Whatever Happened to …. Eddie LeBaron
by Robert Janis
He stood only 5-feet 7-inches and weighed 160 pounds when he played professional football for the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. Because of his small size and his skills on the football field he was affectionately called “The Little General.” However, the term could also refer to his experience fighting in Korea with the U.S. Marines in 1950. He played for one of the best head coaches in football history. He was selected to play in four Pro Bowls. He was the most valuable player in the East-West game in 1949 and runner up for MVP in the college all-star game that same year. He was named to the Little All-American team for three years during his college career and was enshrined in the College Hall of Fame. He was a player-coach, general manager of a National Football League team, and worked for both the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association. When he was not involved with football he had a successful career as an attorney. He is also recognized as one of the 70 Greatest Redskins of all time.
Eddie LeBaron was born on January 7, 1930. He was an only child. His father was in the farming business so the LeBaron family lived in a number of small towns in the Sanoma-Alexander Valley which is wine country in Northern California. But they spent most of Eddie’s early years in Oakdale, California, a small town about 25 miles east of Stockton.
According to LeBaron, he started playing football almost as soon as he could walk. “My uncle, who played football at St. Mary’s College gave me a football when I was only 4 or 5 years old,” said LeBaron. “I was immediately out in the fields throwing it and kicking it. There was a little grammar school across the vineyards from where we lived. The school house had 18 kids and classes went up to the eighth grade. I used to go over there and play with the kids. I took my football because they didn’t have one.”
The experience of playing with the older school kids got LeBaron into the school as a student when he was only 5 years old. He started in first grade. When it came time for him to attend second grade there were no students who could fill the class so he went on to third grade. “I moved through school fairly fast at that level,” said LeBaron.
His playmates were the boys and girls who attended the school. And they all played football, baseball and whatever other sport came to their minds.
LeBaron started attending Oakdale High School when he was 12. By the time he was 13 he was playing tailback and safety, punted and dropped kicked extra points for the school’s football team, played basketball and ran the hurtles for the track team. At the time he stood 5-feet 7-inches and weighed only 150 to 155 pounds. “I wasn’t the smallest kid on the team,” quipped LeBaron. “As I went on to the higher levels — college, pro — I got to be the smallest.”
One might think that size would be an issue for him, the coaches, his fellow players, and his parents. It was not. “Size was never a factor for me,” said LeBaron. “And I don’t think size was a factor for the other players and coaches. Most of the guys I played with thought that if you could do it, you did it. They didn’t care how big you were. Size was not an issue for my mother either. She wanted me to play. My father worried about it more. He played football when he was in high school. Both my mom and dad went to all the games to see me play.”
The Oakdale High School football team used the single wing formation. “There really wasn’t anyone using the T-Formation,” explained LeBaron. “Stanford started using the T-formation about the time I started high school, but no one else used it. That was 1942.”
After graduating Oakdale High School, LeBaron attended the College of the Pacific in Stockdale, California. He had actually been accepted to Stanford but changed his mind because a lot of his friends from Oakdale High School were going to attend Pacific. “There were eight or nine guys from Oakdale who played first or second string for the Pacific football team. In fact, two went on to play pro ball,” said LeBaron. He was also influenced to go to Pacific because Larry Siemering, a high school coach at Stockton and some other schools in the area where LeBaron grew up, had just been hired to be the assistant football coach at Pacific. “He was well known by the people I grew up with and we all thought that he was going to be a great coach,” said LeBaron.
LeBaron’s first year at the College of the Pacific was the last year Amos Alonzo Stagg was the head coach of the school’s football team. The school went undefeated in 1949 and was ranked 10th in the nation. And LeBaron was seriously considered for the Heismann Trophy. “Leon Hart got the Heismann that year,” remembered LeBaron. Hart was an end for Notre Dame University. “I played with him in the college all-star game and against him in the East-West game. I was named most valuable player in the East-West game and I was runner up for MVP in the college all-star game.”
Professional football teams were definitely interested. The San Francisco 49ers, who were then in the All-American Conference, drafted LeBaron in a secret draft when he was still a junior at Pacific. When the league merged with the National Football League that draft was canceled. The coach of the Detroit Lions who coached in the first Senior Bowl, a college all-star game in which LeBaron played, told LeBaron that he was interested in drafting him. But LeBaron refused the 49ers offer and told anyone who would listen that he wasn’t interested in playing professional football. Despite that, the Washington Redskins selected LeBaron in the 10th round of the 1950 National Football League Draft. He attended training camp for about two weeks, played in the college all-star game and played in two pre-season games for the Redskins. But the Korean War had broken out and at the time LeBaron was a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserves. He had joined the Marine Reserves while in college to stay out of the draft. He was called up to serve, attended a basic school at the Marine Base in Quantico, Virginia and then was shipped to the war zone. He was wounded twice during his nine months in Korea and decorated with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. After Korea he taught at the Marine Base in Quantico.
After serving two years he was released from the Marine Corps in 1952 and had decided that he would give pro football a shot. So he re-joined the Redskins. The legendary Sammy Baugh was still the Redskins first string quarterback when LeBaron joined the team. But 1952 would be his last year as a player. “Baugh was 37 years old and had already decided to retire at the end of the season,” said LeBaron. “He played three quarters of the first game, then I came in and played. He played a quarter of the second game and I finished the game. And he played the first quarter of the third game and I finished that game. Then I started and played the rest of the games that season. Baugh retired as a player after the season and became the team’s backfield coach.” Curly Lambeau was the head coach of the Redskins at the time.
LeBaron showed that he was able to play pro ball. He threw nine touchdown passes in the last three games of his rookie season and was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team, he said.
When asked to identify his best game as a Redskin, LeBaron answered, “The Browns game in 1955. The Redskins had never beaten the Cleveland Browns. I threw two touchdown passes and ran for one and we beat them for the first time that year.” Moreover, he led the League in passing in 1958.
LeBaron’s seven year career with the Redskins was not without problems. In 1953 he experienced a mediocre year due to injuries. “I hurt my knee in a pre-season game in 1953 and didn’t play much in the regular season. Speed was important to me and I didn’t have it. Lambeau didn’t think much of my play. I didn’t like Lambeau and I told the team owner, George Marshall that I didn’t want to play for him in 1954. Marshall let me out of my contract and I signed to play with Calgary of the Canadian Football League.” LeBaron was also influenced to go to the CFL because Larry Siemering, the former head coach of the College of the Pacific, had been hired as head coach of Calgary.
“I had a good experience in Canada,” commented LeBaron. “We had a lot of great people and we all had a good time. We played two games a week some times in the ice and snow. And it was a different type of football. They have only three downs and forward motion was allowed. We had some unique plays. The team was very good when the weather was good and not so good when the weather was bad. We had several NFL players on the team including Gene Brito who came up with me from the Redskins and there was a defensive end who played with the 49ers. We didn’t make the playoffs and Siemering didn’t stay. In 1954 Marshall fired Lambeau and replaced him with Joe Kuharich and I went back to play with the Redskins in 1955.”
LeBaron liked Kuharich. “I had played against him when I was at Pacific and he was coaching at the University of San Francisco. I had a good experience with Kuharich. He was a nice guy, a good disciplinarian and he treated everyone well. We had a pretty good team and we had some pretty good years.” Under Kuharich from 1954 through 1958 the Redskins record was 26-32-2. Mike Nixon replaced Kuharich as head coach prior to the 1959 season. “I didn’t know what Marshall’s reasoning was when he selected head coaches,” commented LeBaron. “Mike was a little laid back you might say. I would ask him to look at film with me and he would say, ‘No. Let’s beat the traffic.’”
1959 was LeBaron’s last year with the Redskins. He intended to retire and join a law firm in Midland, Texas. He had attended George Washington University Law School during the offseason while still playing with the Redskins and got his law degree in 1956. However, in 1960 the Dallas Cowboys were born. General manager of the team, Tex Stramm, and head coach Tom Landry convinced LeBaron to join the new franchise as its starting quarterback.
“The American Football League was just starting up and they put a franchise in Dallas. The NFL wanted to control that territory and asked Clint Murchison Jr. to start a franchise. The team was stocked by a special draft of players on NFL team rosters. The Cowboys got three players from each team and they also obtained Don Meredith out of college. The Cowboys had territorial rights over him.”
Not only was LeBaron the starting quarterback for the Cowboys during its first four years. He also tutored Meredith. Moreover, the two alternated downs during games. “Don didn’t like it. But I did,” said LeBaron. “It gave me a chance to talk to the coaches and select plays during the game.”
LeBaron finally retired after the 1963 season. He moved to Nevada and managed Murchison’s cement plant there until he passed the Nevada Bar. Then he started his own law firm specializing in corporate law. One of his clients was Howard Hughes. “I didn’t know Hughes. He was up in the top floor of the Desert Inn. I worked with one of his assistants.”
In 1977 LeBaron was hired as General Manager of the Atlanta Falcons. He also served on the NFL Competition Committee for five or six years with Paul Brown, Tex Stramm and Don Shula.
LeBaron has been involved with the National Football League off and on as a player and executive since 1952. He also served some time as a player rep with the National Football League Players Association before it was recognized as a union while he was with the Cowboys. He witnessed pro football evolve from being a game to a business. “When I joined the Redskins Richard McCann was the team’s general manager. But in truth, Marshall did everything. McCann just did the P.R. Marshall kept his fingers on everything. At the time that was the case with most of the teams. The owners did it all. Then it got to be a big business and it all changed.
“I remember that first year I was with the Redskins Marshall complained that the players were getting greedy,” continued LeBaron. “He said that that year his payroll for 33 players would exceed $175,000. That averages about $5,000 a man. When I became general manager of the Falcons the big time players were getting $50,000. A few years later as TV revenue rose it all changed again. Now the players get a little bit less than 60 percent of the revenue. In the old days 60 percent of the gate receipts went to the home team.” While a member of the National Football League Players Association, LeBaron warned Pete Rozelle, who was commissioner of the NFL at the time, that the league should set up a pension plan or the NFLPA would be replaced by a union. “That’s how we got the pension,” said LeBaron.
LeBaron left the Falcons for a job with the National Football League in 1987. He ran the strike games that year. “No one wanted the commissioner to be involved,” explained LeBaron. In 1988 he moved to California and joined the law firm of Pillsbury, Madison, and Sutro where he served as managing partner of the firm’s Sacramento office.
He finally retired from Pillsbury in 1997. Since then he went into the real estate development business and owns vineyards in Northern California. He has also served on several companies’ boards of directors. One such company is Tom Brown Inc., a sizable oil and gas company. Future President of the United States George W. Bush also served on that board with LeBaron. Today the two are still friends. He also does charitable work and has served as the president of the Nevada and Georgia Golf Associations and is on the board of the Northern California Golf Association.
He has been married to Doralee since 1954 and has three sons — Edward Wayne III, Richard, and William. He also has five grandchildren. LeBaron and his wife now live in Sacramento, California.