DETROIT — There was confusion about the anniversary date but the Detroit Historical Society hit a giant home run by hosting former Tiger Ron LeFlore and showcasing the ONE IN A MILLION biopic. It was standing room only as the Detroit Historical Museum also presented their special exhibit of the Lindell A.C. Buddy’s Pizza hosted an afterglow and reception. of Detroit metropolitan fame.
It started off with an introduction by Dave Mesrey, who also acknowledged former Tiger Ike Blessitt. Executive Director of the Detroit Historical Society, Elana Rugh introduced the movie, ONE IN A MILLION, starring LeVar Burton. In 1977, Burton was coming off the hugely popular mini-series ROOTS at the time.
Also in the audience was poet-writer-activist John Sinclair. Sinclair spent over two years of a 10 years sentence in Jackson Prison. His case eventually went to the Supreme Court of the United States. “Ronnie used to bring me my meals in 5-block at Jackson,” said Sinclair.
LeFlore, who lost a leg to circulation problems, was in great spirits. He graciously answered a myriad of questions posed by journalist and broadcaster, Terry Foster. Before he became a sportswriter, Foster used to flip burgers at the Lindell A.C.
LeFlore’s story is incredible and improbable. In the winter of 1970, 21-year-old LeFlore and two accomplices robbed a bar on the east side of Detroit across from the old Chrysler Stamping Plant. The Detroit Police quickly caught up with them, and LeFlore was sentenced to five to 15 years in Jackson State Prison.
LeFlore hadn’t played any organized baseball growing up, but with little to do behind bars, he soon joined the prison baseball team. He did thousands of push-ups. His first game was May 18, 1971 for the prison team. (They only played home games.) In just three years, he was the starting center fielder for the Detroit Tigers.
Among those in attendance were some of the actors from ONE IN A MILLION including Raymond Rolak, Mark Orr, Henry Maynard and Liz Butsicaris-Jackson. Rolak, Orr and Maynard, played in the baseball scenes. “It was the best six weeks of my baseball career,” said Orr, who played at Western Michigan University. Rolak who played baseball at Wayne State added, “I got three months work out of the project including going on location in Toledo, Jolliet, Milwaukee and Chicago.
ONE IN A MILLION was a made for TV movie on CBS and was also a theatrical presentation in Europe and Japan retitled A MAN OF PASSION. It was produced by Roger Gimbel, Willam S. Gilmore and the music giant EMI.
LeFlore thanked all those who invested in his baseball career including Chuck Lewis of Pingree Park with the Detroit Parks & Recreation Department. Also he had special gratitude for Jimmy Karalla, the Butsicaris brothers (Johnny and Jim) and Billy Martin. It all started with a letter from Karalla to Jimmy Butsicaris in 1973. Leflore’s story is truly a one in a million tale now morphing from folklore to legend.
The next baseball event hosted by the Detroit Historical Museum is the NEGRO LEAGUES FILM SERIES: THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY. August 24th and 25th 2019 | 1:00pm to 3:30pm.
Also showcasing at the Museum until September 29th, is the Detroit Stars & The Negro Leagues. It is a presentation and history of the teams and legendary players who played America’s pastime during the era of segregation. This was when African Americans were banned from playing in the major leagues. The exhibit, organized by the museum’s Black Historic Sites Committee (BHSC) in partnership with the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium and developed by the Detroit Historical Society, marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Detroit Stars and showcases the remarkable saga of their Hall of Fame outfielder Norman “Turkey” Stearns.