Together, they were All-Star starters in 1976, the two Detroit Tiger phenoms who had little business dominating the Major Leagues, let alone appearing on the grandest stage. Yet there was the rookie goofball, and there was the ex-convict, standing side by side in front of 63,974 fans at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium for the mid-summer classic.
At quick glance, one would have thought
"Man, I loved Mark," said LeFlore. "Loved him. I hung out with him whenever I could, because you knew you were with a guy who was genuine and real. That was the 'Bird' -- genuine and real."
It has been five days since LeFlore learned of
Hence, the man with 455 career stolen bases, including 97 with the Montreal Expos in 1980, now spends most of his waking hours sitting with his wife
Thirty years ago, LeFlore was the toast of baseball and, in a sense, America. With great fanfare, his autobiography,
Born and raised in Detroit, he had never played organized baseball until being sentenced to five-to-15 years for armed robbery. In an effort to vaporize the endless hell that is prison, he picked up a bat, started playing on the inmate team -- and dazzled. Somehow, word leaked from behind the 20-foot walls to the front offices of the Tigers. When Detroit manager
Throughout the 1970s and early '80s, there was
Yet LeFlore was also cursed with an inability to hold his tongue. In 1982, his final big league season, LeFlore was an angry member of the White Sox, and he let that anger show. He repeatedly blasted manager
In April 1983, LeFlore was released by the club -- his career over at the tender age of 33. In the ensuing years, he has tried and tried and tried to get back in the game. He managed the Cook County Cheetahs of the Frontier League and the Saskatoon Legends of the Canadian Baseball League. Eight years ago he showed up at various spring training sites promoting something called Blackwrap, a tape-like product to wrap around the handle of a bat. "I still love the game so much," he said. "I want to be a part of it. I have a story that people can learn a lot from, and I can teach anyone how to run. I just want a chance."
If only it were that simple. Truth be told, Ron LeFlore has baggage. Lots of baggage. On Sept. 27, 1999, he returned to Michigan to celebrate the closing of Tigers Stadium. Before the game, he was notified of an open warrant for his arrest on charges of unpaid child support. The police agreed to let him participate in the on-field activities and then subsequently arrested him. Eight years later, he was arrested again on the same charge. LeFlore says he didn't pay because, quite simply, he didn't have the money.
"Talk to people," he said. "I'm a good guy. I really am. I've had problems. But I haven't robbed anyone or killed anyone. I feel like I've been blackballed, and it's not fair. You give your life to baseball, and when you need help, baseball doesn't give back.
"I need help."