Born: August 1, 1841 in St. Davids, Upper Canada
Died: December 16, 1926 in St. Davids, Upper Canada
After being educated in Guelph and St. Davids, George Sleeman became the general manager of his father’s Silver Creek Brewery at age 18. Just six years later, he was a partner, and by 1868, the enterprising 27-year-old owned the company. Sleeman was also passionate about baseball.
George Sleeman was just as entrepreneurial in sports. He loved baseball, taking it up as a pitcher for the Maple Leaf Base Ball Club when the game was introduced to Guelph in 1863. The team quickly became a source of civic pride, with hundreds of fans following it to competitions in southern Ontario and the United States. By 1868 large financial rewards induced some teams to move toward a semiprofessional status, with team members sharing tournament prizes. In 1869 the Maple Leafs won the Canadian championship, defeating teams from Ingersoll and Woodstock in a three-day tournament in London. They would remain the dominant team in Ontario for another seven years.
As a chief organizer and financial backer of the club – he was elected its president in 1874 – Sleeman was one of the earliest managers to import Americans to play; he kept them happy by giving them a share of the end-of-season surplus. These developments marked the beginning of professional team sports in Canada. The Guelph team was the first to import American professionals, who together with such Canadians as star pitcher William Smith won the Guelph world semiprofessional baseball championship in 1874 in Watertown, NY.
Guelph’s president, George Sleeman, and Harry Gorman formed the first Canadian League in 1876, with members in Kingston, Toronto, Hamilton, Guelph and London. The London Tecumsehs dethroned Guelph as Canadian champions, in no small part through signing one of baseball’s first curveball pitchers, Fred Goldsmith, and 5 other American professionals. That same year several large American cities formed an exclusive National League to monopolize the best baseball talent. Ironically, these steps paved the way for the Americanization of the game and the competitive decline of the small-town clubs.
The following year, the diamond pioneer helped establish the International Association, the first serious rival of the National League. The brewing magnate continued to be a prominent baseball executive in Ontario through the latter part of the 19th century.
After 1886, when Toronto and Hamilton joined the International League, Sleeman’s team lost money and was disbanded.
He has been dubbed the father of Canadian baseball for his role in the early organization of the game.
In 1999 he would be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in recognition of his contributions.