COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The best player within the history of the Kansas City Royals slammed his palm onto a conference table on the Baseball Hall of Fame last Friday. George Brett was pretending to be an F.B.I. agent showing off his badge.
Identical to that, you weren’t in Cooperstown. N.Y., anymore. You were somewhere with the Royals within the early Nineteen Eighties, and also you is perhaps in deep trouble.
“He brings my name up, he brings Jamie Quirk’s name up — and he brings your name up,” Brett said, pointing to his old teammate, Willie Mays Aikens, across the table.
“And he brings Vida Blue’s name up, and Jerry Martin’s name up and Willie Wilson’s name up. And he says, ‘, we had a gathering earlier about calling up bookies and betting games. Let’s just say George and Jamie are calling some guy we got a wiretap on …’”
Brett was shaken and quickly understood: He stopped betting on football games. However the F.B.I. didn’t care much about him and Quirk. Investigators were attempting to signal the others that they were onto their cocaine use.
“If we had stopped right then and there, we’d have never had a drug case,” Aikens said. “They tried to warn us, man.”
“And also you kept doing it,” Brett said.
“And we kept doing it,” Aikens replied.
Aikens kept doing it for a decade. Like Blue, Martin and Wilson, he served a brief prison term after the 1983 season, but that was hardly the worst of it. That just isn’t why Samuel Goldwyn Movies has turned Aikens’s life story right into a movie, “The Royal,” scheduled for release on July 15. It’ll be available for streaming and in limited theaters, and it had a premiere last Friday on the Hall of Fame.
For Aikens, 67, it was his first trip to Cooperstown, where Brett is enshrined for a profession that ended with 3,154 hits in 1993. By then Aikens was deep into his cocaine addiction, which got here to eat him during a six-year profession in Mexico after eight seasons within the majors as a slugging first baseman with the California Angels, the Royals and the Toronto Blue Jays through 1985.
In 1994 he was sentenced to twenty years in federal prison for selling 2.2 ounces of crack cocaine, on 4 occasions, to an undercover female officer. Aikens has said he was occupied with the girl and complied when she asked him to cook the cocaine into crack.
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That call made Aikens — the primary player with two multihomer games in the identical World Series, in 1980, when the Royals lost to Philadelphia — a public face of the gross disparity in sentencing for crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenders. A 1986 federal law punished people way more severely for crack; it took until 2010 for Congress to cut back the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1.
Aikens was incarcerated for 14 years, and has now been out of prison so long as he was in. “The Royal” mostly chronicles his transition back to society — reconciling together with his wife and family, becoming a father again, working on a road crew digging manholes and, with Brett’s help, securing a job as a minor league coach for the Royals.
“How many individuals on this world undergo their life on earth and get a movie?” said Aikens, who now serves as a special assistant to the Royals as a part of their leadership development team. “Not many individuals. I’m hoping that the movie will help avoid wasting lives.”
The actor Amin Joseph, who plays a crack dealer within the FX series “Snowfall,” portrays Aikens. Joseph, 42, grew up in Harlem and said he remembers crack vials strewn on playgrounds. He was drawn to playing a unique form of figure impacted by drugs.
“There are real people in our communities which can be coping with this and still healing, and like Willie often says, not all of them were major league baseball players with the posh of getting friends in powerful places to offer them a second likelihood,” Joseph said. “A number of these individuals are lost, forgotten, the underbelly of what we consider society, the people who we judge.”
Aikens’s background gave him a pathway to return to baseball, but it surely was not all the time smooth. He first needed to confront his past and show that he could share his experiences.
Aikens was something of an unlikely public speaker, having handled a stutter for much of his life. Brett had first encouraged him to inform his story for the athletes at Brett’s son’s highschool, a scene loosely depicted within the film. It became a revelation.
“After I picked him up on the halfway house and I heard him talk, I had tears in my eyes. I actually did,” Brett said. “I used to be so pleased with him.”
Aikens — who testified before Congress in 2009, urging sentencing reform for drug offenders — has told his story persistently since, to Royals prospects and to students on the team’s Urban Youth Academy. The message has stayed all too relevant in baseball; while cocaine was a scourge of the Nineteen Eighties, the death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, in 2019, revealed the toll of the opioid epidemic on the game.
4 Angels teammates revealed in court this 12 months that they, like Skaggs, had received oxycodone pills from Eric Kay, a former Angels communications director who was found guilty on two charges for his role within the death of Skaggs. Prosecutors argued that Skaggs had died from a pill or pills he received from Kay that were disguised to seem like oxycodone but were actually fentanyl, a far stronger opioid.
“This drug that they’ve straight away, it’s mixed in with Oxycodone and medicines like that, and it’s a blind killer,” Aikens said, referring to fentanyl. “After I was using drugs, you possibly can sit there for hours or days and just snort or smoke cocaine. But with this drug now, fentanyl, you’ll be able to take this one pill and it could just knock it out. It doesn’t even offer you a likelihood.”
Almost despite himself, Aikens survived to get one other likelihood. Now he has taken his story to a theater in Cooperstown — and, soon, far beyond.