Willie Mays Aikens was on pace to have it all.
Drug problems, both involving him using and later dealing, ended Aikens’ career and sent him to prison. This is his story.
Willie Mays Aikens was a star first baseman in the 1980s
The second overall pick in the 1975 MLB Draft — the January one, in an era when Major League Baseball held three drafts per year — Willie Mays Aikens debuted with the California Angels two years later.
Aikens stayed in the majors for good come 1979, when he hit .280 with 21 home runs and 8 1 RBIs in 116 games. California traded him after the season to the Kansas City Royals, a move the Angels quickly regretted.
Aikens hit .278 with 20 home runs, 98 RBIs, and 24 doubles for the Royals in 1980, a year they lost to Tug McGraw and the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.
Aikens made World Series history that year, though, when he hit two home runs in Game 1 (his 26th birthday) and Game 4. The two separate two-home run games remained a record until Phillies second baseman Chase Utley accomplished the feat in 2009.
Aikens numbers dipped to .266, 17 home runs, and 53 RBIs in the strike-shortened 1981 campaign. After a similar 1982 season, Aikens mashed a career-high 23 home runs and hit .302 in 1983.
That marked his last season with the Royals, though, as Kansas City traded him to Toronto after Aikens received a three-month prison sentence for attempting to purchase cocaine.
Aikens hit .205 with 11 homers and only 26 RBIs in 93 games for the Blue Jays. Toronto cut him in 1985 after he played just 12 games.
Aikens struggled with drug problems
Like several other major leaguers in the 1980s, Willie Mays Aikens struggled with cocaine.
Aikens and two Royals teammates pleaded guilty to attempting to purchase cocaine in 1983. The trio, plus longtime MLB pitcher Vida Blue, each received three months in prison.
Blue pleaded guilty to possession of three grams of cocaine.
Missouri police arrested Aikens in 1994 after a lengthy sting operation. According to the New York Times, federal prosecutors charged Aikens with one count of distributing “about 31 grams of crack cocaine to an undercover Kansas City police officer.”
Aikens served 14 years in prison
Police arrested Willie Mays Aikens on March 2, 1994. Twenty-three days later, a grand jury indicted Aikens on four charges of crack cocaine distribution.
Aikens received the maximum sentence of 15 years and eight months in prison. He also received another five years because he allegedly had a loaded gun in the home, according to ESPN.
Although he was originally supposed to be released in 2012, Aikens left prison in 2008 after Congress approved retroactive changes to drug punishment.
Aikens received such an extreme punishment because there previously was a belief “crack defendants were more violent,” according to ESPN. Those guidelines were deemed cruel and unusual in 2007.
Willie Mays Aikens has tried giving back since he left prison
Willie Mays Aikens hoped he’d get baseball opportunities when he left prison. Obviously too old to return to the field, Aikens hoped he could become a scout.
Aikens instead became a guest speaker at schools and with the Kansas City Royals. He spoke about his experiences and what he learned throughout his journey.
Now 65, Aikens has avoided further legal issues since he left prison.