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Willie Aikens

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Willie Mays Aikens

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[edit] Biographical Information

Willie Aikens, who played 8 seasons in the big leagues, holds the full-season-league record for highest single season batting average, hitting .454 for Puebla in the Mexican League in 1986. The recordholder for all leagues is Gary Redus, who hit .462 for Billings in the Pioneer League over the course of a 68-game season in 1978.

He was born "Willie Mays Aikens", named after Willie Mays.

Aikens led the Texas League in home runs in 1976 with 30. He hit .317, slugged .554, drove in 117 and was named Player of the Year in the league. Two years later he led the Pacific Coast League in homers with 29, 7 more than the #2 players. He drove in 110 runs, second to Pedro Guerrero and hit .326 with a .551 slugging percentage.

In 1979, he was a big-league regular with the California Angels and became the 8th player to hit grand slams in consecutive games. In 1980, he set another power record when he became the first player to hit multiple homers in two World Series games in the same year but the Kansas City Royals lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies.

From 1979 through 1983, Aikens was a good big-league hitter, posting an OPS+ of 115 or better each year; twice he topped 140 and in 1981 he was among the American League's top 10 in home runs and walks.

Things began to turn sour for Aikens in 1983, when he was arrested and convicted for trying to purchase cocaine. He was suspended by Major League Baseball and jailed. While in prison, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. When he returned, he was a shadow of his former self, posting an OPS+ of 83 and 85 in his two years as a Jay, in 1984 and 1985. In what turned out to be his final major league game (on April 27, 1985), Aikens pinch hit in the top of the 9th inning for Tony Fernandez and smacked a game-tying 2-run homer. He was sent down to triple-A shortly thereafter, making him one of the few Major League players to homer in their final major league at-bat.

In 1985 Aikens did a fine job in the International League. He hit .311, second to Juan Bonilla, hit 16 homers, walked 67 times and led the league in OBP (.416) and slugging (.496).

Aikens then went to the Mexican League in 1986. His timing was wonderful, as that year the league's offensive levels exploded thanks to the use of the Commando ball - the league as a whole hit .308 and many league offensive records were set. Three other players topped .400 that year. Aikens, the DH for a Puebla powerhouse that hit .347, led the league in hitting (his record .454 - the old league record was .438 by Jimmie Collins), hits (202), RBI (154, the league record; the top three marks in Mexican League history were all set in 1986)), OBP (.571) and total bases (384, a new record). He was second in the league with 38 doubles, 134 runs (the second-best mark in league history) and an .863 slugging percentage. His 46 homers tied Hector Espino's old record but were only third in the circuit as two players topped 50. Puebla won over 68% of their games and cruised through the postseason. Late in the year Aikens got one more chance in a US-based league; he signed with the Tidewater Tides but went just 2 for 15 with 2 walks and no extra-base hits. The rest of his career would be in Mexico.

In 1987, league offense slipped but Aikens slipped more dramatically to .354/.456/.623 with 17 homers. In 1988, the Puebla franchise moved to Jalisco, a much less friendly offensive environment - Aikens' first 18 homers that year all came on the road. He hit .352/.492/.641; he was 7th in average, 6th with 30 homers and 2nd with 112 walks.

Aikens won his second batting title in 1989. Now with Leon, Aikens hit .395/.521/.757 with 40 doubles, 37 homers, 131 RBI and 104 walks; he also led in OBP, slugging, total bases, doubles, RBI and walks and tied for the lead with 108 runs, garnering more league titles than he had in his more famous 1986 season. Aikens was second to Leo Hernandez (39) in homers.

In the winter of 1989, Aikens played for the Bradenton Explorers and St. Lucie Legends of the Senior Professional Baseball Association, hitting 12 homers (second best in the circuit) and batting .345. He also pitched one inning for St. Lucie and faced 4 batters, giving up 1 hit.

In 1990 Aikens' Leon Braves won the title. He hit .358/.485/.589, his lowest Mexican League slugging yet - he was 9th in homers and 7th in average as league offensive levels were still fading a bit. He was 3rd in walks and second in RBI. At the age of 36, Aikens finished his baseball career in 1991 - with his fourth city in his 6 years in Mexico, he played for the Monterrey Industriales and hit .299/.431/.496.

Aikens' .372 career batting average is tied for the league record among players with 2,000 or more at-bats (even with Alfred Pinkston; his .671 slugging is second to Nick Castaneda, the player who had edged him in runs and slugging in 1986. Aikens was a notoriously bad defensive player and spent most of his career at DH, with some time at 1B.

Willie also played Winter Baseball in Puerto Rico with the Santurce Crabbers. He primarily wore number 24 in the majors.

Three years after retiring, Aikens was in legal trouble once more for criminal behavior - he was convicted for selling crack to an undercover cop and for using a gun in a drug transaction. On June 4, 2008, Aikens was released from federal prison in Jesup, GA after spending nearly 14 years behind bars. When Aikens was sentenced, the guidelines for sentences on crack cocaine convictions were much stricter than those for powdered cocaine because it was thought that crack defendants were more violent. In 2007, the guidelines were deemed cruel and unusual and were relaxed somewhat.

After his release, he moved back to Kansas City, MO and made a number of public appearances at Royals events. On February 1, 2011, Aikens took another step towards full rehabilitation when the Royals hired him as a minor league hitting instructor and listed him as a special coach with the major league team. Unfortunately, he suffered another setback barely a week later, as his wife Sara suffered a stroke and was hospitalized in Kansas City as he was about to leave for Arizona to be at the Royals' minor league camp. He did become a coach for the AZL Royals in 2013 and Idaho Falls Chukars in 2014.

Sources: Texas League website, minorleaguebaseball.com article on the '86 Angels by Bill Weiss and Marshall Wright, Baseball Almanacs and Statistics Reports from 1986 through 1992, The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros, baseballlibrary.com, thebaseballcube.com

[edit] Notable Achievements

[edit] Further Reading

  • Gregory Jordan: Safe At Home: Willie Mays Aikens, Triumph Books, Chicago, IL, 2012.

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