It wouldn’t be long before his mug became world famous but in the late winter of 1916, not even those whose sole job was to cover baseball knew what he looked like. There’s proof of that in a 102-year-old copy of The Sporting Life—a publication that billed itself “The Loyal Champion of Clean Sport.”
They may have been pure in spirit but they didn’t always know their champions.
Planted on the cover of the March 4, 1916 issue was a photo of a young Boston Red Sox pitcher. Any fan would recognize the image of the lefty hurler as a young Babe Ruth. To its readers, though, The Sporting Life’s caption identified the future icon as “Pitcher Hubert Leonard of the Boston A.L. Club”…better known as Dutch Leonard, a teammate of Babe’s who had won Game 3 of the 1915 World Series just a few months earlier.
A surviving copy of the publication is now up for bid through the monthly auction at Lelands.com. Despite the cover being detached, the current high bid was $783 as of early Wednesday evening. For all but the most avid students of pre-War baseball publications, it’s one of those “oh wow” revelations; a Babe Ruth rookie era error.
Outside of Baltimore and the avid fans of Boston, it’s probably a safe bet to say not many readers of The Sporting Life caught the error either. The 23-year-old Leonard was also left-handed. He had enjoyed an incredible 1914 season in which he pitched in 36 games and ended with a record-setting ERA of 0.96. In 1915, he led the league in strikeouts per nine innings pitched, despite not joining the Sox rotation until July, helping Boston to its third World Series title.
While Ruth had success on the mound before moving to the Yankees and becoming one of the most recognized faces in the world, Leonard kept pitching. He often feuded with management over his contracts and was suspended multiple times but tossed two no-hitters, one during the 1916 season and another in 1918.
Ruth played longer and enjoyed fame that would last well beyond his death but Dutch did OK, too. After his baseball career, he made millions growing grapes in central California before dying of complications from a stroke at age 60 in 1952.