October 14, 1954 |
Seneca, South Carolina
|May 17, 1977, for the California Angels|
|Last MLB appearance|
|April 27, 1985, for the Toronto Blue Jays|
|Runs batted in||415|
Willie Mays Aikens (born October 14, 1954) is a former Major League Baseball first baseman. He had established himself as one of the top sluggers in the game before drugs derailed his career. In 1994, Aikens was sentenced to twenty years in prison on four counts of crack cocaine distribution and one count of use of a firearm during drug trafficking. He was released on June 4, 2008 after changes in federal drug laws, and is sometimes cited as an example of the results of mandatory minimum sentencing in drug-related crimes.
Aikens grew up in poverty in the Bruce Hill community of Seneca, South Carolina. He was a standout athlete in baseball, football and basketball at Seneca High School, and attended historically black South Carolina State University on a baseball and football scholarship. When S.C. State dropped baseball after Aikens' freshman year, Willie McNeil, Aikens' high school baseball coach, helped him catch on with a semi-pro summer baseball league in Baltimore, Maryland. While playing in Baltimore, he caught the eye of California Angels scout Walter Youse and was drafted by the Angels with the number two overall pick in the January 1975 Amateur draft.
Aikens soon emerged as one of the top sluggers in California's farm system, slugging a league leading thirty home runs and driving in 117 runs for the El Paso Diablos in 1976. He debuted with the Angels in 1977, however, after batting an unimpressive .230 with no home runs mostly as a pinch hitter and designated hitter, he was returned to the minors. He received a second call to the majors that September, but fared even worse, collecting just four hits in thirty at-bats.
Aikens returned to his slugging ways in 1978, batting .326 with 29 home runs and 110 runs batted in for the Pacific Coast League's Salt Lake City Gulls. He returned to the majors in 1979, assuming DH duties and replacing Rod Carew at first base in June and July while the future hall of famer was out with a thumb injury. He batted .280 with 21 home runs and 81 RBIs his rookie season. That Winter, he and Rance Mulliniks were traded to the Kansas City Royals for Al Cowens, Todd Cruz and a player to be named later.
Kansas City Royals
Aikens inherited the first base job upon his arrival in Kansas City despite not being a very good fielder (he committed a league-leading twelve errors in 1980). He finished second to George Brett on his team in both home runs and RBIs with 20 and 98, respectively. The Royals won their division by 14 games to face the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series for the third time in four years. After having come up short in 1976, 1977 and 1978, the Royals swept the Yankees in three games in the 1980 American League Championship Series to face the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.
Aikens hit two home runs in game one (his 26th birthday) and game four of the 1980 World Series. He was, until Chase Utley accomplished the same feat in 2009, the only player in World Series history to hit two home runs in the same game twice during the same World Series. He also collected the game-winning RBI in the tenth inning of game three, the Royals' first-ever win of a World Series game. Aikens hit .400 for the series, however, the Royals lost the World Series in six games.
Aikens led the Royals in both home runs and RBIs in the strike shortened 1981 season. His Royals returned to the post season, but were swept by the Oakland Athletics in the 1981 American League Division Series. For his part Aikens batted .333 (three for nine) and also reached base three times via base on balls. However, he failed to score or drive in any runs.
He batted over .300 for the first time in his career in 1983, only to see his career rapidly began to decline afterwards. Toward the end of the 1983 season, Aikens and several of his Royals teammates were questioned by U.S. Attorney Jim Marquez in connection with a federal cocaine probe. Following the season, Aikens, Jerry Martin and Willie Wilson pleaded guilty to attempting to purchase cocaine, while former teammate Vida Blue pleaded guilty to possession of three grams of cocaine. Aikens, Blue, Martin and Wilson were all sentenced to three months in prison.
Toronto Blue Jays
Shortly after Aikens' November 17 sentencing, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for designated hitter Jorge Orta. Aikens was originally suspended by Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn for a year. Following a May 15, 1984 review, he was reinstated, and joined his Toronto teammates in Minnesota the next day. In 93 games, Aikens hit eleven home runs and drove in just 26.
The Jays released Aikens a month into the 1985 season, and re-signed him to a minor league contract. Despite a healthy .311 batting average and sixteen home runs with the Syracuse Chiefs, he never returned to the majors. He played four games for the New York Mets' triple A affiliate, the Tidewater Tides in 1986 before heading to Mexico to join the Mexican Pacific League's Yaquis de Obregón. Aikens played for six years in the Mexican League, where he was regularly among the league's top hitters.
Aikens' 21 home runs in 1979 was tops among MLB rookies, and he received a league leading twelve intentional walks in 1981. His 129 OPS+ is the fourth highest in Royals history behind Danny Tartabull, George Brett & John Mayberry. He hit a home run in his final major league at bat on April 27, 1985.
Aikens was called to testify in the Pittsburgh drug trials of Curtis Strong as his major league career was winding down. His legal problems continued after his retirement, culminating in his being found guilty of selling fifty grams of crack cocaine to an undercover police officer and sentenced to twenty years and eight months in prison.
Aikens had developed a heavy cocaine habit and, by his own admission, was constantly using the drug from 1991 to 1994. Supposedly, a former lover tipped off the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department that Aikens was selling narcotics at his home. Consequently, in December 1993, the police put Aikens' condominium under surveillance. The police observed numerous individuals entering Aikens' home and then exiting after a brief stay. On December 8, 1993, an undercover police officer named Ginger Locke approached Aikens standing in the garage of his condominium and asked for directions. After Aikens gave Locke directions, he told her that he was listed in the phone book and asked her to call him sometime.
Locke called Aikens numerous times in order to establish a rapport with him. On January 18, 1994, Locke called Aikens and told him that she had loaned her car to a friend, and that the friend had been caught with some "stuff," referring to crack cocaine, in the car. Locke's story initiated a discussion about narcotics. Eventually, Aikens let Locke know that he could get her "all the stuff" she wanted.
Later that day, Locke drove to Aikens' home and asked him if she could buy an "eight ball," i.e. an eighth of an ounce of cocaine. Aikens asked Locke if she wanted her cocaine "hard," (crack form), or "soft," (powder form). She replied that she wanted it "hard." Aikens pointed to some crack cocaine sitting on an ottoman in his den and indicated that he did not have a full "eight ball" of crack on hand. He told Locke that he would have to make some more.
Using equipment which he kept in his den, Aikens quickly proceeded to make crack by mixing powder cocaine with baking soda in a glass beaker, pouring water on it, heating it with a hand-held torch, baking it in a microwave, and then rinsing it with cold water. Aikens weighed some of the crack that he had made, along with some of the crack which he already possessed, on a dial-a-gram scale, and sold it to Locke for $200.
On January 24, 1994, Locke visited Aikens' home to buy more cocaine. Aikens had Locke drive him to his supplier's Kansas City home, where he used Locke's money to purchase powder cocaine. On the way back to Aikens' home, Aikens had Locke stop at stores where he could buy beakers and baking powder. When Aikens and Locke returned to Aikens' home, Aikens converted the powder cocaine into crack, and he sold the crack to Locke.
On January 28 and February 23 of 1994, Locke returned to Aikens' home and arranged to buy more crack. On each occasion, Aikens called a supplier and had Locke accompany him while he obtained powder cocaine. On each occasion, Aikens converted the powder into crack upon returning to his home and sold the crack cocaine to Locke. In total, Aikens ending up selling about 2.2 ounces to the undercover cop.
Because of the tougher federal guidelines for crack, he was sentenced as if he had sold fifteen pounds of powder cocaine. He received the maximum sentence of fifteen years and eight months, and received an additional five years because he allegedly had a loaded gun in the room where the drugs were sold.
Life after prison
Aikens served his prison sentence in a United States Penitentiary located in Atlanta, Georgia, and was scheduled to be released in 2012. He was released on June 4, 2008, three months after congress approved new guidelines in the federal drug laws and made them retroactive. Hal McRae, the only former Royals teammate with whom Aikens corresponded while in prison, set Aikens up with a job in road construction, working in manholes.
Since his release, Aikens has spoken at schools about his experiences and to the Royals' young players, always hoping to return to baseball. In November 2008, he apologized to Royals fans and the people of Kansas City in the Kansas City Star.
On February 1, 2011, the Royals announced that they had hired Aikens as a minor league coach who will be based at the franchise's complex at Surprise, Arizona. The employment was delayed when his wife, Sara, suffered a stroke, believed to have been a complication of lupus. Aikens has three daughters: Nicole and Sarita with Sara, and Lucia from a previous relationship.
- Patrick Obley (October 10, 2004). "From the archives: A royal downfall". The State.
- "Rod Carew to Be Sidelined 4 Weeks by Thumb Injury". New York Times. June 4, 1979.
- "1980 World Series, Game One". Baseball-Reference.com. October 14, 1980.
- "1980 World Series, Game Four". Baseball-Reference.com. October 18, 1980.
- "BASEBALL; Aikens Gets 20-Year Term", The New York Times December 13, 1994.
- "1980 World Series, Game Three". Baseball-Reference.com. October 17, 1980.
- Frank Litsky (October 18, 1986). "Blue Pleads Guilty to Cocaine Charge". New York Times.
- RoyalsRetro (January 14, 2009). "The 100 Greatest Royals of All-Time - #36 Willie Aikens". Royals Review.
- "Toronto Blue Jays 9, Texas Rangers 8". Baseball-Reference.com. April 27, 1985.
- Mike Fish (December 19, 2003). "From big time to big house". Sports Illustrated.
- "SPORTS PEOPLE: BASEBALL; Aikens Arrested". New York Times. March 3, 1994.
- "Ex-Royal Aikens Gets Mistrial". Bangor Daily News. March 18, 1994.
- "64 F.3d 372: United States of America, Appellee, v. Willie M. Aikens, Appellant". United States Court of Appeals. August 23, 1995.
- "Ex-major leaguer Aikens released after nearly 14 years". ESPN. June 4, 2008.
- Elizabeth Merrill. "Outside the Lines: Gaps in the Road". ESPN.
- "For The Record". Sports Illustrated. February 14, 2011.
- Willie Mays Aikens (2008-11-16). "Willie Aikens' words to Kansas City". Kansas City Star. royalsblog.kansascity.com.
- "Royals hire Willie Aikens as minor league coach". Sports Illustrated. 2011-02-11.
- Dick Kaegel (February 10, 2011). "Aikens takes leave to be with ailing wife". MLB.com.
- Sam Mellinger (March 24, 2011). "In a life defined by choices, Aikens chooses to believe". Kansas City Star.