An Interview with Leon Roberts

added 08/23/01 by Ray Kerby

Leon Roberts was a Michigan native and came to the majors with the Detroit Tigers. He was traded to Houston after the 1975 season, but was never given the opportunity to play everyday. After the 1977 season, he was traded to the Seattle Mariners and blossomed as an everyday player. He graciously agreed to answer a few questions in this interview by mail. We thank him for his time!

(c) Houston Astros
RK: As a child, did you always want to be a ballplayer? What made you want to be a ballplayer?

LR: I never played baseball until I was 10. I wanted to be an NFL quarterback.

RK: Growing up in Michigan, were the Tigers your favorite team? Who was your idol? Why did you like him?

LR: No, it was the Yankees. But some Tigers were my favorites -- Al Kaline and Rocky Colavito. I also liked Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Carl Yastrzemski.

RK: Your brother William played pro ball as well. Did your father have a background in pro ball, or were you two the first generation of ballplayers in the family? What position did you play in high school?

LR: No, but he was a good all-around amateur athlete. I played catcher and pitcher.

RK: In 1972 at the University of Michigan, you batted .367 and were an All-Big Ten first team selection. Why did you choose to play ball in college instead of signing right out of high school?

LR: I wanted to go to the University of Michigan and play football.

RK: You made your major-league debut with Detroit in 1974 after three impressive seasons in the minors. Can you describe your feelings the first time you stepped onto the field as a Tiger in front of your hometown crowd?

LR: I was thrilled and excited -- all of the hard work had paid off.

RK: Were there any players that helped with your adjustment to the majors? What kind of advice did they offer?

LR: Al Kaline. He helped me stay calm and focused.

RK: After the 1975 season, you were traded along with three teammates from one last-place team (Detroit) to another (Houston). How were you informed and what was your initial reaction?

LR: I was in Puerto Rico playing Winter Ball. I was shocked -- I had just gotten to the majors.

RK: How did you like playing in the Astrodome? Do any memories or players from your days with the Astros stand out above the others?

LR: I liked it, but the ball didn't carry. Bob Watson was a good hitter. J.R. Richard had great stuff. Roger Metzger was a good shortstop.

RK: Despite have a good season as the team's 4th outfielder in 1976, you were demoted in June, 1977 after an uncharacteristic 2-for-27 start. Was there anything that contributed to this difficult stretch? Did you feel like the team gave up on you too early?

LR: Yes. I could not play much so my timing was off. I didn't get a chance to find any rhythm the year before, [even though] I was hitting .340 in July.

RK: After the 1977 season, you were dealt to the Seattle Mariners and immediately responded with a great season -- over 20 homers, 90 rbi, and .300 avg. For this, you were nmaed the team's 1978 MVP. Was there a sense of vindication for you after this performance?

LR: To some degree...

RK: Who was the toughest pitcher you had to face, and why?

LR: Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, and Steve Carlton -- they had great stuff.

RK: What are some of your fondest memories from your playing days?

LR: The chance to play a great game for 11 seasons, along with the friendships and challenges.

RK: In your final season, 1984, you actually pitched an inning in a blowout against Cleveland and gave up a two-run homer to Chris Bando. Were you throwing heat or did he connect on a hanging curve? Did this outing scrap your plans to switch over to a pitching career?

LR: He hit a fastball. The ball bounced off the outfielder's glove and over the fence -- hardly a bomb!!

RK: Are you stil involved with baseball today?

LR: Yes. I am the hitting coordinator for the Reds in the minor leagues.

RK: Your son Brandon seems to be following in your footsteps at the University of Michigan. What advice have you given him?

LR: 1. Play Hard. 2. Play Smart 3. Play with confidence. 4. Have fun

RK: What do you think his chances are of reaching the majors someday?

LR: Yes. He has a lot of desire and a good swing.