A nice story on Royals first baseman Willie Aikens. At the time, he had finished his first year with the Royals with a breakout season, hitting 20 homers and knocking in 98, the beginning of what many thought would be a great career. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the zenith of his baseball career, as drug dependency would cost him his career, and eventually his freedom.
|From The October
15, 1980 edition of The Syracuse Herald Journal:
The Bright Royal: Aikens
By Ron Rapoport, Chicago Sun-Times Service
PHILADELPHIA—First things first.
His mother only wanted to call him Willie.
It was the doctor who delivered him that October day in 1954, no doubt still under the influence of The Catch off the bat of Vic Wertz in the World Series that had just been played, who added the Mays part. Willie Mays Aikens would like you to know that.
Which is not to say it may not soon become academic as far as the World Series is concerned. A few more home runs of the sort he hit in Game One on Tuesday and they may drop his last name altogether.
There was only one small matter to mar the excitement of two home runs and four runs batted in for Aikens. His Kansas City Royals lost the game 7-6 and now face the unenviable task of getting even against the redoubtable Steve Carlton Wednesday night.'
Talk about mixed emotions.
"I can't believe I went out and did that," Aikens said of his home runs in the third and eighth inning off the Phillies' winning pitcher, Bob Walk. "I really felt good in batting practice swinging the bat. Most of the time when I do that I have a bad game."
But if Aikens did not, there were plenty of his teammates who did. Except for center fielder Amos Otis, who had a two-run homer and two singles, none of the Royals really distinguished themselves unless you are impressed by things that never were or should have been.
"We made some mental mistakes that gave them some runs," said Aikens. Which is putting it kindly.
The Royals had the luxury of starting the ace of their staff, Dennis Leonard, only to watch in horror as he quickly dissipated a four-run lead in the Phillies' five-run third inning.
"He didn't have good stuff like he did against the Yankees," catcher Darrell Porter said, making the obvious comparison of this outing with the seven-hit, two-run stint Leonard turned in over eight innings in the American League playoffs last week, "And he didn't have his usual location and that hurt him.
"For Dennis to win, he has to be just right. I didn't get nervous when we were ahead 4-0, but it came tumbling down pretty quick. You can't do anything when you get behind. You have to come in with it.
What Leonard came in with was a fastball to Bake McBride in the third. Momentarily, it became a three-run homer that put the Phillies ahead 5-4.
"I tried to pitch him inside, but it tailed right back over the plate," said Leonard.
"Thinking back on it now, I should have stayed away from him. If I do have a problem, it's throwing inside to a lefty. I don't think I was throwing that hard. Even when I was getting those guys out, I wasn't getting my breaking stuff over. I had good stuff in teh bullpen, but it can disappear in a hurry on the mound. I kept trying to get back into a groove."
"And you never did?" someone said.
"That's pretty evident," he replied.
Last inning for Leonard
It came to an end for Leonard after a wild throw to first base in the fourth inning allowed Manny Trillo to get to second. About the only player on the field Leonard was fooling by then was Aikens, who had to chase down the ball. Moments later, Bob Boone doubled to deliver Trillo and undeliver Leonard from his chores for the evening.
Still, if Leonard was the most prominent of the culprits for Kansas City, he was not the only one.
There was Porter himself, who came nome from second on Clint Hurdle's single in the third with what might be called insufficient enthusiasm. Porter neither slid nor slammed into Boone and was an easy out. "I was going to slide, but my footwork was just wrong," said Porter, making the evening's most disingenuous explanation. "I couldn't get myself to slide. I sure wish I'd been able to slide. If I'd slid, I would have been safe "
Then there was George Brett, whose hitting prowess has received a certain amount of attention this season, but who provided some less than edifying moments in the field, particularly m the third when he ran in a run... for the other guys.
With Boone on second, Philadelphia leftfielder Lonnie Smith singled. Boone held up at third as the relay came in to Brett, but when Smith tripped rounding first and got some floor burns on the artificial surface, Brett came charging across the mfield after him. He tagged Smith for the out, all right, but not before Boone wasable to score. It was a gift run for the Phillies who, after all, only won by one.
In the sixth, Brett proved again this was not his night in the field, flapping his glove around Smith's high bouncer in back of third before finally getting it in his grasp and then double clutching before unleashing the ball. Smith was safe, of course, and though he didn't score, the play was indicative of the Royals' fate.
But the Royals did win one battle Tuesday night, albeit a small one. Home plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt tried hard to move Aikens forward in the batter's box despite the hitter's protests that there was a little hill at the rear stripe and that it should be smoothed out.
"I like to be back," Aikens said. "I like to have as much distance between me and the pitcher as I can."
Wendelstedt wasn't buying his arguments, however, so Aikens simply waited until his next time up, settled his back foot in a little hill behind the now obliterated chalk stripe and waited to see if the Wendelstedt would notice.
He did not and Aikens drove his first home run of the evening off into the distance. Kansas City fans must hope that the Royals can now come back as efficiently as Willie Mays' namesake did.