College Football and the Detroit Tigers
Rick Leach’s pro baseball career didn’t work out terribly well, but he remains a legend in Michigan sports lore for his high-school exploits in Flint, and his outstanding college football career in Ann Arbor.
Leach was selected in the MLB draft three times, first by Philadelphia in the 11th round in 1975, then again by the Phillies in the 24th round in 1978, and finally by the Tigers in the 1st round in 1979. He signed with Detroit and made the majors in 1981, but he served mostly as a backup with the Tigers, hitting just .236 with 7 home runs for them over 235 games. Detroit cut Leach just before the 1984 season, and he spent parts of the next five seasons as a reserve for the Toronto Blue Jays, before finishing his career with Texas and San Francisco.
If Leach played college football today it’s entirely possible his pro career would’ve taken a different route. He became the first freshman to start at quarterback under Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler, and over the next four seasons he broke numerous records for the Wolverines. He finished his career in Ann Arbor with 4,045 passing yards, 2,171 rushing yards, and 82 touchdowns. He led Michigan to three consecutive conference titles, he finished 3rd in the 1978 Heisman vote, and he became the first Division I player ever to score 200 points as both a passer and a runner.
Though he was heavily courted by the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, as an undersized (6’1, 180) lefty quarterback who did as much damage running as he did throwing, Leach wasn’t a terribly hot commodity in the NFL. The Denver Broncos did draft him in the 5th round, but the chance to play pro baseball in his home state proved hard to resist.