The Amazing Rise and Tragic Fall of Detroit Tiger Ron LeFlore
One of the all-time popular members of the Detroit Tigers also happens to be one of the saddest tales of any Tiger teammate.
Ron LeFlore was the Tigers centerfielder from 1974-1979. He grew up on the east side of Detroit, surrounded by crime, poverty, and an alcoholic father. Whether all those aspects had something to do with it or not, Ron began using drugs – harder and harder until he became addicted to heroin.
Needing money to support his habit, he quit school, became a common thief, began dealing drugs, and even committing armed robbery. After holding up a local bar named “Dee’s”, Ron was caught, arrested, and sent to Michigan State Prison. He was just fifteen years old.
While in prison, he became involved in inmate baseball games and seemed to impress the inmates and guards with his abilities. So much so, that somehow word of his prowess reached Tiger manager Billy Martin, who took the time to travel to the prison to watch him play.
Martin eventually took him to Detroit for a tryout; Ron made such a good impression, he was given a deal that would begin as soon as he was released from prison. Free from prison at the age of 25 in 1973, Ron’s career with the Tigers took off.
His first game with the Tigers was on August 1, 1974. It was his incredible speed that eventually won him two stolen base leader titles and 455 stolen bases throughout his career. After reaching All-Star status in 1976, his life took an unexpected turn for the worse.
Ron’s brother Gerald was still living in one of the worst Detroit areas, got involved with drugs, and was shot and killed – possibly by a gang member. With Gerald’s passing haunting him every day throughout ball games, Ron persevered, and found himself thinking of his brother whenever he was not at bat or sitting in the dugout.
1976: He reached his peak as a top Detroit Tiger star
1977: Ron was elected “Tiger Of The Year”
1978: TV movie about Ron’s life, ”One In A Million,” starred LeVar Burton
1979: Started up using drugs again
His re-introduction to drugs brought dealer & drug friends skulking through the Tiger Clubhouse, becoming too much for manager Sparky Anderson to endure. The following year, Sparky ended up solving the problem by trading Ron to the Montreal Expos. No Ron LeFlore meant no seedy characters hanging around the Tiger clubhouse.
Ron continued using drugs throughout his tenures with the Expos and then the Chicago White Sox. By 1983, the White Sox had let him go – but his reputation followed him wherever he went, and no other ball club wanted him. A few jobs followed including baggage handler and managing some independent baseball.
1999: When the Tigers played their final game at Tiger Stadium, Ron was there. Unfortunately for him, he was arrested right after the game thanks to an outstanding warrant for unpaid child support.
2007: He was nabbed again for the same thing during one of his autograph signings. 2011: His right leg was amputated thanks to arterial vascular disease that was blamed on his smoking habit when he was a kid.
2022: At 74 years old, Ron is healthy, friendly, happy, a resident of St. Petersburg, Florida.....and through it all, remains a sports hero.
Ron LeFlore: Detroit Tiger, 1974-1979
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