By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun
11:50 AM EDT, March 28, 2013
Louis Mortimer Sleater, a standout high school athlete who ended his seven-year major league pitching career with the Baltimore Orioles and was later a steel salesman, died of lung disease Monday at his Timonium home. He was 86.
A left-handed knuckleballer, he played for the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, Kansas City Athletics, Milwaukee Braves and Detroit Tigers before joining the Orioles in 1958.
"He was the epitome of the journeyman left-hand pitcher in the 1950s," said Phil Wood, an MASN broadcaster who lives in Glyndon. "He was with different teams every year and they were usually bad teams, like the Senators and the Browns and the A's."
Born in St. Louis, Mr. Sleater moved to Baltimore's Forest Park as a child. He began his high school years at Polytechnic Institute and moved on to Mount St. Joseph High School, where he graduated in 1944. He was later inducted into Mount St. Joseph's Athletic Hall of Fame and attended the University of Maryland, College Park and Towson University.
"Lefty Lou Sleater, prep baseball's leading pitcher this year, hurled Mount St. Joseph to the 1944 A Conference championship yesterday at Oriole Park ... before some 2,500 fans, including a New York Yankees scout," The Baltimore Sun reported in 1944 of a game played at the old International League field on 29th Street. "The victory enabled Sleater to end his athletic career at St. Joe, during which time he also starred at ice hockey and football, with a baseball pitching record this season of seven wins and one loss."
"Despite being known for his pitching, he excelled in ice hockey," said his son, Raymond L. Sleater of Ruxton.
He was signed to a minor league contract with the Boston Braves in 1946. He then moved through several major league farm organizations after being signed by the Chicago Cubs. His contract was bought by the New York Giants, but he was selected off waivers by the St. Louis Browns at age 23 in 1950.
Mr. Sleater pitched a single inning April 25, 1950, in his major league debut. He struck out a batter and allowed no hits, walks or runs. It was his only game that season.
The next season he pitched 81 innings but moved on to the New York Yankees in midyear. He never played for New York and returned to the Browns in September.
"When he was property of the Yankees that year, he was living in the same rooming house in Kansas City with Mickey Mantle," said Mr. Wood, a friend of many years. "He had a font of information of the game in the 1950s and Lou could remember observing Mickey Mantle having a bad stretch and of how his father, Mutt Mantle, came to Kansas City and said, 'If you are going to quit baseball, I can get you a job in the coal mines.'"
Mr. Sleater remained with the Browns briefly, and in 1952 was traded to the Washington Senators. Baseball record books note that he stopped Walt Dropo's record-tying hitting streak of 12 consecutive hits.
"The actual baseball he used to stop his streak is at Cooperstown," said his son, Raymond. "There was a ceremony in 1986 at the Baseball Hall of Fame with Walt and my father when the ball was presented."
In 1954, he dropped to the minors and played for Charleston in the American Association.
"Lou is a willing worker, well liked by the fans and players," a 1954 Sun article said of his summer in West Virginia.
He later played for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the International League. The team's owner, Jack Kent Cooke, sold Mr. Sleater's contract to the Yankees. He was one of 28 players brought north out of spring training but his contract was then sold to the Athletics in April 1955.
"The owners controlled the players' movement," his son said. "You were more or less an indentured servant. It was just considered the system of the day and all players stayed within it."
His major league career then took him to the Milwaukee Braves. He pitched in 25 games in 1956. He was a teammate of Warren Spahn and remained a friend of the fellow left-hander.
The Braves released him in April 1957 and Mr. Sleater wound up in Detroit. Signed by the Tigers, he became a reliever and had 41 appearances. On May 30, he hit a walk-off home run.
In his final season, 1958, he began with the Tigers and his contract was bought by the Orioles in June. His final game was Sept. 28, 1958. In his major league career, he had 12 wins and 18 losses and a 4.70 ERA. In 1959, he remained on the Orioles roster but was on the disabled list because of an injury.
"The Orioles offered him the opportunity to be a scout or a minor league coach, but he declined and went on with his life," said Mr. Wood. "He had seen enough of the road at that point."
Mr. Sleater then became a steel salesman. He worked for Stanley Tools and Marmon Keystone Co. in Butler, Pa.
He later turned to golf and was a regular at the Country Club of Maryland, where he was a club champion. In 1984, he won the Middle Atlantic Seniors Golf Championship.
Plans for a memorial Mass are incomplete.
In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 63 years, the former Catherine Jane Boulay; another son, Robert L. Sleater of Timonium; two daughters, Joanne Sleater of Timonium and Susan Sleater Boulay of Parkton; and a granddaughter.
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