Baseball is the sport where 5-foot-6, 150-pound Thomas William Leach stood tall and made a name for himself in the early years of major league baseball. Leach was born in French Creek on Nov. 4, 1877, and was a direct descendant of Alexander Findley, the founder of Findley Lake. His family moved into Chautauqua County in 1811 and to Findley Lake in 1815. Leach, who was nicknamed Wee because of his small stature, lived in French Creek until he was about five years old when his family moved to Cleveland in the early 1880s.
He was one of the first major leaguers to reach the 2,000-hit plateau (2,143 hits) as he played 19 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1900-1912, 1918), the Chicago Cubs (1912-1914) the Cincinnati Reds (1915) and the Louisville Colonels (1898-1899) in the National League. His outstanding career was made mostly with the Pirates as he is ninth in games played (1,548), at-bats (5,909), runs (1,007) and singles (1,229) and was sixth in stolen bases (246) and seventh in triples (137).
Leach joins Willie Stargell from 1971-1973 and Ralph Kiner from 1946-1952 as the only Pirates ever to lead the National League in home runs. He led in home runs with six in 1902 and what was so unusual about that was that all were of the inside-the-park variety as he was blessed with excellent speed.The home run total was the fewest ever hit by a leader in the National League. Also that year, he led the league with 22 triples, placed second with 85 RBIs en route to a .278 average while playing 134 games at third base.
He usually batted third ahead of Hall of Famer Honus Wagner. Leach finished his career playing the third most games at that position for the Pirates with only Hall of Famer Pie Traynor and Richie Hebner playing more games. Besides playing third base, he also performed in the outfield, second base and shortstop during his career. In 1903, he was second in the league with seven more inside-the-park homers and delivered 17 triples as the Pirates became the National League champs and advanced to the first World Series against the American League champions Boston Pilgrims.
Leach scored the first ever World Series run during the four-run first inning when he tripled and scored on Wagner's single in the 7-3 road win. That was the start of a a four-hit performance against Hall of Famer Cy Young, who helped the Pilgrims capture the title with five victories in eight games. Leach finished the World Series with four triples, which is still a record for the fall classic, and batted .273 (9-of-33) with a team-high seven RBIs.
He got a brief taste of managing at a young age (26) as he was named interim manager of the Pirates for six weeks in 1904.
After just missed hitting .300 (.298) in 1903, Leach didn't have another stellar season until 1907 when he batted .303 with a career high 43 steals and 166 hits in 149 games. That was his second .300 season as he stroked at a .305 pace in 1901 in only 98 games.
Led by Leach's .320 average, the Pirates captured the 1909 World Series in seven games over the Detroit Tigers and Hall of Famer Ty Cobb. Four of his eight hits were doubles and he scored eight times. After playing center field and leading the National League with 126 runs and having 29 doubles during the regular-season, Leach was switched to third base in the World Series opener when the regular third baseman was injured in the first inning.
Leach was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1912 and then went to Cincinnati in 1915 and returned to the Pirates in 1918 at the age of 40 because of the shortage of players due to the World War 1. He batted .194 in 30 games to finish his 19-year career with a .269 average.
He was ranked 27th among the top 100 players to ever play for the Pirates by the Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia. He was rated ahead of such Pittsburgh stars as Dick Groat (29), Manny Sanguillen (33) and Tony Pena (42). In that same publication, baseball historian and author Bill James listed Leach as the 20th all-time finest third baseman. Among that group were Hall of Famers George Brett, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Matthews and Mike Schmidt.
Leach was among 26 players featured in a book The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball by The Men Who Played by Lawrence S. Ritter. In the interview, Leach said that he thought the most exciting play was either a triple of which he had 172 to rank among the top 25 or the inside-the-park home run.
Later he became a player-manager and a manager in the minor leagues in addition to being a scout for the Boston Braves, now the Atlanta Braves. Leach made stops in the minor leagues in Hanover, Pa., in the Cumberland Valley League, Petersburg, Virginia, in the Virginia League and Youngstown and Geneva, Ohio, in the Interstate League. He also performed for Auburn of the New York State in 1898 and led the league with five home runs and runs scored with 85. That same year he was given a tryout by the New York Giants but he was released because of his small stature.
He later was acquired by Louisville and played just three games but in 1899 hit .288 while playing 106 games and hitting five homers. In 1900, the National League cut back from 12 teams to eight teams, so, the Louisville franchise was disbanded. Thus, Leach and Wagner were among the 13 players that were sent to Pittsburgh.
Leach got to be a guest on the well-known television show "I Got A Secret" hosted by Gary Moore. His secret was at the time he was one of two living players from the first World Series of 1903. He passed at the age of 91 in Haines City, Florida, as the last surviving World Series member of the Pirates from 1903.
NYP Historian Charlie Wride compiled the following facts about Leach:
- Tommy Leach, who played for Auburn in 1898 was the first player ever to get a hit in a World Series game.
- In 1903 the Boston Americans played the Pittsburg Pirates in the first series called the world series. Tommy played 3rd base for the Pirates.
- Tommy Leach, in his first World Series at bat, batting third for the Pirates got a triple off of Cy Young. In the second, Tommy flied out to right. In the fourth he singled to center. In the sixth he got a infield hit to third base. In the eighth inning he tripled again. He also scored one run and had a RBI in the first World Series ever. All of his hits were off of Cy Young.
- Tommy Leach is the first ever player to get 4 hits in 5 trips in a World Series games. He is also the first ever to get two triples in one game. He is also the first player in World Series history ever to get four triples in one World Series.
- Tommy Leach played major league baseball with 1898-9 Louisville/1900-1912 Pirates/ 1912-1914 Cubs/1918 Pirates.
- Tommy Leach played in 2,156 major league games with a .269 life-time batting average. He also led the majors in home runs with six in 1902. Tommy Leach hit 63 major league home runs, 810 RBI's.
Tommy Leach died on September 29, 1969. He was selected for induction into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.