Leroy Stanton (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Leroy Stanton

This article was written by Eric Vickrey

Leroy Stanton (THE TOPPS COMPANY)Leroy Stanton overcame many obstacles on his path to a major-league baseball career. He grew up poor in an area overlooked by scouts, suffered a serious injury from an early-career beaning, and missed two seasons after being drafted into the Army. After cups of coffee with the New York Mets in 1970 and 1971, Stanton was part of an infamous lopsided trade that sent him to the California Angels with Nolan Ryan. Stanton established himself as an everyday outfielder with the Angels from 1972 to 1976 and then spent two years with the Seattle Mariners, clubbing 27 home runs in the expansion team’s inaugural season in 1977. He finished his career with identical lefty/righty and home/road splits in batting average (.244) and slugging percentage (.388), a remarkable and unmatched feat.

Leroy Bobby Stanton was born on April 10, 1946 in Latta, South Carolina. He was the seventh child born to Cerveria and Gertrude (née Cabbagestalk). Friends called him Leroy or Lee, but to close family he was known as ‘Bay.’ Gertrude also had a son, Dewitt Cabbagestalk, from a previous relationship. Cerveria and Gertrude had a daughter, Zedith, and then five boys (Clyde, William, James, Harris, and Cerveria Jr.) preceded Leroy. Cerveria Sr. worked as a tenant farmer, and the children helped tend the fields of tobacco, cotton, and corn. Working under the sweltering South Carolina sun, Leroy earned 30 cents an hour, sometimes putting in 12 hours or more in a day.1 “I did a lot of hard work, and I learned a lot from it,” Leroy once said.2

One field on the farm was set aside for baseball, which Leroy learned to play from his older brothers. Money was scarce, so the kids substituted tree limbs for bats and used rocks wrapped in tobacco leaves and rags for balls.3 “All my brothers were good…my oldest brother, Clyde, probably had more influence on my baseball than anyone else,” Leroy later remembered.4

Leroy attended Dillon County public schools, including Latimer High School, where he played baseball with Harris and Cerveria Jr. The impoverished school did not have football or track facilities, and a baseball season consisted of seven games.5 The right-handed Leroy pitched and played catcher while hitting over .400 throughout his high school years.6 One highlight from his amateur years was a game versus Lumberton, North Carolina in which he pitched a one-hitter and went 4-for-4.7

Scouts had never come to Latta or the surrounding communities, and so Leroy made plans to attend North Carolina A&T in Greensboro in the fall of 1964. He received a gridiron scholarship despite having never played organized football. However, his dream was to play professional baseball. He wrote the New York Mets asking for a chance to show his talents, and they invited him to a tryout camp. Just days before he was set to start his college courses, scout Julian Morgan signed Leroy to a professional contract. On a questionnaire he completed after signing, Stanton wrote that his goal was to “be another Willie Mays.”8

Stanton’s professional career began in 1965 with the Greenville (SC) Mets, a Single-A club in the Western Carolinas League. In his first 12 games, he hit .370 with five extra-base hits and four stolen bases. Then, Stanton was hit on the head by a pitch. In the process of trying to evade the ball, his helmet fell off, and he was struck near the left temple. “I spent one day in the hospital, came out, suffered a fainting spell, went back in and was there for a week,” he later described.9 Another report later indicated that he had suffered a “violent seizure.”10 He did not play for a month following the incident, and some within the Mets’ organization recommended he walk away from baseball altogether.11 When he returned to action, he suffered from headaches and struggled at the plate. “I was never the same again as a hitter. I was always conscious of balls thrown high and inside, near my head,” he later admitted.12 In July, Stanton was reassigned to the Marion (VA) Mets, a rookie level team in the Appalachian League. Following the demotion, he hit just .229 in 14 games.

In 1966, Stanton was drafted by the United States army and served a two-year tour of duty as a radio operator in Germany. “I got away where I didn’t have to think about the beaning, and that helped me,” he later recalled.13 While enlisted he was able to play enough baseball to regain his confidence.

Stanton made his return to professional baseball in 1968 with the Single-A Raleigh-Durham Mets in the Carolina League. He re-established himself as a prospect with an excellent season. In 133 games as the team’s right fielder, Stanton hit .266 with 12 home runs, 75 RBIs, and 27 stolen bases. Whitey Herzog, the Mets’ farm director at the time, called Stanton “one of the best prospects we have.”14

Stanton spent the winter playing in the Florida Instructional League and reported to spring training with the Mets’ big-league camp. His play impressed manager Gil Hodges: “He can run, hit with power, and has a real good arm.”15 Stanton was assigned to Double-A with the Memphis Blues for the 1969 season. The 23-year-old played in 127 games and produced a .266 average, four home runs, and 52 RBIs.

On June 13, 1969, Leroy married Thelma McKenzie, his childhood sweetheart. The couple would have three daughters (Shauna, Denise, and Lauren) and spend the next 50 years together.

Stanton again played in the Florida Instructional League to close out 1969. In 35 games, he batted .307 with three home runs and 26 RBIs. He moved up to Triple-A in 1970, playing for the Tidewater Tides in the International League. Stanton enjoyed his most successful season to date, hitting .303 with a .360 OBP, 19 home runs, 94 RBIs, and 15 steals. His accomplishments earned him a trophy as the team’s Most Valuable Player and a promotion to the Mets in September.

Stanton made his major-league debut on September 10, 1970, as a pinch-hitter versus Philadelphia Phillies’ reliever Joe Hoerner. Stanton was retired on a pop fly to center field. He was hitless in two more pinch-hitting appearances before getting a start as the Mets’ center fielder and lead-off man on September 28 versus the Chicago Cubs. In his first at-bat, Stanton tripled to right field against Cubs’ starter Ken Holtzman to record his first major-league hit. While sliding into third base, Stanton was struck on the head by the relay throw and was removed from the game. He did not play in the Mets’ three remaining games.

Stanton had hopes of making the Mets’ roster in 1971, but he was the last man cut out of spring training.16 The team broke camp with an outfield corps of Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, Art Shamsky, Dave Marshall, and Ken Singleton. Stanton returned to Norfolk for another season with the Tides. “I didn’t say anything, but I was very depressed,” he would later say. “I just had to tell myself I’d go back to Triple-A and have a better year than I did before.”17 In 139 games, he hit .324 with 23 home runs and 101 RBIs. His success came despite still suffering from persistent daily headaches that resulted from the beaning years before. Stanton got another September callup with the Mets, who by this time were out of playoff contention. Stanton started five games in right field, registering four hits in 21 at-bats.

In December 1971, the Mets traded Stanton along with Nolan Ryan, Don Rose, and Francisco Estrada to the California Angels for six-time All-Star Jim Fregosi. The 24-year-old Ryan had a big arm and had experienced some success (a 29-38 record and 3.58 ERA in parts of five seasons) but had not yet harnessed his control, averaging 6.1 walks per nine innings. While Ryan was the centerpiece in the package heading west, Angels general manager Harry Dalton insisted that Stanton be included. The Mets were reluctant to let him go, as Herzog would later explain.18 Ryan himself called Stanton “the sleeper in the trade.” Ryan explained, “I played with him in the minor leagues, and he’s got a lot of power.”19 The trade would prove to be one of the most lopsided in major-league history. Ryan broke out in 1972 with 19 wins and 329 strikeouts on his way to a Hall of Fame career while Fregosi hit .233 in just two seasons with New York. Stanton alone would out-produce Fregosi.

Stanton spent the winter driving a dump truck before heading to Arizona for spring training in 1972.20 Despite a lackluster showing in the Cactus League, Stanton served as the Angels’ opening day right fielder. He admittedly put a lot of pressure on himself and struggled early, managing just four hits in his first 27 at-bats. “I came to the Angels thinking I had to hit every ball out of the park. The first day in camp I spent so much time in the batting cage that I came up with six blisters,” he said that May.21 Stanton was benched for 13 games following his poor start. The Angels considered sending him to Triple-A Salt Lake City, even though he was out of options and would have to be placed on irrevocable waivers. But manager Del Rice talked to Roy McMillan (Stanton’s former Double-A manager) and scouts and heard he was a notoriously slow starter.22 Rice stuck with Stanton and re-inserted him in the lineup on May 14 against the New York Yankees. Stanton responded by hitting his first two big-league home runs and reclaimed the starting right-field job for the rest of the season.

Stanton, who was 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, made an impression on teammate Vada Pinson. “He reminds me a little of Frank Robinson. He won’t hit that many home runs, but he’s strong and he can drive a ball to the alleys,” said Pinson.23 Stanton went on a tear from May 21 to June 9, a 19-game stretch during which he hit .380 with five home runs and 20 RBIs. He cooled off considerably in the second half and finished the season hitting .251 with 12 home runs and 39 RBIs.

Under new manager Bobby Winkles, Stanton played semi-regularly in 1973, splitting time between the corner outfield spots. The Angels also added the 37-year-old Robinson, who served as the team’s primary designated hitter. Stanton had 123 plate appearances and hit .248 with just one home run and six RBIs through the season’s first 55 games.

Stanton received hitting advice from Robinson and Don Drysdale, then an Angels broadcaster. Robinson told him to keep his left arm extended during his swing to keep from topping the ball, and Drysdale suggested using a heavier bat and choking up.24 Stanton found some short-term success implementing these suggestions.

On July 10, the Angels visited the Baltimore Orioles, and Stanton got the start, drawing a tough assignment against Jim Palmer. Stanton struck out in his first at-bat but then homered, singled, and homered in his next three times to the plate. The game went to extra-innings with the score tied 8-8. Stanton faced O’s reliever Eddie Watt in the 10th inning and hit his third home run of the game. The Halos held on to win 10-8. Stanton became only the second AL player to ever hit three home runs and steal a base in the same game. The feat had not been accomplished since Carl Reynolds in 1930 and would not be repeated until Joe Carter did it in 1989. The three-homer game was one of the few highlights that year for Stanton, who finished the season with a .235 average, eight home runs, and 34 RBIs in 119 games.

Winkles offered his assessment for Stanton’s subpar season: “This guy lacked so much confidence that he couldn’t decide when to swing. He’d start to swing at a pitch and stop halfway through. When he did swing all the way through, it was usually at a bad pitch.”25 That off-season, the Angels hired Herzog as their third-base coach, reuniting Stanton with his former mentor. Herzog left the Mets to manage the Texas Rangers in 1973 before being fired less than a full-season on the job.

Stanton, who was often described as quiet and reserved, got some sage advice while working with Herzog in spring training of 1974. “I told him this spring, ‘Dammit Lee, I don’t care if you strike out 200 times, but go up there and get three vicious cuts,’” said Herzog26

Herzog’s tutelage paid off. Stanton opened 1974 as the Angels’ starting right fielder and got off to a blistering start. He hit in the team’s first 10 contests, including seven multi-hit games. He was hitting .390 with four home runs and 14 RBIs on April 23 when he was hit on the left hand by a pitch from the Orioles’ Ross Grimsley. Earl Weaver was thrown out of the game for arguing that the ball did not hit Stanton, but the proof was in x-rays which showed a metacarpal fracture.27 The injury sidelined Stanton for five weeks.

Stanton played well upon his return to the lineup, and he maintained a batting average over .300 into early August. He tailed off down the stretch and ended the season with a .267 average, 11 home runs, and 62 RBIs. The Angels finished with a 68-94 record, worst in the American League.

Stanton had established himself as the Angels’ right fielder heading into 1975. He hit a walk-off home run off Chicago White Sox reliever Wilbur Wood in the Angels’ third game, but overall Stanton struggled early. He was benched from late April to mid-May and was hitting just .105 (4-for-38) on May 15. He found his stroke in June and hit .327 with five home runs and 29 RBIs for the month. Stanton reached a level of consistency in the second half of the season and finished with career highs in games played (137), runs (67), stolen bases (18), OBP (.345), and WAR (3.3). He hit .261 with 14 home runs and 82 RBIs and led the major leagues with 16 outfield assists. Los Angeles’ Chapter of the BBWAA awarded Stanton and Frank Tanana the Angels’ Co-MVPs.

The next season, 1976, would prove to be a forgettable season for Stanton. He lost his starting job in late May as Bruce Bochte and Bobby Bonds eventually took over in left and right field, respectively. Stanton’s batting average hovered around the Mendoza line for most of the year. “They were calling up a lot of guys and playing a lot of young players. To me it was obvious by midseason that I didn’t fit into their plans,” Stanton later said.28 The 30-year-old played in 93 games and hit .190 with just two home runs and 25 RBIs.

In November, a draft was held for the American League’s two expansion teams, the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners. Both teams would begin play in 1977. The Mariners selected Stanton in the fourth round of the draft. Seattle’s skipper, Darrell Johnson, was aware of Stanton’s abilities from his days managing against him in Triple-A. “I kept remembering his power, for one thing. For another, when you get near the end of an expansion draft, the kids are gone,” said Johnson.29

The Mariners played their first game on April 6, 1977, hosting the Angels in front of 57,762 fans at the Kingdome. Stanton played right field and hit cleanup. Jose Baez recorded the first hit in franchise history in the first inning. Stanton led off the second inning with a single to center field off Tanana. Though he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double, it went in the books as the second base hit in Mariners history.

True to form, Stanton got off to a slow start with Seattle. Following his Opening Day hit, he was hitless in his next 20 at-bats. “I think I got off to such a bad start because I wanted so much to get off to a good one,” he later assessed. “My wife, Thelma, helped. She is a very important factor, just won’t let me get down. And I have my faith in Jesus Christ. I attend chapel meetings and that helps.”30

Stanton broke out of the slump with home runs in back-to-back games. By the end of June, he was hitting .267 with seven home runs. In the second half of the season, Stanton belted 20 home runs, including two in the same game against the Angels in Anaheim. His season ended on September 29 when he fractured his ankle sliding into second base.31 He underwent surgery the following week, an unfortunate ending to an otherwise standout season. For the year, Stanton hit .275 with an .852 OPS, led the team with a career-high 27 home runs, and tied for the team lead with 90 RBIs, also a career high.

Stanton was among the older and more experienced members of the expansion M’s, and he had an influence on young players like 22-year-old Ruppert Jones. The youngster broke out with 24 home runs and 76 RBIs. “Leroy Stanton was my first mentor in MLB. He made my rookie year so much easier than it could have been. I never had the pleasure to tell him that,” said Jones in 2021.32

Stanton returned to the Mariners in 1978, but he could not replicate his success from the year before. His numbers were not dissimilar to his final year with the Angels. He served as Seattle’s DH in 50 of their first 65 games and hit just .207 with three home runs and 17 RBIs. He started just 21 games after July 1 and hit .138 without a home run. When asked about the decline, Stanton said, “You correct one thing, and something else goes wrong. I have to blame myself. After so many years, you should know yourself. But Rico Carty told me the same thing happened to him in 1973. He went and played in Mexico and got rid of his frustration and straightened out. Maybe I’ll play winter ball this year.”33

Stanton spent spring training with the Mariners in 1979 but was cut toward the end of camp. His contract was sold to the Hanshin Tigers, a Japanese team managed by former big-leaguer Don Blasingame. “It was a blow to me. I like Seattle. Yet, I sensed it was coming. The organization is going for youth,” said Stanton at the time.34 Johnson, the Mariners’ manager in 1977 and 1978, said, “Leroy Stanton is a quality son-of-a-gun. I never met a better guy. He’s class from top to bottom.”35

In Japan, Stanton played 121 games, hit .225 with 23 home runs and 58 RBIs. In 1980, he returned to North America and played for Angeles de Puebla in the Mexican League. He played in 37 games and hit .227 with one home run. Stanton signed with the Toronto Blue Jays in February 1981 but was released before the season. He ended his nine-year major-league career with 77 home runs. Remarkably, Stanton’s career batting average (.244) and slugging percentage (.388) were the same versus left and right-handed pitching as well as in both home and road games.

In 2021, Fangraphs’ Effectively Wild podcast, hosted by Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley, researched this fact and found that Stanton is the only player in major-league history with more than 12 at-bats to have identical batting average splits like Stanton achieved.36 Year-to-year, Stanton’s splits were not always similar. For example, in 1977, he hit .234 versus righties and .363 against lefties. In other seasons, the right-handed hitter fared better against same-handed hurlers. Therefore, his identical splits seem to be an unlikely coincidence, though it can be said Stanton achieved an unmatched overall level of consistency.

Stanton transitioned to coaching in the Blue Jays’ organization following his playing career. He served as a coach with the team’s Single-A affiliates in Florence, Myrtle Beach, and Hagerstown for a more than a decade and then with Double-A Knoxville in 1994 and 1995.

In 1995, Stanton stepped away from baseball and took his career in a much different direction, working as a truck driver. He started his own company as sole proprietor of Stanton Trucking and drove his rig until retiring in 2015. He remained connected to baseball by running a hitting school for a short time and attended games when he could. He also worked for the Florence Recreational Department, coaching youth basketball teams and serving as a mentor to kids that showed an interest in baseball. In February 2019, he was elected to the Latimer High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

Tragically, Leroy Stanton died on March 13, 2019 at age 72 from injuries sustained in a single-car crash in his hometown of Florence, South Carolina. He is buried at Resthaven Cemetery in Dillon, SC. “He was an extremely supportive and caring father and grandfather,” remembered his daughter Shauna in 2021. “He is greatly missed.”37

 

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Ruppert Jones for sharing a memory of playing with Leroy Stanton and to Shauna Stanton for sharing information about her father’s life after baseball.

This biography was reviewed by Malcolm Allen and Bruce Harris and fact-checked by Bill Lamb.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author relied on Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Don Merry, “Stanton a Happy Angel: Welcome to Heave…er…Holtville,” Independent Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA), March 5, 1972: 73.

2 Dave Distel, “Stanton: Anything but Bad, Bad,” Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1974: 21.

3 Ross Newhan, “Headaches Plague Stanton, but He’s in there Swinging,” Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1972: 31.

4 Distel.

5 Merry, “Stanton a Happy Angel: Welcome to Heave…er…Holtville.”

6 Distel.

7 Leroy Stanton, Publicity Questionnaire for William J. Weiss, February 8, 1965.

8 Weiss questionnaire.

9 Newhan.

10 Don Merry, “Stanton Get His Chance,” Independent Press-Telegram, May 15, 1972: 23.

11 Merry, “Stanton Gets His Chance.”

12 Jeff Prugh, “Stanton is ‘Bad, Bad Leroy’ to A.L. Pitchers,” Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1974: 39.

13 Prugh, “Stanton is ‘Bad, Bad Leroy’ to A.L. Pitchers.”

14 Joe Tiede, “Better Altitude for R-D Mets,” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), May 24, 1968: 33.

15 Dick Young, “Gil Figures Mets 15-12 in Fla Tilts,” Daily News (New York, NY), March 8, 1969: 30.

16 Larry Fox, “Hit Tune: ‘Any More Down on Farm Like Jorgy’?” Daily News, June 18, 1971: 171.

17 Merry, “Stanton a Happy Angel: Welcome to Heave…er…Holtville.”

18 Phil Fuhrer, “Angels’ Lee Stanton has Confidence in his Swing,” San Bernardino County Sun, April 19, 1974: 43.

19 Gabe Buonauro, “Hot Stove League,” The Record (Hackensack, NJ), December 16, 1971: 77.

20 Dick Miller, “Angel Socker Stanton Rips Ticket to Minors,” The Sporting News, June 24, 1972: 18.

21 Newhan.

22 Miller.

23 Miller.

24 Ron Rapoport, “Stanton Hits 3 Homers; Angels top Orioles, 10-8,” Los Angeles Times, July 11, 1973: 47.

25 Fuhrer.

26 Fuhrer.

27 Jeff Prugh, “Angels Lost Stanton — and Ball Game, 4-3,” Los Angeles Times, April 24, 1974: 13.

28 Tony Baker, “Lee Stanton Part of Seattle California Angel Connection,” Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), March 5, 1977: 19.

29 Hy Zimmerman, “Stanton Flies Mariner Flag in Comeback Race,” The Sporting News, September 24, 1977: 13.

30 Zimmerman, “Stanton Flies Mariner Flag in Comeback Race.”

31 “M’s Lee Stanton Undergoes Knife,” Longview Daily News (Longview, WA), October 4, 1977: 35.

32 Direct communication between Ruppert Jones and the author on social media, January 29, 2021.

33 Hy Zimmerman, “Mariners’ Guns of 1977 Run Out of Ammo in ’78,” Seattle Daily Times, July 30, 1978: 48.

34 Hy Zimmerman, “M’s Spring Cleaning: Out with the Old,” Seattle Daily Times, March 29, 1979: 70.

35 Zimmerman, “M’s Spring Cleaning: Out with the Old.”

36 Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley, hosts. “Episode 1651: Split Decision,” Effectively Wild podcast, Posted February 4, 2021. https://blogs.fangraphs.com/category/effectively-wild/, Accessed February 7, 2021.

37 Direct communication between Shauna Stanton and the author on social media, February 14, 2021.

Full Name

Leroy Bobby Stanton

Born

April 10, 1946 at Latta, SC (USA)

Died

March 13, 2019 at Florence, SC (USA)

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