From Jackson Prison to Centerfield
Ron Comes Home!
Tiger Stadium is an intense green. The summer sky wraps around it in lambent hues of orange and blue and white. Almost like a postcard - in fact too much. The entire day, it seems, is unreal.
I have been a Detroit Tiger fan for 1 6 years, the last five as a Bay Area expatriate. (Cheering for the opposition in Oakland requires a degree of temerity.) My first visit to Tiger Stadium was in 1959, when the pennant-winning White Sox smothered the Bengals 10-5. On my last visit in 1963, a group from my class field trip clustered in center field and during batting practice screamed our lungs out for Rocky Colavito, the swashbuckling Tiger slugger of the day, to sign our mits. Rocky finally deigned to look at us and frown his disapproval. "I can't." I swung around in dismay, nearly toppling a hoary, wrinkled peanut vendor, scattering his goods hither thither and yon and incurring the universal disgust of my classmates. I never could summon the nerve to return, confining my adoration to listening to Ernie Harwell on the radio for "the next decade or so.
The years ushered in a few changes, for me and for baseball. Opposing the war in Vietnam still left time for total madness when the Tigers won the World Championship in 1968, though the succeeding years saw a decline in the Tigers1 ability and an upsurge in political activism. Still, the mystique remained. Years of thrilling over Al Kaline and Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams bubblegum cards had its effect. The very idea of actually meeting a ballplayer - it seemed as unlikely as entering heaven.
Until July 3.
A chance to hang out in the Tiger clubhouse before the game, to witness a real batting practice, to visit the clubhouse after the game. The pungent odor of hotdogs just starting to grill sent tremors into my already quaking stomach as I strolled down the corridor to the clubhouse doorway. And then, in one magic moment. I was there.
My childhood heroes - Bill Freehan. Mickey Lolich. Mikey Stanley, Gates Brown - stripping down into their jockstraps before my very eyes. The emperor's new clothes? Bill Freehan's gleaming pate, Mickey Lolich's Lithuanian belly, The Gater's spatulate proboscis - all in one bug-eyed sweep of the room. The high, square room with Tiger-striped carpeting, plush under the foot. The smell of sweat and after-shave. And smack in the middle of the room, as if an imagined spotlight shined upon him, was Ron LeFlore.
A sinewy, magnificently-hewn torso checked at the waist by a bright white swath of longjohns cut off at mid-thigh, standard underwear among the American League elite. A friendly handshake, a few offhand comments, shitshooting on the dismal Tiger performance in the last few weeks - 5 wins out of 22 games. Then through the fabled tunnel into the dugout - the same dugout where Al Kaline sipped from the drinking fountain, where Harvey Kuenn once picked out his bat on his way to the American League batting championship, where Norm Cash received the backslaps from his teammates after a game-winning home run. And yet, the glamorous days of yore were suddenly reduced to the routine. No Big Thing. The Tigers casually sauntering up and down the splintered green wooden steps were the 1975 version of the kids I once played Little League ball with 1 2 years ago. Still kids, almost to a man, the same age as me, except for the few revered veterans. Long hair, cherubic faces - a concatenation not unlike what one sees on any university campus, except for the elaborate Olde English "D" stenciled on their right breast in all its blazing glory. Clothes make the man.
A jiggling blimp of flesh plopped down next to me. His sour puss and an albatross of cameras about his neck identify him as a Detroit News photographer. We sit, a study in oxymorosis, watching LeFlore belt the ball into the batting-practice stands. Then a mustachioed figure lopes in from left field. John Miller. the man who carne back from a heart attack at 27 h break all the Tiger relief-pitching records, appears.
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"Lissen, I, ah, won't pose for you with a picture of me blowing a bubble."
A little annoyed, the blimp counters, "Well, it's up to you, I was told that you would be willing to . . ."
"Yeah, but we're in last place and I haven't been doing so hot lately and I don't think it would be such a great idea. I'll pose for you if you want, but not with a piece of bubblegum sticking out of my mouth."
At that moment, a venerable face appears in the dugout. A face I have had etched in my mind since forever. Ernie Harwell, the honey-throated Tiger broadcaster, who turns out to be one of the friendliest personages one could ever hope to encounter. And the man who engineered the historic trip to Jackson Prison with then-manager Billy Martin that resulted in LeFlore's signing. Ron Comes back from practice; we talk. I leave for the stands to watch the game.
The Tiger victory that night rescues them from the abysmal streak of the past weeks, instigating a winning streak unmatched since the World Championship year of 1968. These guys - these kids - have finally found the niche. And that night, Ron LeFlore scores the winning run.
Afterwards, in the clubhouse, the mood is one of quiet satisfaction. Ron lights up a Kool and reflects on his performance. A jocose Adonis approaches Ron's locker and proffers a pair of pinklaced women's panties, daintily hung from one finger. Holding them under my nose, he looks at LeFlore.
"I think your friend lost these," he says, a bit sheepishly, having lost a bit of his initial enthusiasm in the banality of the moment.
"Gee," I sniff at Dave Lemanczyk, a relief pitcher who in his first year with the Tigers had the distinction of posting a 13.50 Earned Run Average, "I think you're mistaken. I wear Jockey shorts." Ah, yes, not only is this the same Little League set of way-back-when, but the humor is of the same sterling locker room level that all All-Amierican Boys gurgled to.
And Ron - Ron speaks for himself.
SUN: What did you go to prison for?
LeFlore: Armed robbery. This is the way that it went now . . . Myself, and two friends of mine, we were sitting up at home. One suggested that we go out and rob a place and get some money. Like I had some money at the time - the robbery wasn't necessary. But it was just something we were just sitting there, didn't have anything to do with our time. And we were just sitting there, and I was thinking this, and I suggested this, and so like the guys said okay. And if the guys said no, I would probably have gone along with them. But they did say yes, and like, I really didn't want to do it. Since I had suggested it, I was going to go along.
SUN: As part of the trip . . .
LeFlore: I borrowed a gun for my friends, a rifle, a 22 rifle. We went into this place that cashed checks for Chrysler Corporation, it was right across the street. We went in and there were a couple of customers there, so I decided to wait, and let the customers go out, because I didn't want to put anybody else's life in danger. We waited around for a little bit, had a couple of beers - and then we robbed the place.
SUN: How much did you get?
LeFlore: It was 35,000 dollars, but we didn't really get a chance to distribute the money because we was just going to let it sit there until the next day when we was going to leave. This was the way it was confiscated. We were coming out of the place, and the guy that was driving the car didn't have his lights on, and there was a motor detective there, and he saw that his lights were off, and so, I guess he called into the police station, and passed the alarm to the police station. We did not know this. The police car hadn't found us, so we called a cab, and when the cab came, there was a caravan of police cars behind it, and they surrounded the building. And we was trying to get out the best way we could, and every door we went to in the building, there was police around. I had run upstairs in the attic and had left the money there. I went up in the attic when I heard them knock on this door, I took off my coat, I had on a coat, and I had on a shirt and sweater, and I took all of that off, and I took my shoes off and I left them all up in the attic, and I carne downstairs with no shirt on, just a pair of khaki pants on and I didn't have no shoes on. I go downstairs and I ask the cop that I was arrested by what happened, and they accused me of robbing the place. They got the evidence, but there was a gun that was missing - they didn't find the gun. I would have been able to get away. But since he said that, they grabbed me.
SUN: One of your partners told the cops you were his accomplice?
SUN: Did he turn state's evidence against you?
SUN: What did he get off with, ninety days?
LeFlore: He got five months in the house of correction, and five years on probation, and I got five to fifteen years, and the other guy got three to five. And I was wondering to myself, why was my sentence so severe over theirs? This was the first I was caught, and I didn't figure we'd get so much time, but in the area we hit the crime is real, real high. It's still high in that area.
SUN: Did you cop a plea?
LeFlore: No I didn't cop a plea. Like I took it all in one. The judge decided that he was going to give me twenty years. But like my parents were there, and my mother, and they pleaded. So he decided to give me a smaller sentence, he said no more than fifteen years and not less than five. So I got there and I didn't know really what I was going to do this time.
SUN: When were you convicted?
LeFlore: January of 1970.
SUN: When did the robbery take place?
LeFlore: About November of '69.
SUN: So they put you in the "quarantine" in Jackson?
LeFlore: I was in there for about 59 days. Some guys would go in and then get run out, but I had to go through all the tests that they had to give me. And I was saying how am I going to do this time. So I went inside the institution, and I start rebelling against officers trying to tell me what to do. So I say I'm going to do this, like I wasn't working upstairs, like I wasn't going to accept just any kind of job that they were going to offer me to do. So I just said that I'm not going to work. I went to solitary confinement. And every time they tried to give me something, I say no, I don't want that, I want to do such and such a thing. And I said I want to go to school, and they wouldn't let me go to school. They say no, you have to work on a work assignment for a year before you can go to school. So I say I'm not going to work anywhere, so they put me in solitary confinement, so I come out after 3 1/2 months straight.
SUN: What did you do with your time?
LeFlore: All I did was sit ups and push ups, 200 sit ups and 200 push ups a day. This is how I kept myself in shape. And I carne out of solitary confinement after three and a half months and they want to put me back to work, and I say no I want to go to school. I say I'll work in the kitchen there for a year, if you'll let me go to school. So I got on a kitchen assignment. You can go to school while you work in the kitchen, and so I take a half day of working in the kitchen and half day at school. I was taking business administration. So I was taking full time school after I was in the kitchen for about 5 or 6 months. I got tired of the work so I got fired. I didn't want to work no more. I got into school for full time, and this is what I wanted. I got classified for honors studies, after I had been in school for about 8 months. I had been doing good, and I hadn't been getting into any trouble. They hadn't given me any demerit reports or anything, so I had qualified for honors status. And when I went to Classification, they asked, how did you finagle your way around and get into school full time? So I shrug, I don't know. But like I knew, and they smiled. So I was moved into honors block. And there I started playing softball.
SUN: Just like noontime scratchgames and stuff.
LeFlore: Well I made the varsity softball team. But the manager and the players didn't get along. So instead of me standing there and listening to these guys arguing all the time - the team was really getting beat bad - I decided to go out to the baseball field. So I asked the baseball manager while I was there if I could go out for his team and he said yes. I made his team.
SUN: You never played before, not even in lots?
LeFlore: No, I just played softball. No little league, nothing. I like the rough, contact sports.
SUN: What was your manager 's name?
LeFlore: Jim Karalla. He said he thought I had professional baseball in my blood. I said I didn't think so. So I played that year, and then I start working real hard, you know, I went to thinking about it, and I went out there every day improving my playing. So I asked this guy to write Tiger stadium a letter. So he wrote a letter. And I got a reply from the letter, and they said that they don't give try outs in spring training, because all the other players had been through it. I almost threw it out of my mind about playing baseball. But like, this guy Karalla knew this guy Jim Boutzukeris, and Billy Martin (Ed. note: then Tiger Manager) was around, and I didn't know that Billy Martin was Jim's Best Man when he was married. So after... well, several letters had been sent to Ernie Harwell and he eventually got in touch Billy Martin and convinced Billy Martin to come up here - after I had been calling him collect for about a month, two months. I guess his phone bill was getting him very upset. I guess he figured that if this guy keeps calling and I'm going to have to spend some money, I might as well go up and see if he really can play. And so he really didn't get a chance to see me play baseball here. At the time he came up it was kind of cloudy and rainy, and he said that he would give me a tryout on the sixteenth of June. I already had a parole, I was supposed to be getting out in August, so they got in touch with the parole board, and I was released about thirty days early. I came to Tiger Stadium on the sixteenth, and it was before a game, and I hit a few balls, and I was throwing real good, and so, the organization was really pleased. They got in touch with the parole board and I got special permission to leave the following week to work out in front of the director of player personnel. I worked out on Bussel field.
SUN: Where's that?
LeFlore: This is over on Livernois. This is where they have tryouts every year for the guys from the Detroit area. And this is where they said do you want to sign up with the Detroit Tigers.
SUN: What did you feel?
LeFlore: I felt great. I had got so psyched up when I was at Tiger Stadium that it really wasn't that important. I was here in Tiger Stadium, and you know there were a lot of guys there. And on July the second I was released, and on that same morning I signed the contract.
SUN: When you say released, you were out of jail?
LeFlore: This is the day I came home on parole.
SUN: What day was your try-out here?
LeFlore: June 16.
SUN: Well how were you able to do that?
LeFlore: Well like, I had furlough. It was a three-day furlough.
SUN: So then you had to go back.
LeFlore: Then I had to go back. So then the next week I had an 8 hour furlough - this is when I was going to meet Ed Katalinis to work out. And then I got it extended to 16 hours so that I could stay with my parents a little while. So two weeks later I was released, I came right here and I signed the contract. So I stayed with my parents until after that fourth, and then we left on the fifth of July. I met the Clinton team in Decatur, Illinois- it's a class A team- and it was a first-place team so I didn't get in too many games. I played in 32 games and I hit .277, and I think the reason they wanted me to go there was to get some experience playing under the lights -- I'd never played under the lights before. So then l went to the Winter Instructional League in Florida and I started seeing myself improving against major league pitching. So then I went to Spring Training -- the first spring training I had ever been to. So then I was left in the Florida State League -- Class A -- and l had improved so much that I was sent up to Triple A League on September 22. Then on the 30th of July, Mickey Stanley got hit on the hand. So they called me up, which is something I didn't expect to happen until 1976. I figured maybe they would bring up Leon Roberts or Dan Meyer or someone with more experience. Then when I got up here I learned that the reason they brought me up so fast is that they figured with the experience I'd had being in prison and all, Jim Campbell figured I would be more prepared mentally to handle it.
SUN: Is playing in the big league what you thought it would be like? I mean, things are always different then when you think of them beforehand.
LeFlore: Well really. I didn't know how it was going to be beforehand. I know there was a lot of traveling, and this is something I always wanted to do. And now I had the chance. I'm meeting a lot of people, and this is something I always wanted to do, and not just in this area, but in different states. And I like that.
SUN: You know your rapid rise to the big league kind of dispels the whole myth, about you know, you have to play baseball from the time you're 8 years old. . .
LeFlore: Well I'm not saying that anybody can do this. I don't know if I'm just extraordinary with these certain talents. It's possible that somebody else can do it, but I was just fortunate enough for somebody to see me in there.
SUN: What was the reception like at Jackson after you. . .
LeFlore: l went back up there last year before I went to Instructional, I was there. . .
SUN: Just to visit. . .
LeFlore: Yeah, I was there just like when Billy Martin went up to see me, and we were sitting up there on the platform with those guys and they were asking some questions and I felt good that I knew a lot of the guys, and they were very interested in the progress I had made, and in how I good I was going to be.
SUN: You must be a hero there.
LeFlore: I guess so. I do little things for them, like send them my old baseball ment, and other old equipment. l'm going to go up there and visit a few more guys when I have the opportunity to.
SUN: You still have a lot of friends up there.
LeFlore: I have a real close friend of mine, George Gimmitt, we call him "Shorty George", and we keep in touch. He'll call me collect sometimes, and I'll send him some money, and write him. I've been to see him twice so far, and I'm going to go see him again a few more times before the year is up. But like, he's going pretty good, like he had a life sentence, and he got his time cut , and he'll be going for review next year. So he may be released.
SUN: Great. I did an interview with Stevie Wonder recently and he was talking about growing up in Detroit, that he had to steal coal just so he could have some heat for his family. When he mentioned that his mother got real upset, and he felt really bad that she didn't understand that what he was simply saying was that it was a matter of survival where he grew up. Do you get the feeling that a lot of people were put in the same position as you were growing up in Detroit?
LeFlore: Well, I want to tell you, when I was growing up, I didn't want my parents to do too much for me - I knew that they were in a strain. They didn't really want too much of anything, but they didn't have a lot of money, and I decided - I was grown up by 11 , 12 years old - I decided that I could take care of myself. But it wasn't good - it was in the wrong manner. And then I started stealing. At eleven years old I had a lot of - well it really didn't make much difference to me, cause I know that I was strong and I could run, and I wasn't scared of anything. I went into this A & P Supermarket and it was on a Saturday afternoon. And I seen an old lady take two envelopes out of a cash box and she put in a thousand dollars - five hundred dollars in one envelope and five hundred in another, and then she left. And she left the key in the lock. So I went outside and I got bubble gum and a stick, and I chewed the bubble gum and put it on the stick, and I laid down on the floor - and these people were going through this line, checking out their groceries - I and stuck the stick in there and I took the two envelopes out, and tucked them into my shirt and went I out of the store.
SUN: Jesus Christ, how old were you?
SUN. That 's heavy stuff.
LeFlore: Yeah, I did a lot of things. I think that when I got caught it really was awfully good, because it was meant for me to play baseball. And I wouldn't have recognized it without having gone through jail. So this is what happens. I believe baseball was destined
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for me anyway. This is the only reason that l'm here. Because who would think that I would be playing the major leagues? I been in prison on a five year sentence.
SUN: What do you think about Mayor Young being mayor of Detroit? Is it going to make a difference in what happens in Detroit?
LeFlore: I really couldn't say. A lot of times Mayor Young is in the Bahamas when he should be here. I don't really know, I don't really try to keep up with what 's going on with politics, because I don'l know. . .
SUN: Well just in terms of having a Black mayor in Detroit?
LeFlore: I don't know what people feel about him, there are a lot of things that he promised and they still haven't been done. If he don't straighten up he's going to be kicked out of office.
SUN: You still spend a lot of time in your old neighborhood, right?
LeFlore: Not really - like I'm there, and I leave. I try to stay away because I know the people out there, and like, I don't want to be with nobody that the police might pick up, which would really look bad, so I stay away from there. I see them now and then, like I talk to them. but, like I can'! be associated with them, like I'll be with them for awhile, that's expected, I grew up with these people and I'm not going to forget them, I never could forget them, I was raised with them. I let them know that I'm not going to be around them that much.
SUN: Have things changed at all? Is it different than it used to be, are there still the same vibes that existed when you were growing up?
LeFlore: I think that it's a little more desperate. I think there are more drugs and everything around there now.
SUN: Was there a lot of heroin when you were growing up?
LeFlore: There was probably a lot, but it wasn't known like it is today. The guys that had it were kind of close to the hip. The guys that have it now, everybody knows it, and then you find eighteen, nineteen year olds who are millionaires! I just can't believe it. The guys that I knew that were selling drugs are buried, dead or in jail. All the younger guys - like they're killing them off in all these gang wars. When the drugs were around when I was coming up, it wasn't that much killing, like there is today. And I know it's a lot more desperate. More drug addicts in the city, and the drugs are much worse than they used to be. This is what I really think all the killing is about.
SUN: What do you think can be done? Is it just going to continue to get worse?
LeFlore: I don't know what's going to happen. They had that STRESS - they weren't really killing the junkies, just people. They shot a lot of little kids, and they think they have disbanded it, but, like, they still do the same thing. I'm really surprised about the killing, the homicides. l haven't been hearing too much about it, but I know that they're still going down, and I think they're keeping them away from the public.
SUN: 802 last year. That's an incredible number.
LeFlore: It's been increasing every year. I don 't know what they're going to do with this town.
SUN: You don't consider yourself very political then.
LeFlore: No, not right now, not at the present time, but I'm not saying that I won't be.
SUN: Too much else going on...
LeFlore: Yeah. I have a lot to concentrate on right here. I can't try and concentrate on a lot of other things, because, you know, this is a very complicated game.
SUN: You sure have had to learn a whole lot real fast.
LeFlore: Real fast. I'm still learning. And this is why I really can't try and put my mind on something else. I'm still trying to give this 100% of my thoughts all the time.
SUN: Do you ever think of ten, fifteen years from now what you're going to be into?
LeFlore: No, I don't. What I really want to do is get really familiar with baseball, then I can set a pattern to my life. I'm making money now - I'm saving money, and I'm going to be in a position to do what I want to after l'm through with baseball. I would like to have my own place, it isn't like, I'm quite sure that I will.
SUN: Do you think that it will be in Detroit?
LeFlore: Probably will be.
SUN: Who were your heroes when you were growing up?
LeFlore: Jim Brown.
SUN: What other kind of people were you influenced by when you were growing up?
LeFlore: Criminals, drug dealers, pimps, things like that. These were the people that I had tried to base my life on.
SUN: Did you ever hear of Andrew Stonewall Jackson?
LeFlore: Yeah, he was in Jackson penitentiary. I think he carne back there one time while I was there.
SUN: Did you ever know him?
LeFlore: No. He was a big guy, light skin...
SUN: He wrote an incredible book called "Gentleman Pimp" about his life in Detroit. It's an incredible book, talking about Hastings Street during the 30's and 40's.
LeFlore: I read this book "Dope Fiend", by Donald Gains. I guess, he was killed, he had wrote two books, "Dope Fiend" and some other book. He was telling the story about Detroit, and you could just about tell that if you had been involved in crime, you know about who the guys were he was talking about. They killed him -- he was still a drug addict and I guess he stole somebody's drugs. I couldn't understand him really having to do this, because he had wrote two books and both of them were really successful. But those drugs, they just make you do things, which you don't know what happened.
SUN: Have you ever read "Iceberg Slim?"
LeFlore: I read it. I read "Trick Baby." Yeah, Stonewall Jackson is a legend in Jackson prison.
SUN: Among other places. Are you into music at all?
LeFlore: Yes I am.
SUN: Who do you like?
LeFlore: Well, I like Grover Washington, Jr. I've been to his concert. I like David Bowie, I like Ellton John. A lot of groups, I just like music, period. I just like the mood that it puts me in. it relaxes me. If I want to get up and dance, I get up and dance.
SUN: Do you go out a lot, and dance?
LeFlore: I don't dance a whole lot... but I do go out a lot. I go to a lot of concerts.
SUN: All over the country?
LeFlore: Every place. If there's a concert someplace, and I'm in town, I'm going to go and see it if I can.
SUN: Are you into any of the disco groups like Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes?
LeFlore: Yeah. The Blue Notes are supposed to be playing here about the 27th of this month. I'm going to go see them.
SUN: Who are the people you hang out with around the ball club?
LeFlore: Well I hang out with Gates Brown. Mickey Stanley. Like it really doesn't make any difference -- any of the ball players.
SUN: You're more or less friendly with them all. Good team spirit.
LeFlore: It is. It is. We're really not doing that good, but like, we don't have no confusion, like we don't argue with each other, and that's good.
SUN: What are some of the goals you set for yourself in the immediate future, besides improving?
LeFlore: I don't try to set no goals, because if you're not able to do it... and like in this game you never can, you know you might set a goal and you might get injured. and that's going to be a goal that you can't do. So I try not to set no goals, and just let things happen, when they happen.
SUN: Who are the people that have really helped you a lot since you've got on the big league?
LeFlore: Everybody on the team. I can ask anybody anything, I mean I'll ask the pitcher something about the game - I mean I'll ask anybody. I just try and get information from anybody I can, because all of these guys have had much more experience than I've had. And I felt as though anything they tell me is going to be beneficial to me, like I don't think they'll tell me anything wrong, because they're part of my team.
SUN: Do you still feel a real affection for Billy Martin, for giving you this kind of opportunity he did?
LeFlore: No, not really. He was the manager here at the time, and he's not the manager now. I couldn't keep being loyal to him, 'cause I wouldn't be giving my team the proper respect. I have to care for the manager of the team I'm playing for.
SUN: Ralph Houk a pretty good manager?
LeFlore: He's a great manager.
SUN: What does a great manager do?
LeFlore: Like we're making a lot of mistakes, and he's not the type of manager that will holler at you. And I heard that Billy Martin was the type of guy that will get down on you, regardless who it was in front of. Like he didn't really respect you as a man. And like, Ralph Houck does, he does respect you as a man. and also as a ball club.
SUN: Is he a patient man?
LeFlore: He's very patient. He has to be patient, like he's sticking with us. We know we can win. I think that things are really starting to turn for us.
SUN: Do you know Reggie Jackson? I read where he was talking about racism in baseball. How even though it's gotten a lot better, racism still persists. Have you found that true?
LeFlore: I haven't detected any racism as of yet. I'm not saying that it isn't going on. But I haven't been harassed by anybody, not even about my prison background, in any of the cities I've been in. Except one time in New York. I only heard it once -- you know like. "Get back to jail, who are you to get a chance like this?" And I looked at him and laughed. Because he was really sick, it really made him look bad.
SUN: Was it a fan?
LeFlore: Yeah it was a fan. I just looked at him and I was saying to myself I'm a ballplayer and you're a fan and you're coming to see me, I'm not coming to see you.
SUN: You must have prepared yourself for that, though.
LeFlore: Jim Campbell told me what was going to happen, and Ralph Houck talked to me about it, and everybody told me what I could expect coming to the major leagues. And it's been about exactly what they said it was.
SUN: Well in a way, you're like a Jackie Robinson, in the sense of coming from prison right into the major leagues. You got to go through some kind of magic preparations to get there.
LeFlore: Just like I told you - inside I didn't really know what had happened to me until after the season was over. And I'm glad that I didn't because I would have been a nervous wreck.
SUN: You were just in a daze?
LeFlore: I was every day. When I was in the minor leagues, I used to come to the park every day. and I'd run real hard, just to loosen up, when I came up here I didn't ever have to go out and loosen my legs up, my body was always loose, my arms were loose, I could go out and hit a ball as hard as I could from the first hit on. Where it usually takes three, four hits to got loose. I came to the park every day and I was loose. And I was wondering to myself, how am I able to do this? And I really didn't know that I was so psyched up. I had so much adrenalin on me, that when I came to the ball park I didn't have to do it. And then when the season ended I was SO tense. I'd go to the park, and I'd say Man, you're a major league ball player now. And I looked back to the past few months that I had played, and all the interviews that I had, all around the country...
SUN: There must have been thousands of them...
LeFlore: Thousands of them, all through Spring Training, everywhere we'd go, I'd always get interviewed by a lot of magazines, stuff like this. When I was in California, they arranged to do a movie on my life.
SUN: Do you do a lot of PR stuff? A lot of appearances?
SUN: What's about the major thing they ask you? Prison? What do they want to know?
LeFlore; Now it's not like that, they want autographs and stuff, more questions about the team. Everybody's trying to get more involved with the team, and they know that I'm going to be around for a while. I go to different places all around the state, they all want to get to the enterprise of the game -- this is what they ask about. They're trying to find out the strategy of it. They used to come out here and they'd just cheer, but now I think that people are getting a little more serious about it. They're not booing a lot, they're really paying attention to what's going on.
SUN: Do you think a lot of that is because, it's such a young team they feel they can learn along with the team?
LeFlore: Right. They'll feel more at home when we do develop. I'm quite sure that this team is going to win a few world championships. We have pitchers in our organization that are just going to be ready. I think our defense is going to be ready and our offense is going to be ready, and if we have young pitching we are going to play defense and offense, we're going to be able to score rounds, and we're going to be able to make up for the minimal mistakes that the pitchers are going to make on the mound. Because we'll be able to score.
SUN: Were you out here when the Tigers won the World Series in '68? Were you excited about that at all?
LeFlore: Nope. I'll tell you what I was doing, I was downtown trying to steal. That's what I was doing.
SUN: You would obviously be here in '67 when the insurrection arrived.
LeFlore: I got caught out on the curfews.
SUN: They dragged you off?
LeFlore: I was dragged downtown and fined $27.50.
SUN: Did they put you in jail for overnight or anything?
LeFlore: I was put in jail tor overnight and had to go to court, and this is when the jailer gave me a fine for being out past the curfew.
SUN: What was it like on the streets then?
LeFlore: It was fine with me. Like everybody was just doing what they wanted to do.
SUN: There's a lot of speculation around Detroit that there's going to be another thing like that.
LeFlore: Well. I tell you, if it does, I don't want to be around. Because I think if they do have another one it's going to be worse than the other two they had.
SUN: Are your parents from Detroit too?
LeFlore: No, my father 's from Mississippi, and my mother's from Louisiana.
SUN: When did they come to Detroit?
LeFlore: My father carne in 1942 and my mother came in '46.
SUN: So your father was here for the first 1942 riot. Did he ever talk to you about it?
LeFlore: No, but you know he did talk about it after the thing happened in '67. He mentioned it a few times. He was comparing the two.
SUN: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
LeFlore: I have two brothers. One is 21 and another is 25 -- he's in California.
SUN: What's he doing?
LeFlore: I don't know really what he's doing, you know like he's a beachcomber... he went to San Francisco... He has a law degree. He's not doing anything.
SUN. What's your other brother do?
LeFlore: Well he was working for a chemical company here, he was going to school to become a medical technician, and he dropped out of school. I guess people just lose interest in school.
SUN: A lot of PHD's are janitors. Do you have a lot of talks with him and stuff?
LeFlore: Yes I talk with him all the time. He's still messing around, but I take him places with me, he's very, very intelligent - IQ about 150 or something like that. He always gets A's. I took him up to Lansing with me. I was talking to the athletic director up there and he agreed to give him a scholarship to play basketball. And he didn't go.
SUN: It seems to me that you are in a really unique position to influence a lot of people because of what you've done with your life, that you could really be an inspiration to a lot of people. Do you think like that at all -- I mean that 's a heavy burden.
LeFlore: I think I have a big influence on a lot of kids. This is the reason why I visit a lot of these juvenile delinquent places, like I just volunteer. I find out where they are around the neighborhood and I go around and talk to a lot of the kids. They talk to me, too. Like the paper boy, he's about ten or eleven years old, and he tells me you sure are striking out a lot, you better straighten yourself up, we can't have that. They have leagues around the area where they didn't have none before, so I think I've helped that a lot too, since I am from the East Side. When I was growing up they didn't really have facilities to play baseball, now they do, we had to go to Northwest or something and we didn't have the transportation, and then we didn't have the people to sponsor us. But now it's happening.
"My Hot Dog 'Tis of Thee". The scoreboard before another victory.
Future stars seek out advice.