Original Toronto Blue Jays coach Don Leppert dies at age 91

Don Leppert, original Blue Jays coach, has died.

April 18, 2023

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

Don Leppert, the Toronto Blue Jays’ original bullpen coach, passed away on Thursday at his home in Delaware, Ohio at the age of 91.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, the team Leppert broke into the majors with as a player in 1961, shared the news of his death on Monday afternoon.

“We are deeply saddened to hear the news on the passing of Don Leppert,” said Pirates president Travis Williams in a statement. “He touched many lives during his more than 40 years in baseball and was a valuable part of the Pirates coaching staff during the 1971 World Series winning season. Our hearts go out to his wife, Daphine, and the entire Leppert family.”

The hardnosed and colorful Leppert, who also worked extensively with Blue Jays catchers in the club’s early years, joined the Blue Jays staff on October 15, 1976 to work under the team’s first manager Roy Hartsfield.

Born in 1931 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Leppert was a multisport star in high school, who earned a football scholarship to Wabash College.

Leppert would later enlist in the U.S. Air Force and serve as Military Police in the Korean War. While enlisted, he played for the Air Force baseball team and was impressive enough to be signed by the Milwaukee Braves.

He spent five seasons as a catcher in the Braves’ organization and another in the Kansas City A’s system before landing with the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to the 1961 season. After batting .386 in 39 games with the Pirates’ triple-A Columbus Jets to begin the campaign, he was promoted to the big leagues as a 29-year-old rookie on June 18, 1961.

Starting at catcher and batting sixth, he homered off veteran St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Curt Simmons on the first pitch of his first major league at bat. He also called pitches for Bob Friend and Roy Face that day to help the Pirates to a 5-3 win.

Over the next two seasons, he established himself as a reliable backup catcher to Smoky Burgess, batting .266 with six home runs in 67 games.

On December 15, 1962, he was traded to the Washington Senators for pitcher Ronald Honeycutt and cash.

He began the 1963 season as the Senators’ starting catcher and got off to red-hot start. On April 11, the third game of the season, Leppert belted three home runs to propel the Senators to an 8-0 win over the Boston Red Sox at D.C. Stadium. His torrid start – which included a .326 batting average in April – earned him a selection to the All-Star Game.

Leppert finished that season with .237 batting average with six home runs in 73 games. He returned to the Senators in 1964 but struggled to a .156 batting average in 50 contests and lost his starting job.

He spent his final two professional seasons in triple-A. In 1966, he was employed as a player-coach with the triple-A Columbus Jets in the Pirates’ organization before he was hired to manage the class-A Gastonia Pirates in 1967.

Impressed by his work with their minor leaguers, the Pirates promoted Leppert to their big league staff in 1968. He’d coach with the Pirates for nine seasons prior to landing with the Blue Jays.

Leppert joined the Blue Jays on October 15, 1976.

Leppert worked as a bullpen/catching coach with the Blue Jays for their first three seasons. And while those early Blue Jays teams may have finished last in the American League East division, they churned out a pretty strong crop of catchers. During his time with the Blue Jays, Leppert helped hone the skills of Alan Ashby, Rick Cerone and Ernie Whitt.

And almost every photo of Leppert with the Blue Jays shows him with a giant plug of tobacco in one of his cheeks. Newspaper reports paint him as a hardnosed coach who was generally well-liked by his players. And he was also good for a colorful quote from time to time.

For example, after the Blue Jays beat the Seattle Mariners 13-12 in a wild 10-inning game at the Kingdome on July 18, 1978, reporters asked him for his thoughts about the contest.

“I’ve been to three county fairs, four goat ropings and sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, and I ain’t seen nothing like that before,” Leppert responded.

Another highlight of Leppert’s Blue Jays tenure was when his son, Stephen, a middle infielder, was selected in the 16th round of the MLB draft by the club in 1977. The younger Leppert opted not to sign and attended Jacksonville State University.

When Hartsfield was fired after the 1979 season, Leppert moved on to become a first base coach for the 1980 National League West division winning Houston Astros. He would coach with the Astros through the 1985 season before returning to the minors to manage the Minnesota Twins’ class-A Kenosha Twins in 1986 and 1987.

Leppert retired to Naples, Fla., where he enjoyed fishing and hunting. In recent years, he had moved back to Ohio to be closer to his family.

Third base coach Jackie Moore is now the only original Blue Jays coach still living. Hartsfield passed away in 2011, while pitching coach Bob Miller died in 1993, hitting coach Bobby Doerr died in 2017 and first base coach Harry Warner died in 2015.

Leppert is survived by his wife Daphine, five children, nine grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

You can leave online condolences for his family here.

7 thoughts on “Original Toronto Blue Jays coach Don Leppert dies at age 91

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  1. Sorry for your loss Blue Jays. I always watch you. I hope you do well this year. I am looking for it. Enjoy your baseball game.

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