Willie James: PEER PRESSURE

Negative. Negative. Negative. For nearly three years almost everything around me had been negative, starting with the 1980 World Series when I struck out 12 times. I felt like I hadn’t had a good enough year in 1981 to make people forget about the 12 strikeouts in the 1980 World Series, even though I won the Royals Player of the Year Award. It was a strike season, and I batted .303 and was second again only to George Brett. I played more games than anyone else on the roster, and I had a 15-game hitting streak and finished with 133 hits and 34 stolen bases – in a strike-shortened season, but I still felt like people were thinking about the World Series. So, in 1982 I win the batting championship, but when I didn’t play that final game that’s all anyone was talking about. I don’t know how many games I missed that year (26), but all anyone was talking about was the last one. I’m feeling like no matter what I do, no matter how good I am, there is still harping on the negative, the negative, the negative. That may not have been what everyone was saying, but it’s all I was hearing. No matter what I did, it was never good enough for a reporter, for a TV guy.

That’s what I felt like I had been hearing from the Royals, too. Whitey Herzog always said I could never hit good enough. It was always something. Even that final game in 1982. It was like they didn’t think I could get a hit and win it outright. That winter, after I won the batting title, is when I first tried cocaine.

I was a shy kid growing up. I didn’t even have a date until the 11th grade. I had a little clique, and I just hung around with them when I was growing up. So, I was not as outgoing as everybody thought. Getting on drugs made me more outgoing. It made me feel better. It made me forget about all the negativity. It came at a time when it was almost a savior to me. It was wrong. I knew it was wrong. And even when I was doing it, I knew it was hurting me. By late that year, before Christmas, I finally figured, You know what? This isn’t right. It isn’t going to help you. But it sure made me feel good at the time.

The feeling cocaine gives you is it makes it seem like you are invincible. You feel more positive. I wasn’t sitting there doing cocaine a whole evening or anything like that. You would do a couple of lines, and then you would go to a party, go and have a drink, hang out or go to a place and dance. This was causing a few problems at home because I was going out partying. I had never done that much before because I had young kids. So, my first two or three years in the league I didn’t hang out or go out with the guys after the game. Now I wasn’t going home. It wasn’t my wife’s fault or anything. It was the drugs and the partying. It wasn’t a good combination. I was introduced to the drug by Vida Blue. He had come on the team in the 1982 season, and he’s the one who introduced me to the gentleman who had the cocaine (Mark Liebl). Mark was just a regular guy. He was a fan, and he was just a guy that we knew. We would see him every now and then and go to his house or meet him at a bar somewhere. It was all in fun. It wasn’t to do anything to hurt anybody. It was just us having fun and trying to be like everyday people. I can’t remember the very first experience, but I’m sure it was at his house. That’s how we all got caught because there were all these expensive cars showing up at this guy’s house in Overland Park all the time. I think his neighbors started noticing it. I didn’t even know how to do cocaine. I just followed what everyone else did. They would have a straw or roll money up and snort it that way.

I really didn’t think much about it being against the law. I just never thought of that. I didn’t worry about anyone telling on me because I always thought that whoever else is doing it is going to get in trouble too, if they are going to tell on me. And the people I’m doing it with have a lot to lose just like I do. Some of the guys who were doing it were high-powered people. Some were doctors. Some were everyday people. You have to remember in the 80s, cocaine was for people who had money. It’s not like it is today. You weren’t a scumbag if you were doing cocaine in the 80s. It was the drug of the rich. It wasn’t stuff you get in the ghettos. I wasn’t getting it from some guy on the street. I went to a guy’s nice house. Nice town, good job and everything. I never really thought anything about it. And the other thing that people don’t realize. I never did much with Willie Aikens or with Jerry Martin, two of the other guys on the team who got in trouble at the same time. We sometimes saw each other coming to get something and leaving. But that’s how we got caught, all the cars coming and going. Actually using the drug didn’t last very long for me. It wasn’t going to do anything for my game. So I did it for a little while, then said, OK, that’s it and I quit.

I’m not even doing drugs anymore by the time spring training comes around in 1983. I’m clean. The drug thing is not even on my radar screen. For a change I got off to a pretty good start. I was hitting over .300 the first month of the season, and by June – when I would normally start to really warm up – I was at almost .290 in June. Then a guy on another team who I knew was in town and asked me if I could get him anything. It was the late Al Cowens. (I hate to say his name now.) I sort of felt like I was obligated to him because I got the chance to play when he got hit in the jaw in 1979. I know that seems crazy now, but that’s how I felt. I got a chance to play in ’79, and the year after that he was traded away from the Royals. So, now it’s at least six months since I have bought any cocaine, and he is in town with Seattle and asks if I know anybody. I said, I really don’t do it now, but I know somebody who does. I can make a call for you. This was before cell phones, so we would make all our calls right from the locker room. So, I made the call. Liebl answered. Hey Mark, this is Willie.

Which Willie. Wilson Then I told him what I wanted, and he said, I’d like to help you, but I got nothing. So I said, Thanks, I didn’t want to be involved anyway. I hung up and went out and told AC that I ain’t got nuthin’ and then I never thought about it again. I actually felt guilty when I was telling him I couldn’t get anything because he was asking me for something, and I couldn’t help him. And here I was the guy who took his job after he got hurt. Later on I learned that they were only tapping Liebl’s phone for about a month. I was on the phone tap for a 20-second phone call when nothing was bought or passed from one person to another. I never even really thought about it again until about a month later when that 20-second phone call would come back to bite me.

Willie James: PEER PRESSURE Photo Gallery




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