other Astros went homerless that year but Leonard didn't go unnoticed and finished in second place for  NL Rookie of the Year.
The 1980 season was brutal for Leonard as he started the year as the Astros fourth outfielder behind Jose Cruz, Cesar Cedeno, and Terry Puhl and never did anything to win his job back.  He batted just .213 but he did manage to hit the first three homers of his career.  Leonard was hitless in three at bats off the bench in the NLCS against the Phillies.
The Astros traded Leonard and Dave Bergman to the Giants for Mike Ivie just weeks into the '81 season and demoted Leonard down to AAA.  He torched minor league hurlers to a .401 tune in 207 plate appearances while waiting for the strike to conclude and a chance at a recall.  "Hac-Man" got his chance and kept on hacking when he got to San Fran knocking 18 extra base hits in 141 plate appearances.
Leonard's finish to the '81 season earned him the starting centerfield job in '82 but he was removed from his post in favor of rookie Chili Davis after just two weeks.  He slid over to leftfield but missed over two months with a wrist injury.  He came back but his batting stroke was off and although he hit a career best nine homers, his average slid to .259. 
Nicknamed "Prison Face" for his icy glare by teammate Bergman, Leonard had a breakout season in '83.  He batted .279 but hit 21 home runs while driving in 87 runs and stole 26 bases.  He repeated with 21 homers but raised his average to .301 with an OPS+ of 138.  He regressed to .241 and 17 HR in '85 and injuries limited him to '89 games in '86.
Leonard was a man of many names and by this point in his career preferred Jeffrey over Jeff.  The change precipitated a change in nicknames too from "Prison Face" to the more noble "Penitentiary Face".  But it was also around this time where he began taking his home run trots with his left arm tucked in earning the moniker "One Flap Down".  He hit 19 long balls in '87 while batting .280 and making his first All-Star team.  It was his postseason batting that got the attention as he homered in the first four games of the NLCS.  His home run trot drew the ire of Cardinals pitchers and fans and although St. Louis won the series, Leonard was voted series MVP.
Hac-Man was slow out of the gate in '88 was traded to the Brewers in June for Ernie Riles.  He hit just ten homers on the year and finished with an OPS+ of 77.  Leonard signed on as the Mariners DH in '89 and the move helped him play in a career best 150 games.  He also set career bests with 24 HR and 93 RBI but his rate stats of .254/.301/.420 were quite sub par for a DH.  The following year he played more leftfield than DH which further decreased his value as his already suspect defense was now in further decline. He slugged just .356 and was a boat anchor in left while accumulating -2.0 WAR.
Leonard spent the '91 season at the AAA level for the Royals but never returned to the majors and retired after the season at age 36.
Flipside: Leonard is listed at 6' 3 1/2" but current sources list him at 6'2".  Topps rounded up to 6'4" on his '88 and later card backs. 
Checking out his stats through the '82 season, you would not think this player would go on to have three 20 HR seasons.

Oddball: A great pictorial piece here by Patrick Dubuque of the many faces of Jeffrey Leonard.

History: Looking back at his career compared to my memory of Leonard, I realize he was quite overrated.  He was a streaky hitter who could get hot (see '87 NLCS) but he earned just 7.2 WAR in his career with 6.3 earned in '83 and '84.  His low walk rate and poor defense were magnified by his inconsistent power.  When he was healthy he could club 20 home runs with a decent average but he played over 140 games just once in his career. His career stats: .266/.312/.411, 144 HR, and 163 SB

1 comment:

  1. I remember watching Leonard's one flap down homerun trot on TV with my dad and my dad blowing a gasket about how disrespectful it was... Hey - I just started a 1988 Topps blog: