By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Ron Leflore Once More
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—Ron LeFlore heard the verdict of guilty earlier, and as a habitual felon, he knew his sentence would not be one of leniency. The 22-year-old Ron LeFlore got a prison term stay of 5-to15 years in a maximum-security prison in Jackson State Prison in Michigan, and the prospect of losing most of his life to living behind bars.
“I’m really looking forward to coming to Saskatoon. I’ve heard great things about the community. I really love the game, and teaching young players. This is a great opportunity for baseball in Canada, and I can’t wait to get started.”
On March 19, LeFlore was named manager of the Saskatoon Legends of the new Canadian Baseball League.
After years of trying to shake off his tough Detroit “upbringing”, getting a storybook opportunity to play for the Detroit Tigers, battle with his ex-wife and daughter, and continue to coach in the Midwest, Frontier and Northeast Leagues, LeFlore was back to respectability up North.
He decided to bide his time at Jackson by playing baseball. He was raw, but became the best player in the facility, which drew the attention of a fellow inmate.
The inmate had a connection to the Tigers and manager Billy Martin, who came to the prison to watch LeFlore play. In an unorthodox move, where the presence of Martin should not have made it a surprise, the Tiger manager arranged for LeFlore to try out for the club in 1973.
LeFlore worked hard to make parole possible, which happened in July of that year. Waiting for him when he got out was an official contract to join the Tigers. He got the starting centerfielder’s job in 1975, and suddenly he was bringing people to Tiger Stadium to watch “the fastest man in baseball” play.
CBL chairman Tony Riviera said, “He’s excelled at the highest level, and I am certain he’ll have the Legends playing an entertaining and exciting brand of baseball.”
He made a trip to Canada before. Unceremoniously, after a contract dispute, he was traded from the Tigers to the Montreal Expos in 1980. There he lit up the base paths with 97 stolen bases, but his other number tumbled as he hit just .257 with four home runs.
After two more years with the Chicago White Sox in 1981 and 1982, he retired from the game with a .288 lifetime average and 455 stolen bases, along with 353 RBIs.
LeFlore finally admitted his birth year to be 1948 after many years of skirting around the issue, and giving other years as his time of birth. His time growing up in Detroit saw him convicted of robbing a supermarket at 15, and spending time in a reformatory because of another burglary.
In 1976, LeFlore got hurt, but not before hitting .316 with 96 runs scored and 58 stolen bases. Not in 22 years had a Detroit Tiger had 200 hits, but in 1977, LeFlore matched that feat and scored over 100 runs. LeFlore was a two-time American League All-Star, and had the world at his feet for a time.
He returned to Tiger Stadium in 1999 to be honored by the team. However, the happiness would end after the ceremony because a child support debt of $57,000 earned him a warrant for his arrest, and time in jail.
His relations with his ex-wife and daughter were not of Family Channel proportions, and it all culminated in his not being able to fully appreciate the honor his hometown gave him on September 28 of that year.
Now Ron LeFlore will make his home in Saskatoon, trying to kick-start a new team in a new league. With all the strife and bad things behind him, hopefully Ron LeFlore can re-start his life once again, and this will be the last time anybody has to write about his story in this way again.