Via the Toronto Sun -
In 1980, the Montreal Expos, on the brink of what would have been its first trip to baseball’s treasured post-season in franchise history, were sparked by speedy outfielder Ron LeFlore, the most successful base-stealer in the National League that year.
“That was the greatest year of my career,” declared LeFlore, the ex-convict turned big league star who spent nine years in the major leagues with the Detroit Tigers, Expos and Chicago White Sox.
Today, the Expos are long gone, relocated to Washington D.C. and renamed the Nationals, and the 64-year-old LeFlore, who made his name and gained his fame with his legs, running fast and stealing bases, ironically limps from place to place on a prosthetic leg.
LeFlore lost his right leg to arterial vascular disease in the summer of 2011, a result of his having smoked cigarettes since he was a teenager.
“Sometimes I want to jump up and take off — but I can’t do that anymore,” LeFlore admitted over lunch the other day at a restaurant near his St. Petersburg, Fla., home.
“I’ve got to worry about my balance all the time. I’ve got to watch where I walk. I can’t look off because I’ve got no feeling in my leg. I’ve got to be careful where I step.”
Quite a change for a man who once ran around the bases — and through life — with reckless abandon, using heroin when he was 15 and ending up in prison, faced with a sentence of five-to-15 years for armed robbery when he was 21.
At that point in his life, it is worth noting, LeFlore had never played one inning of organized baseball at any level — not Little League or high school or sandlot ball.
Even before LeFlore was traded by the Tigers to the Expos for pitcher Dan Schatzeder after the 1979 season, his incredible life story, from youthful drug dealer and prison inmate to big-league star, had been celebrated in a book (Breakout) and a made-for-TV movie (One in a Million) starring LeVar Burton
Nevertheless, LeFlore’s big-league playing career abruptly ended in 1983 when he was released in spring training by the White Sox. The previous season he had been accused of being out-of-shape, missing workouts and sleeping in the clubhouse. The last straw came late in the 1982 campaign, when LeFlore was arrested at his Chicago apartment in possession of amphetamines and an unlicensed gun. LeFlore claimed the pills and pistol belonged to somebody else and was acquitted. But the damage had been done.
Unable to land a job as a coach in the big leagues, LeFlore worked as an airport baggage handler, went to umpire school, worked as an instructor at a baseball school, played in the now-defunct professional Senior League, and coached or managed in three independent leagues, including at Saskatoon in the Canadian League.
Along the way, he admitted to being four years older than he had originally claimed, lost a 49-day-old child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, faced felony charges of possession of a controlled substance, and was arrested twice for non-payment of child support.
“I’ve had some ups and downs,” admitted LeFlore, who now lives from month to month on social security and his baseball pension. The money he made playing baseball (never more than $700,000 a year) and the royalties from his biography and movie are long gone.
At this four year peak, LeFlore and Davey Lopes were just as good as each other (during that same time):
You have to wonder how good he could have been if he always played baseball and didn’t spend time in prison.