Obituary: Don Leppert (1930-2021)

RIP to Don Leppert, a second baseman who played for the 1955 Baltimore Orioles as part of a 7-year professional baseball career. He died on January 5 at the age of 90. At the time of his death, he was a resident at Silvercreek Assisted Living Community in Olive Branch, Miss.

There are two Don Lepperts who played in the majors, within just a few years of each other. This is Donald Eugene Leppert. The other, Donald George Leppert, played from 1961-64 and is, as of this writing, 89 years old. As far as I can tell, the two are not related to each other.

Source: The Birmingham News, April 30, 1953

Donald Eugene Leppert was born in Memphis on November 20, 1930. He played on the Memphis Corbitts, one of the top American Legion teams in the state of Tennessee. They beat a team from Chattanooga to win the State American Legion Tournament in 1946. Leppert scored the winning run in a 2-0 nail-biter. He also played football and baseball at Christian Brothers College, a prep school in Memphis. He was named the shortstop on Memphis’ All-City team as a junior in 1958.

After graduation, Leppert was signed by the New York Yankees and spent the first two years of his pro career playing for the McAlister (Okla.) Rockets of the Sooner State League. He hit .253 in 1949, with 66 RBIs and 15 stolen bases, as he adjusted both to minor-league pitching and adjusting to second base. He improved dramatically in 1950, finishing in the League’s top 10 in batting with a .330 average. He had 31 doubles, 11 triples and 4 home runs in 140 games. Those were the last games he’d have in pro ball for some time, as he was inducted into the Air Force National Guard and missed the entire 1951 season, as well as a good portion of 1952.

Leppert didn’t get out of the military until the summer of ’52. The Yankees sent him to the Quincy (Iowa) Gems of the Class-B Three-Eye League. He joined the Gems on August 12 and, in his very first game, hit for the cycle and drove in 6 runs in an 18-4 win. He homered in the next game and finished his abbreviated season with 8 homers and a .304 batting average in 52 games.

Source: The Birmingham News, July 22, 1954.

The Yankees moved Leppert up through the organization rapidly. He played on four different minor-league teams in 1953, making it all the way up to AAA Kansas City for a brief time. The Yankees were having to shuffle their rosters around, as minor-league players were entering and leaving the armed forces. Leppert, who played multiple infield positions, was sent wherever he was needed. Even with the constant travel, Leppert played pretty well, at least judging by the incomplete statistics that are available from that season. Leppert must have been relieved to spend the entire 1954 season with the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League. He batted .313 and had a career-best 10 home runs there. He was one of six Barons to make the All-Star Team.

In the 1954 offseason, The Yankees and Baltimore made one of the largest trades ever. The Yankees sent Harry Byrd, Jim McDonald, Willy Miranda, Hal Smith, Gus Triandos and Gene Woodling to Baltimore, getting Billy Hunter, Don Larsen and Bob Turley in return. A couple of weeks later, the Yankees added Theodore del Guercio, Bill Miller, Karl Segrist and Leppert to the deal while the Orioles dealt Mike Blyzka, Darrell Johnson, Jim Fridley and Dick Kryhoski, making it a 10-for-7 trade in the Orioles’ favor.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, July 29, 1955.

“I am depending upon them in rebuilding the Baltimore club,” Orioles manager Paul Richards said of his wealth of new talent. “I have told them I have confidence in them.” Richards added that he liked Leppert’s fire but thought he might need another year in AAA. The Orioles had a pretty crowded infield, particularly at second base, so Leppert had stiff competition ahead of him.

While the number of World Series titles that the Yankees won with Turley and Larsen on their pitching staff makes them the arguable winner of the big trade, the Orioles made some good use of their new players. Triandos, Miranda and Smith all became starters at first base, shortstop and catcher, respectively. Leppert was the team’s Opening Day second baseman and went 1-for-4 off Washington’s Bob Porterfield. After two more appearances, he was sent to the minors. Leppert batted .272 for Charleston until the Orioles brought him back to the majors at the end of July. Orioles utility infielder Hank Majeski retired to take a scouting job, giving Leppert an opportunity. He was used mostly as a late-inning defensive replacement, and he struggled to hit when he did come to bat. His second major-league hit came on August 24, more than four months after his first. He was given more chances to play in September and batted .176 on the month. That raised his batting average to .114 on the year, with 8 hits in 70 at-bats. Leppert had 1 triple, scored 6 times and drove in 2 runs. He walked 9 times for an on-base percentage of .213.

Leppert played one more season in the minor leagues. He began the season at Vancouver and was sent back to Birmingham at the end of June. He batted .271 between the two teams. He left baseball after the season and returned to his Memphis home. He served as a vice president for Vann’s Baking Co. there and also worked for Chattanooga Bakery until his retirement. He and his wife Charlotte were married for 67 years until her death, and they had six children.

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