Leo Pinckney, one of the most important and influential figures in the history of the New York-Penn League, passed away on Monday at the age of 89.
The 1998 recipient of Minor League Baseball's prestigious "King of Baseball" award, Pinckney was a tireless advocate for the sport he loved. In addition to spending 37 years as a sportswriter for The Auburn Citizen, Pinckney was instrumental in bringing a professional sports franchise to his hometown.
In 1958, when New York baseball was fixated on the loss of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, Pinckney spearheaded a successful fundraising campaign to get Auburn's city team into the New York-Penn League.
"We had a drive and sold stock door-to-door for one dollar apiece," Pinckney told the The Daily Star in 2004. "We got something like $5,800 in just a few days."
Buoyed by the community's enthusiastic response, Pinckney convinced the New York Yankees to sign on as the fledging club's Major League affiliate. Pinckney served as the Auburn Yankees' first president and was later named the president of the New York-Penn League, a position he held from 1984 until 1993. That year, the league named the division that Auburn plays in the "Pinckney Division," and the playing field at Auburn's Falcon Park was also renamed in his honor.
Since 1995, Auburn's New York-Penn League franchise has gone by the name "Doubledays". Fittingly, the club has won the Pinckney Division in each of the last five seasons. Pinckney himself remained a constant presence at Falcon Park, and acted as a role model and advisor to the Minor League employees who followed in his path.
"He was the face of the team, since he'd been there from the start," said Doubledays General Manager Carl Gutelius. "The variety of people who knew him was just amazing, and he served as an inspiration to a younger guy, like myself, who's just breaking into the game."
Christopher Sciria, a former sports editor at The Auburn Citizen who now works in the paper's News Department, echoed Gutelius' sentiments.
"Leo was truly the classiest, nicest person you could ever hope to meet," he said. "He had many opportunities to leave Auburn, but he never pursued them because he truly loved living here. Working with the team was something he really enjoyed. The New York-Penn League just meant so much to him."
One of Sciria's favorite recollections involving Pinckley occurred in 1996. In recognition of his 50th year covering the annual Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown, NY, the spry 78-year-old was invited to throw out the first pitch of the contest alongside inductees Jim Bunning and Earl Weaver.
Not long after that memorable highlight, Pinckney was named the "King of Baseball" at the 1998 Winter Meetings in Nashville, TN. This was the ultimate honor for Pinckley, and served as a tidy summation of his lifelong devotion to the sport.
"On this sad day I think of Leo's smile, his great personality, his wonderful baseball column and the fine job he did as New York-Penn League president," said Minor League Baseball's President and CEO Mike Moore. "He loved the game of baseball and the people in it, and will truly be missed."
Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com.