Buck, Leon (2010)
With his induction into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame, Leon Buck completes the trifecta of Maine sports royalty, having been previously inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame and the Maine Golf Hall of Fame.
Born in Woburn, Massachusetts, in 1916, Buck moved to Bath at the age of two and lived with his mother and grandparents. Although he grew up playing sandlot ball and pitching hundreds of tennis balls at a canvas bull’s eye in the barn, he nearly missed out on a three-season high school athletic career due to his mother’s fears. “She wanted me to grow up to be a Little Lord Fauntleroy, in a velvet suit, playing violin,” Buck reminisced in a 2009 article in The Forecaster. “She got the doctor to say that I had heart trouble, and I couldn’t play any sports, because I’d come in sometimes with the neighborhood gang… and I’d have a bloody nose, or something, and it was the end of the world for her to see me bleeding.” Before his senior year at Morse High School, Buck took matters into his own hands and sought the advice of a heart specialist in Portland. Buck learned that his heart was fine, and from that point on his athletic career took off. In fact, he went on to be the only Morse High School graduate to earn five varsity letters in one year—in baseball, basketball, football, track, and golf.
That 1932 Shipbuilders team, coached by Sammy Cutts and led by their “Big Three” battery—starter Buck, catcher Harry Ring, and reliever Newell J. Wilson—shocked baseball fans across the state when they beat Deering 17-2 on the Rams’ own field. Leon Buck earned the win and contributed three hits in the shellacking at the hands of the Morse underdogs.
Buck’s position in the Morse halls of sports lore was cemented with a victory over undefeated Cony in the 1932 league game billed as “the greatest schoolboy battle of the year.” The boys in blue and white crawled back from an 11-2 deficit in the fourth to defeat the team from the Capital City 16-14, at that time the first win by Morse over Cony in 28 years. Buck pitched all nine innings, the third game he had hurled in eight days, but saved a little something extra to strike out Cony slugger Don LaCasse in the bottom of the ninth to end the game. After graduating from Morse, Buck attended Kents Hill for one year, contributing to their Maine Prep School Baseball Championship in 1933.
Buck, by now a legend in the City of Ships, next threw for Lin Wells’s Bowdoin College team, developing a reputation as a reliable man on the mound and a solid member of the pitching squad, and leading the Polar Bears to a Maine State Series championship in 1936. By the time Buck graduated from Bowdoin in 1938, he had played on the baseball, golf, and hockey teams. “Balloon Ball Buck,” as he was called, also toed the slab during summers for Bill Gove’s Bath Clippers, the town’s entrant in the Heart o’ Maine league.
From Bowdoin, Buck attended the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and, after graduating in 1942, entered the Navy. His last pitching assignment was in May of 1943, when he threw his “balloon balls” for the USS Constellation against the Newport Naval Training Station in Rhode Island.
Dr. Buck and his late wife, Letitia, raised their three children in Bath, where Leon established his dentistry practice until he retired in 1980. He exchanged his spikes and glove for golf shoes and clubs, and embarked on a legendary golf career. He has accumulated a wealth of honors in the sport over the years, including winning the Maine Amateur Gold Championship in 1950, earning the Bath Country Club championship twelve times, and being named four-time State Best Ball champion with Dr. Ray Lebel. Just this month, at 94 years old, Buck, the head rules official for the Maine State Golf Association, worked his 75th consecutive Maine Golf Open.
Leon Buck epitomizes the phrase “well-rounded athlete,” and his contributions to Maine sports over nearly a century are now punctuated by his hat trick of inductions into three of the state’s hallowed Halls of Fame.