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An Interview With Ron LeFlore

I’ve been working with Bill Dow, a freelance baseball writer, on the 2008 Edition of Tigers Corner and when he mentioned he had an interview with Ron LeFlore that one of the big papers didn’t end up running, I asked him if he’d like to put it up on Tigerblog.  Fortunately for us, he was nice enough to agree and I found the interview pretty interesting.  I didn’t know LeFlore’s first minor league manager was Jim Leyland and I found LeFlore’s thoughts on the trade that sent him out of Detroit particularly noteworthy.  Anyway, here it is:

CATCHING UP WITH FORMER TIGER RON LEFLORE 

By Bill Dow  ******Just prior to his arrest for unpaid child support following an autograph show in Mt. Clemens, Michigan this past May, freelance writer Bill Dow interviewed Ron LeFlore. 

How we remember him:    

While serving a 5 to 15 year sentence at the Southern Michigan Prison in Jackson for armed robbery, and having never played organized baseball, the Detroit native starred for the prison team and was given a one day tryout at Tiger Stadium in June of 1973 thanks to then Tiger Manager Billy Martin.

Impressed with his speed and power, the Tigers signed LeFlore and he was released from prison on early parole after serving three years in prison.  After playing briefly in the minor leagues, (134 games) the following year he became the Tiger’s lead off hitter and centerfielder.

In 1976 Leflore hit safely in 31 straight games, the longest American League hitting streak in 27 years, and he started in the All Star game. Two years later LeFlore lead the league in stolen bases with 78 and the major leagues in runs scored (126). In his Detroit career he batted over .300 three times, stole 294 bases and batted .297.  In 1978 CBS aired the movie on his life, “One In A Million.”

After the Tigers:   To the shock of Tiger fans, Detroit traded LeFlore to Montreal for pitcher Dan Schatzeder following the ’79 campaign. In 1980 LeFlore lead the N.L. in stolen bases with 98, making him (still) the only player to lead both leagues in stolen bases. Following the ’80 season he signed a multi-year free agent deal with the Chicago White Sox but he played only parts of two seasons before being released.  

LeFlore later coached at baseball clinics, played in the short lived Seniors League in Florida, and managed in the Independent Leagues.  Immediately following the Tiger Stadium closing ceremonies in 1999, LeFlore made the news when he was arrested for not paying back child support. The following year he and his wife Emily were nearly killed in a head on collision caused by a drunk driver who was killed. She still suffers from brain trauma, while LeFlore has seven herniated discs, and will require knee and hip replacements.

Today:  Leflore lives with his wife Emily near St. Petersburg, Florida.  He makes charity appearances with the Ferguson Jenkins Foundation and other charities, speaks to troubled youth, and does autograph shows. His dream is to get back into major league baseball as a coach. 

On his June 1973 tryout at Tiger Stadium:  “It was a one day furlough on my birthday and I took batting practice in front of Al Kaline, Jim Northrup, and Norm Cash.  I’ll never forget walking out of the dugout tunnel and seeing that green grass and the enclosed stands.  A week later I got another furlough and played an exhibition game at Butzel Field in Detroit in front of Bill LaJoie. I hit the ball well and was timed in the 60 yard dash. Bill told me I was the fastest guy he ever clocked.”   

On lying about his age:  “When I signed with the Tigers they told me to lie and say I was 21 years old and born in 1952. But when I was traded to Montreal Jim Campbell (GM) revealed that I was actually four years older. When I filed for my baseball pension at age 45, I had to straighten it all out.”

On Jim Leyland, his first manager in the minor leagues (Clinton, Iowa 1973):  “Jim worked me to death. He took me out in the morning and hit fly balls to me and threw batting practice. He’s the one who got me to the major leagues so fast because he gave me the work ethic that was the determining factor in me making it.”

On his first major league game:  “I joined the team in Milwaukee on July 31, 1974 when Mickey Stanley broke his hand.  I went 0 for 4 and struck out the first three times against Jim Slaton the next day. His curveballs scared the hell out of me because I .had never really seen a great curveball before. I learned to hit the curve in Winter Ball in

Puerto Rico from my manager Harvey Kuenn.”

On his 1976 All Star season:  “I’m very proud that my parents saw me play in the All Star game but I am also proud of my 31 game hitting streak. It was difficult to concentrate because my younger brother had been killed during the streak.  I don’t think anyone will beat DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak record with all the specialty pitchers now and the fact that you rarely face the same pitcher four times in a game.”

On his base stealing prowess:  “Nobody taught me how to steal bases and nobody had really done it on the Tigers since Ty Cobb. I always had the green light. Stealing bases was the most fun I had in baseball. I remember having a cheering section at Tiger Stadium with the fans always yelling, ‘Go, go, go.’”

On his trade to Montreal:  It was one of the most demoralizing things that happened in my life. I loved playing in

Detroit and wanted to finish my career there, but to be traded for Dan Schatzeder? If they had received Steve Rogers or somebody like that it would have been more of an even deal. I guess it was in part because I was going to be a free agent the next year. I also know Sparky didn’t like the fact that I didn’t shave my mustache off but I did do it in the off season.”  On how his career ended:  “When I became a free agent, Chicago is the only team that contacted me and I believe there was collusion. I ended up partying too much and using drugs, something a lot of people were doing. I was also frustrated with Tony LaRussa because he wouldn’t play me. If I had to do it all over again, I would have taken better care of myself and I would have played a lot longer.” 

On his arrest at the closing of Tiger Stadium:  My child support case was transferred to Florida and I was paying there but they didn’t take it out of the computer in Detroit so I was arrested because of their negligence. What really upset me is that I was trying to place my wheel chair bound mother in the car and the officer said ‘you can’t do that you’re going to jail.’  I said, ‘ Look, ‘I’m putting my mother in the car, shoot me.’ It really hurt to see my name in the paper on the front page after the closing of the ceremony.”

On his dream of getting back into baseball:    Looking back, had I not joined the prison baseball team and if Billy Martin had not believed in giving people chances I’d probably be dead. I still love baseball and watch it closely.  It’s frustrating to see players making base running errors and failing to hit the cut off man.  I believe I have a lot to offer. Maybe I already had my opportunity, but hopefully someone will give me another chance.”

*******Bill Dow is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Michigan. He is a regular contributor to the Detroit Free Press sports page and his work has appeared in Baseball Digest magazine.  His article on the 1952 no-hitters thrown by Tiger hurler Virgil Trucks  was republished in the 2006 book, The Best of Baseball Digest,  Edited by John Kuenster and published by Ivan R. Dee, Publisher,

Chicago Illinois.



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