What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the The Pop Stars Moonlighting Blogathon 2020, which is being hosted by RealWeegieMidget Reviews. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been allowed to take part in several of her events, and we’ve even hosted a few of these blog-a-thons together.
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
In case you’re too young to recognize the guy in the movie poster, that’s Roger Daltrey, the front man of the legendary rock quartet The Who. If you’re not familiar with the sheer bad-assery that was The Who, this is where your journey of discovery should begin.
“McVicar” tells the tale of the John McVicar. For you Americans who may have never heard of him, he was essentially the UK’s answer to John Dillinger. In fact, in the 1960s Scotland Yard declared him to be “Public Enemy Number One” along with the tag from the old Westerns that he was “Wanted: Dead or Alive!”
Think of this film as a three-act play. The first act centers on McVicar’s initial stint in England’s Durham prison. While the plot delves into the relationships between the prison guards and inmates, the action is all about McVicar’s plotting an escape.
The second act starts with McVicar’s eventual escape and his exploits while on the lam in London. This part is vaguely reminiscent of James Mason’s “Johnny McQueen” in “Odd Man Out.” After he escapes from Durham, McVicar re-connects with his wife and child, and intends to get away from his criminal past by starting a new life in Canada. The problem is being a escaped convict, he has no money. Irony sets in hard when to fund his plan, McVicar has no choice but to return to armed robbery. McVicar manages to stay one step ahead of London’s Metropolitan until one of his cohorts “drops the dime” on him which lead to his re-capture.
The final act sees McVicar returned to prison with an increased sentence during which his rehabilitation completes with his earning a degree in sociology and his eventual release.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Had John McVicar been born in Detroit in the 1950s, he may have been Ron LeFlore. Both had a proclivity for armed robbery; a habit which got them both incarcerated. Both of them also found a way to get out of prison; LeFlore’s route was all about baseball.
LeFlore’s journey to the Major Leagues was a smidge “unconventional;” it started with his being a small-time drug dealer and heroin addict. His father was an unemployed alcoholic. LeFlore dropped out of school and spent many nights shooting heroin and stealing beer from a local brewery. Eventually, he ended up being sentenced to 15 years in prison after using a rifle to rob a bar in 1970.
It was at Michigan’s Jackson State Penitentiary where LeFlore first came to organized baseball in a recreational league for inmates. It quickly became apparent that LeFlore had an exceptional talent for the game; so much so that a fellow inmate named Jimmy Karalla went to a longtime friend who owned a bar frequented by Detroit sports figures. Once bar owner Jimmy Butsicaris saw LeFlore play, he went to his friend Billy Martin…who just so happened to be the manager of the Detroit Tigers.
After Martin saw him play, the Tigers’ manager got permission for LeFlore to get a day-pass from the prison to come to Detroit and tryout for the team in June 1973. The next month, at Martin’s insistence, the Detroit Tigers signed Ron LeFlore to a contract even though he was still incarcerated at the time. However, the fact that the Tigers were willing to give him a $5,000 signing bonus and a $500 per month minor-league salary for the rest of the 1973 season enabled LeFlore to meet the requirements to be granted parole.
Upon his release from Jackson State Penitentiary, the Tigers assigned LeFlore to Clinton (Iowa) Pilots in the Single-A Midwest League. Here was was managed by future Tigers manager and World Series winner Jim Leyland. In that portion of a season, LeFlore hit .277 and was such a solid all-around player that for the 1974 season he started with the Single-A Lakeland (Florida) Tigers of the Florida State League, but after he hit .331 with 45 stolen bases in only 102 games, he was promoted all the way to the Triple-A Evansville (Indiana) Triplets
LeFlore ended the 1974 season just one rung away from the Major Leagues, but he performed so well in Spring Training 1975, he opened the season with the big league club in Detroit. LeFlore rapidly established himself as a legitimate Major Leaguer and the every-day center-fielder for the Tigers. In 1976, LeFlore was an American League All-Star. In 1978, he has his career year when he led the league in singles (153), runs scored (126) and stolen bases (68). On top of that, he finished second in the American League in hits (198), plate appearances (741) and at-bats (666).
The next year, LeFlore hit .300 and stole 78 bases. Despite that, in December 1979 the Tigers traded him to the Montreal Expos for pitcher Dan Schatzeder. As an Expo in 1980, LeFlore set his career-high leading the National League with 97 stolen bases, which made him the first player to lead both major leagues in steals.
LeFlore hit the free-agent market in 1981 when he inked a deal with the Chicago White Sox. But for a host of reasons, he only saw the field in a total of 173 games in his two years in the Windy City. By 1983, LeFlore was unable to make the ChiSox roster, and the team released him before the start of the season.
This marked the end of LeFlore’s days as a Major League player, but unfortunately, it did not mean the same for his troubles with the law. In September 1999, the Tigers were playing their last game at the venerated Tiger Stadium; it was being replaced the following season with the new Comerica Park. As Tiger Stadium was one of the last “old-school” ballparks, the Tigers held a ceremony on the day of the last game played there. LeFlore was one of the players invited back for the ceremony, but there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest for non-payment of child support. LeFlore was also arrested in 2007 for the same thing.
John McVicar and Ron LeFlore just couldn’t stay out of jail. But McVicar got his life story told by a rock legend. LeFlore got LeVar Burton.
The Moral of The Story:
After writing about a film in which Roger Daltrey plays a bank robber, how could I possibly not end with this?
But as long as we on the road of musical discovery, the “McVicar” soundtrack is well worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of Daltrey or writer/composer Russ Ballard. You might even recognize tracks like “Without Your Love” and “Free Me.”
Oh…and prison sucks. Don’t do the crime if you don’t want to do the time.
P.S. Can’t get enough Ron LeFlore? One of my favorite podcasts is called “Crime In Sports” hosted by James Pietragallo & Jimmie Whisman, and they did an episode detailing the LeFlore story. It’s well worth a listen!
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