by Mark Armour
With piercing blue eyes and brown hair that was thinning even early in his baseball career, Sam Leever was known as "The Goshen Schoolmaster," as much for his appearance and serious disposition as for his off-season disposition. Leever relied on his exceptional curveball and control to compile a record of 194-100, for a .660 winning percentage, the ninth highest in baseball history. In an era when pitchers were listed in the newspapers each week according to their winning percentages, the oft-injured right-hander was the National League's "leading pitcher" in 1901, 1903, and 1905.
The fourth of Edward and Amerideth Leever's eight children, Samuel Leever was born on December 23, 1871, on a farm in Goshen, Ohio, about twenty miles northeast of Cincinnati. Like many of their neighbors, the Leevers were of Pennsylvania German heritage. After graduating from Goshen High School, Leever taught there for seven years before he signed his first baseball contract at the advanced age of 25.
A star pitcher for several years on club teams in southwestern Ohio, Leever was a teammate of future major leaguer Kid Elberfield with the local Norwood Maroons. He taught school during the week and pitched on Sundays. A big strong right-hander with an exceptional curveball, Leever was not signed sooner likely because he was not a hard thrower-he relied more on control and the movement of his pitches. An oft-told legend, undoubtedly apocryphal, claimed that Barney Dreyfus, then the owner of the Louisville Colonels, discovered Leever while he was playing "Anthony Over," a game that required tossing a ball over a barn to a friend. Leever was apparently able to curve the ball around the barn instead.
His first professional season was 1897 with Richmond of the Atlantic League, where he won 20 games and led the league in strikeouts. Pittsburgh purchased his contract for 1898, but when he reported with a sore arm the club sent him back to Richmond, where he won 14 more games and helped lead his team to the league championship. His success earned him a recall to Pittsburgh for the tail end of the season, and he won his only decision.