On August 1, 1974, twenty-six-year-old Ron LeFlore made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut for the Detroit Tigers. Thirteen months earlier, LeFlore was serving a five-to-fifteen-year sentence for armed robbery. LeFlore’s remarkable trajectory began when he was born in Detroit, Michigan, on June 16, 1948, to John Jr. and Georgia Kincade. When John met Georgia, she was a single mother of two sons, Harry (born 1937) and Marvin Campbell (born 1939). The youngest member of the LeFlore family was Gerald (born in 1950).
While living in Detroit, LeFlore’s parents worked blue-collar jobs and lived in segregated housing. His oldest sibling, Harry, was a boxer who competed in the 1960 Olympics in Rome and was a teammate of Cassius Clay. Harry died tragically in the ring in 1961. When his family received news of Harry’s death, LeFlore was 13 years old. It exacerbated the teenager’s defiance. He stole, pimped women, dealt drugs, and became addicted to heroin. When he was 21, LeFlore, with two accomplices, held up Dee’s bar in Detroit. They were arrested immediately, and LeFlore was sent to Southern Michigan Prison in Jackson.
To pass the time, LeFlore joined the prison softball team. The team’s manager, inmate James Karalla, Jr., once a prominent athlete himself, was impressed with LeFlore’s athleticism and recruited him to join the baseball team. Karalla used his connections with Billy Martin, the manager of the Detroit Tigers, to get him a tryout with the Tigers. On his birthday, June 16, 1973, Ron LeFlore practiced with the team while on furlough from prison. Impressed with LeFlore’s speed and power, Tiger management asked him to return for a follow-up tryout. LeFlore was offered a contract with the Tigers upon his release from prison.
LeFlore was paroled on July 2, 1973, and three days later, reported to Decatur, Illinois, where he suited up for the Clinton [Iowa] Pilots, a Single A affiliate of the Tigers’ minor league farm system. In spring 1974, LeFlore was promoted to the Lakeland [Florida] Tigers, where he was awarded the league’s Most Valuable Player. On July 22, LeFlore was sent to Evansville, Indiana, the Tigers’ Triple-A club—the final stop before the majors. It took only nine days for him to be called up to Detroit.
In 1976, Ron LeFlore was voted by fans to be a starter in the All-Star game, the year he also had the longest hitting streak (31) in the American League since 1949. In 1978, LeFlore co-wrote a best-selling memoir, One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story, which was the basis for the ABC made-for-television movie starring LeVar Burton. That same year, LeFlore was appointed by U.S. President Jimmy Carter to serve on the National Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Ron LeFlore later played for the Montreal Expos (1980) and the Chicago White Sox (1981-82). While on the Expos team, he became the only player in MLB history to lead the American and National Leagues in stolen bases in a single season. LeFlore retired from Major League Baseball in 1983 at the age of 35. He spent his post-playing career managing minor league teams as well as working as a skycap and a security guard. LeFlore is married, has four children, and currently lives in the Tampa Bay, Florida, area.