R.I.P. to Leroy Stanton, an outfielder who played in the majors from 1970 through 1978 and who was one of the original Mariners. He was killed in a car accident on March 13 in Florence County, S.C. According to police, Stanton, 72, drove a Dodge pick-up truck through a stop sign, ran off the road and was thrown from the vehicle when it hit a tree. He was not wearing a seat belt. Stanton played for the New York Mets (1970-71), California Angels (1972-76) and Seattle Mariners (1977-78).
Leroy Stanton was born on September 10, 1946 in Latta, S.C. He and his family, including five brothers and a sister, worked in the corn, tobacco and cotton fields of South Carolina. He recalled those days years later and said that he would never want to work on a farm again. “But, you know, working back there taught me a lot about life, too,” he told the Baltimore Sun in 1978. “I learned to take responsibility. I realized how important it was, at an early age. In a way, it made me appreciate my work more today.”
He signed with the Mets as a non-drafted free agent prior to the 1965 season. He played 53 games for the Mets in the low minors that season, hitting .274 with 13 stolen bases while playing for the Greenville and Marion Mets. He missed the next two seasons due to military service and rejoined the team in 1968. Some of those rookie teammates he had in ’65, like Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman, were getting ready to help create the Miracle Mets. Stanton, though, was stuck in the low minors and spent 1968 in A-ball Raleigh-Durham and 1969 in AA Memphis. He finished each season with a .266 batting average, showed a little pop in his bat and speed on the bases, but he missed all the fun of the 1969 season.
Stanton got a cup of coffee with the Mets in 1970, getting 4 at-bats in 4 games. He did manage his first MLB hit, a triple, off Ken Holtzman of the Cubs on September 28. Unfortunately, as he was sliding into third base, the ball that was thrown in from right field by Billy Williams struck him on the head, and he had to leave the game..
Stanton spent most of 1971 in AAA Tidewater, hitting .324 with 23 home runs and 101 RBIs. He played in another 5 games for the Mets and hit .190. In the offseason, he was part of one of the worst trades of all time, as the Mets sent him, Nolan Ryan and two other players to the Angels in exchange for Jim Fregosi. Everyone knows that disastrous trade because of the phenom that Ryan would become, but Stanton had some pretty good years for the Halos, too.
Stanton appeared in more than 115 games for the Angels in each of the next four seasons, with averages that ranged from .235 in 1973 to .267 in ’74. He showed the multi-tool athlete he was projected to be in 1975, when he hit 14 home runs, drove in 82 runs and stole 18 bases with the Angels. Unfortunately, he struggled to break .200 in 1976 and became a backup outfielder, playing more than 25 games in each of the outfield spots.
Stanton was left unprotected in the 1976 expansion draft that brought the Mariners and Blue Jays into Major League Baseball. He was taken by the Mariners as the 40th pick in the draft. At first, it looked like an absolute steal, as Stanton had a career year in 1977. The 31-year-old set career highs in most offensive categories, including home runs (27), RBIs (90), batting average (.275), on-base percentage (.341) and slugging percentage (.511). Unfortunately, he struggled the following season with a .182 average and just 3 homers, and he was released. He finished his career with a season with the Hanshin Tigers of Nippon Pro Baseball in 1979 and the Puebla Angeles of the Mexican League in 1980.
For his career, Stanton hit .244, with 628 hits and 358 RBIs. He hit 77 home runs and stole 36 bases. He had 42 assists while playing right field, including an AL-leading 15 in 1975. For his 9-year career, he generated 6.7 Wins Above Replacement.