Willie Wilson delivered his message, sharing stories that are included in his just-released autobiography, receiving enthusiastic applause from the fans, friends and family that turned out for his book signing at the Negro Leagues Museum on Tuesday.
He was taking his seat when Helen Mohr, who oversees Wilson’s charitable foundation, called him back to the podium. She had a presentation, a framed plaque with photographs and about 100 names of those who had helped put the evening together.
It was only half-true. Those names were friends, but there was another purpose for their appearance on the plaque, and that was the real reason Wilson had been summoned.
“It is indeed my honor and my privilege to present Mr. Willie Wilson, No. 6, a World Series ring,” Mohr said.
Never miss a local story.
Many in the room knew a new ring had been created and would be presented. But not Wilson, forced to sell his ring for winning the 1985 World Series at a bankruptcy auction in 2001.
Wilson wiped away tears.
“Wow,” he said, his voice quivering. “I’ll tell you what. This is the best surprise I’ve had in a long time.”
Wilson started back to his seat but had another thought as he slipped on the ring.
“Let me say this,” Wilson said. “Of all the things I lost, this is the only thing I really treasured. I got my kids, I got all the things I really needed. I’m going to wear this again with pride and honor and this time I’m not going to let it go.”
The list of names included friends like Eddie Vedder, the lead singer for Pearl Jam, who wore a Wilson Royals’ jersey at a Sprint Center concert in 2010.
Mohr said the group raised almost $9,000 to purchase a ring crafted by Balfour.
“I’ve known him since 2004, and he’s always mentioned getting a ring,” Mohr said. “But you know, life gets in the way.”
Wilson shares those experiences, bad and good in the book, “Inside the Park, Running the Base Path of Life,” written with former Star sportswriter Kent Pulliam and published by Ascend Books.
Wilson spent 15 of his 19 major league seasons with the Royals, and played an integral role in the franchise’s golden era from the mid-1970s through the 1980s.
He was a base-stealing wizard, led the American League in triples five times and won the AL batting title in 1982.
In the book, Wilson also discusses his battles with cocaine, both of them. The first one was well-known as a member of the Royals in 1983, and he spent 81 days in prison.
The second time, in late 1990s, his 19-season career over for about five years, Wilson revisited his demons, and this time nobody was around for support. He turned himself over to Shawnee Mission Medical Center and started rehab treatments.
The road back has long and methodical, and Wilson said the time was right to share his life story.
“I had thought about doing it a few years ago, but I wasn’t ready,” Wilson said. “I’m happy with it because it’s the truth. I’m not trying to fool anyone.
“I put myself through some tough situations, and it took me time to get myself out.”
Here’s an excerpt from Wilson’s book
The first time I experimented with cocaine, I didn’t get addicted. I just said “no” after a short while. The second time not so much.
The funny thing is that everybody knew about the first time, and not that many people knew about the second time even though it was a much more serious problem. That’s because I didn’t get caught. Nothing got in the papers about it.
My life was coming apart. I didn’t feel good about anything. I don’t know how many people get to that point in their life when they’re just numb and they’re trying to do anything to block it out. I was there, and I went to cocaine because I knew it would make me feel good — even though I also knew it wasn’t the answer.
This was in 1999, I think. My life was in such a mess that I just didn’t care. When you don’t care, you don’t care about anything. The drug is telling you, “Come hang out with me. Nobody understands you like me.”
You wake up in the morning thinking about it. Everything else means less. Everything else doesn’t matter. You’re sleeping all frickin’ day because you have been up all night. You get up, and it’s almost afternoon or evening and you’re going to go back to what you were doing.
People who knew about it were trying to talk to me sensibly, reasonably — I’m talking about my wife, even my mom. She had seen how disgusting I had become, how distracted I was, how small I was getting because I was losing weight. It was just really, really crappy.
One day, I needed some cash, so I went to a casino to use the ATM and get some money on a credit card. Then, I messed around and went to a gas station to get gas. You are paranoid about everything.
At the gas station, this lady rolled up beside me in a truck. She looked at me and she just shook her head side to side. That was sort of the thing that was the last straw. That’s when I thought the police knew what I was doing. Shortly after that I told myself I either better get some help or go to jail, and I didn’t want to go to jail.
I decided I had put people through enough. I had treated everybody badly enough. At some point — I don’t even remember when — I just said I have had enough. I had felt sorry for myself enough. I had made it so bad I didn’t know if I could get my marriage back together.
So, one day, late at night I was out and driving around, paranoid about everything. And I just drove myself to the emergency room at Shawnee Mission Medical Center and checked myself in. I didn’t even know if they had a drug program. I just knew it was a hospital, and hospitals were supposed to help you. So, I went there, checked myself in and they sent me all the way upstairs. I probably slept for two days.
The funny part of this was I was there for a week or so, and this other guy comes in — this young kid. So, I’m here going through all my stuff, and this kid’s mother is asking me to talk to him. She recognized me and knew who I was and she asked me to talk to him. I talked to the kid, trying to help him get back. But that was really hard because I was going through what I was going through.
After I got out of Shawnee Mission I felt like everyone who looked at me knew that I had been abusing drugs. It didn’t matter to me then because what else could they do to me, and I didn’t care. I think I went to about four or five weeks as an outpatient. That was very helpful because you would have meetings with other people.
And it wasn’t just dudes off the street. I was in sessions with people with money, people who would be blasted if they had been in the paper like I was every day. But they were just trying to get their lives together.
When you are sober and healthy you see things a lot more clearly. When I do my clinics now or do my speaking engagements, I talk about the drugs. It’s not something that I talk about with great enthusiasm, but it is something I talk about because I want them to know that we all go through bad stuff. It is either forced on us or we force it on ourselves. We all go through bad stuff.
The key is you can come out of it. That’s the key to me. You have to be able to accept what people have to say about you — and it’s mostly going to be bad.
I’m happy most of the time, about 95 percent of the time. I’m never 100 percent at accepting what people have to say about me. After I got out of rehab and was coaching with the Diamondbacks in 2001 and 2002 people were still bringing things up and reminding me. And sometimes a GM or somebody would look at you sort of funny, like they could pick up the tell-tale signs.
But I have been able to come to grips with it since 2004 or 2005.