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.
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