Dentist – baseball catcher – dentist. It was an unusual career path for Louis Legett of New Orleans.
Louis Alfred Legett was born on June 1, 1901. His father, Albert Legett, worked as a clerk of court in New Orleans. The family – his mother Rosetta (Gingham), older brothers Albert Jr. and Benjamin, and younger siblings Lawrence, Eunice, and Clara, all lived right on Frenchman at the corner of Decatur, just a block from the Mississippi River.
After attending McDonough #16 elementary school, Legett played ball at Warren Easton High School (originally known as Boys High) on Canal Street. Legett was a catcher (and a crack pitcher) there – even up to a somewhat advanced age (newspaper stories show him on the Boys High team when he was age 20.) He also played indoor baseball, and had an average consistently over .600 during the summer of 1920. He was captain of the 1921 championship Boys High team, but that was his last year: "Dutch" Legett finished school in midyear and played only football in his final semester, in the fall of 1921.
He attended Tennessee Doctors College (now the University of Tennessee Health Science Center) in Memphis and pursued a career in dentistry, while lettering in tennis, track, and swimming. But the lure of the diamond remained. He played for the Macon Peaches in 1926, catching 65 games. He then said he was leaving the game for dentistry.
A New Orleans Times-Picayune story in early 1927 reported conversations between him and the Atlanta Crackers, saying that he had "lots of experience and seems willing to give up his dental profession for a baseball career."1 He is listed as a dentist in the 1927 New Orleans city directory.
Perhaps there were conversations with him, because we see that Atlanta did acquire him for $500 and one-third of his ultimate sale price, less the $500.2 Atlanta optioned him to the Greenville Spinners (Class B South Atlantic "Sally" League). By midyear 1927, he'd already hit "around 18" home runs, including three in one game, and the Chicago Cubs purchased his contract. It was also written that "several times he won games in the ninth inning with home runs as pinch hitter."3 He's credited with batting .311 and hitting 23 homers.4 Legett married Arda Martin on October 3, and retired from baseball over the winter, but as springtime approached, he decided once more to play ball.
The Cubs assigned him to the International League in 1928, to play for the Reading Keystones. He hit .342 with 11 home runs in 87 games. Legett was right-handed, stood 5-foot-10 and is listed at 166 pounds.
His major-league debut was on May 8, 1929, with the Boston Braves. Six months before, he'd been one of five players sent (along with $200,000) to the Braves, all in exchange for Rogers Hornsby. Though he played, in all, for eight minor-league clubs, the only two for which he played in the majors were the two Boston clubs, the Braves and (later) the Red Sox. The 1929 Braves were managed for the year by their owner, Judge Emil Fuchs.
He appeared in 39 games for the Braves, mostly in the second half of the season, but his batting average tended to drop as the season wore on. By the end of the year, he was hitting .160, without a home run, and with just six runs batted in. The team finished in last place. In January 1930, he was released to the Newark Bears.
Playing for the Bears, Legett got into 50 International League games, batting only .210 with three home runs. He rebounded in 1931, working in the same league (but this time for Reading again), playing in 131 games with a .287 average and 11 homers. His biggest headline came courtesy of his three-run 10th-inning homer that won the May 19 game against his former team, Newark. On August 6, the franchise moved to Albany. His combined stats for 1932 (for the Reading Keys and the Albany Senators) have him hitting .294 with 14 homers, in 102 games. While with Reading in 1932, he took part in a history-making game, at Reading on June 1. Buzz Arlett was playing for visiting Baltimore. With Legett behind the plate calling the pitches, Arlett hit four home runs in four at-bats. Then Arlett did it again just 33 days later, again against Reading. This time Legett watched from the bench.
Before the 1933 season got underway, Legett was reported to be the only player on the 1932 Albany team who was going to be retained for 1933.5
On May 17, 1933, almost a year later, to the date, after his May 19 homer won the game in 1932, he won another game, this time for Albany, with a 10th-inning game-winning single.
His contract was sold to the Boston Red Sox.6 In June, July, and August, Legett played in three games for them, one each month. On June 24, his Red Sox debut, the team lost 16-4 in Detroit and he came in to spell Rick Ferrell in the later innings. He had one at-bat, and doubled, driving in a ninth-inning run. He pinch hit, but in vain, on July 5. On August 3, he pinch-ran in a game, but did not score. The August 5, 1933, Boston Globe reported that Legett had been released to Buffalo on option. He played in a combined 59 games, batting .263, for Albany and Buffalo. He was recalled to Boston in September and got into five more games, three of them as a pinch-runner (he scored in one). By season's end, he had five at-bats, one hit, with the one run scored and the one RBI.
Legett stuck with the Red Sox all of 1934 and, despite a broken finger which cost him several weeks early in the season, he served as an able backup to Rick Ferrell, with a fielding percentage of .977 and a batting average of .289 in 19 games. With 11 hits in 38 at-bats, not one of them was an extra-base hit and he drove in only one run all year long, in a 6-3 loss.
He was back again to start the season in 1935, but on May 11, Legett was optioned to Syracuse, leaving the Sox with two catchers, Rick Ferrell and Moe Berg. His time in the big leagues was over, though no one knew that at the time.
He played in the Boston farm system, for Syracuse, in 1935 and 1936. In 1935, he appeared in 81 games and hit for a .314 average. On January 14, 1936, the Red Sox released him to Syracuse again and he appeared in 89 games, but his average dropped dramatically, to .231. After the 1936 season, the Chiefs changed to a working agreement with the Cincinnati Reds. Legett began the season with Syracuse and worked in 19 games (batting .353), but was then moved from Double-A ball down to A1, with the Nashville Volunteers, where he appeared in 79 games, batting .271. It was his last season in organized baseball. Vols manager Charlie Dressen had let him know before the end of December.7
After baseball, Doc Legett was able to pursue dentistry fulltime. He settled more solidly into life in New Orleans. Arda Legett pursued her own career, working as a physical therapist in a local hospital.
In 1969, Legett was one of five inductees into the New Orleans Diamond Club Hall of Fame. He was still practicing as a dentist in the city but was also volunteer chairman of the New Orleans Recreation Department's baseball program.8 He continued his volunteer work with the program until illness forced his retirement. He was at one point president of the New Orleans Dental Society. In 1984 he was inducted into the Greater New Orleans Hall of Fame.9 Legett was also a 33rd-degree Mason and at one point grand master of the Louisiana Masons.
Legett died in New Orleans on March 6, 1988, at JoEllen Convalescent Center after a long illness, and is buried in the Masonic Cemetery in New Orleans. He was survived by his wife Arda, one brother, and one sister.10
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Legett’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Bill Lee's The Baseball Necrology, Rod Nelson, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 "Dixie Club Owners Adopt 1927 Schedule," New Orleans Times-Picayune, February 16, 1927: 13.
2 Letter from Doc Legett to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, May 22, 1979.
3 "Doctor Goes Up to Chicago Cubs," The Repository (Canton, Ohio), July 24, 1927: 58.
4 "National League Clubs May Have New Starts in Rookies," Dallas Morning News, February 12, 1928: Sports News, 4.
5 Omaha World Herald, February 24, 1933: 22.
6 While we cannot find a news story documenting the sale, see the letter from Doc Legett dated May 22, 1979 in which he declared that at this point he was "Sold to Boston Red Sox." The letter is in his player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
7 Val J. Flanagan, "Southern Sallies," The Sporting News, December 30, 1937: 9.
8 John Joly, "Five Honored by Diamond," New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 23, 1969: 54.
9 Cliff Mehrtens, "Five To Be Inducted into N. O. Hall of Fame," New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 22, 1984: 126.
10 "Dentist, Former Ball Player Dr. Louis Legett Dies at 87, New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 8, 1988: 28.