Willie Mays Aiken once had the coolest name in sports. At the time, the Kansas City Royals also had the coolest uniforms in baseball, and were on the verge of putting together one of the most magical seasons in their short baseball history. George Brett was flirting with batting .400 - a historic feat. All Stars Willie Aikens, Frank White and Willie Wilson were having great seasons, and as the Royals won the division, they would eventually beat the rival New York Yankees in the ALCS en route to their first World Series appearance. And I was there with them for the whole season, a 10 year old fan that was more than just a casual fan, my Mom was married to the brother of Royal shortstop U.L. Washington, and we lived on a hill within walking distance to the stadium. I remember laying in bed on school nights while listening to the home game... in sold out games I could hear the crowd roar if my window was open. I bled Royal blue, but unbeknownst to me, things would be unraveling with this team.
August 9, 1983 - Kansas City Royals general manager John Schuerholz said Tuesday the FBI recently informed the team several players will be interviewed in regard to a federal investigation of a cocaine case in Kansas....
[t]he names of [Vida] Blue, 34, first baseman Willie Aikens, 28, and injured outfielder Jerry Martin, 34, surfaced on documents related to a three-month investigation of Overland Park, Kan., businessman Mark Liebel and Johnson County attorney David Roselli. The investigation apparently stemmed from drug arrests made in Dodge City, Kan., earlier this year.
My Mom worked as an auditor for the team that year, as a result, I was freely allowed into any home game. I never really had a seat to sit in, but I remember freely running around and seeing familiar faces - the ushers and season ticket holders and friends - we were all like family. The Royals had their best year ever that year and were on the verge of winning their first championship in their short history. They would meet the Philadelphia Phillies that year, and ultimately lose in 6 games. They tried hard, but then again...
October 14, 1983 - Willie Wilson and Willie Aikens of the Kansas City Royals were accused by the United States Attorney's office today of attempted cocaine possession, a misdemeanor, and both immediately pleaded guilty.
Amanda Meers, an assistant United States attorney, said Wilson and Aikens had been heard, in telephone calls ''intercepted by the F.B.I.,'' trying to make a cocaine purchase. Specifically, she said that on June 18, Wilson ''made a call to a residence in Johnson County for the purpose of obtaining one-fourth ounce of cocaine.''
I was such a die hard fan. I collected thousands of baseball cards. and became friends with Brian MacRae, the son of designated hitter Hal MacRae. i recall during one home game we were asked to dance for the fans during the 7th inning stretch. We would dance to Michael Jackson's Thriller with the San Diego Chicken. After that game, I was allowed to hang out in the lockerroom - it was the greatest thrill in my life at that time. I was able to meet everyone - Willie Mays Aikens, Willie Wilson, Amos Otis (I had a big time crush on his daughter), and George Brett... yes, the George Brett. Dude was a monster that year. but Willie Mays Aiken had the cool name, and he carried a bigger stick in my eyes. I watched in amazement as he would smoothly hit home runs that just disappeared in space. Later on in life, I would learn some things about him that would sadden me.
November 17, 1983 - On Thursday, U.S. Magistrate J. Milton Sullivant sentenced Royals outfielder Willie Wilson, Royals first baseman Willie Aikens and former Royals outfielder Jerry Martin to one year in prison, with nine months of that suspended. The players will will remain on probation for an additional two years. Wilson and Aikens were fined $5,000 and Martin, $2,500.
Ok. You probably know where this is going... but guess what? That's it. This story isn't about me anymore. I grew into a teenager and I got over this. I am no longer immune the human tragedies that take place in sports, and life in general. As Charles Barkley broke it down righteously:
"I am NOT YOUR ROLE MODEL!"
I live far away from Kansas City - it has been that way for a very long time. And the Royals... well, they have been very distant as well - like in Pluto. I'm bitter, and they suck. They reached the World Series during that magical year in 1980, but they lost in more ways than one. I think of how naive second place is in baseball, but it doesn't pale in comparison to the lose that you suffer in life. I small part of me wants to look at this as a legacy, I am sure that many of these guys have moved on to become productive members of society. But one cold morning I would wake up to read something a little contrasting.
March 26, 1994 - Aikens was arrested at his Kansas City home and charged with selling crack cocaine to an undercover police officer. He was later indicted on four counts of selling crack and was sentenced in December to the maximum sentence of 15 years, eight months. The judge also imposed a consecutive five-year term because Aikens allegedly had a loaded gun in the room where he sold the crack.
Pure sadness on so many levels. At the time, punishment for crack offenders was much stricter than powdered cocaine because it was thought that crack defendants were more violent — an assumption that statistics did not definitively support.
The case of Aikens, who played four of his eight big-league seasons for the Royals, was often used as an example of how unfair those guidelines were, and last year, they were deemed cruel and unusual.
ESPN did a great story on Aikens in 2003. It was then that I realized how much I detached, distanced and destroyed some beautiful memories that represented a great time in my life due to some very unfortunate and sad underlying circumstances. Memories fade, but can you ever really forget?
Three months ago, Congress approved new guidelines and made them retroactive — making Aikens one of about 20,000 inmates eligible for early release.
Laine Cardarella, a federal public defender, presented Aikens’ case in federal court in 2008 and argued successfully to end his prison sentence with time served.
“There’s no doubt I’m in better health,” he said. “I’m in a better frame of mind. I have a spiritual life now that I didn’t have before. I just look forward to being able to get out of prison and go out with those things and be able to live my life like I’m supposed to live it.”
No matter your perspective, I am thankful that Willie Mays Aiken has restored a happy ending to a few great years in my life.