Willie Mays Aikens (born October 14, 1954) is an American professional baseball player and first baseman who played in Major League Baseball for the California Angels, Kansas City Royals, and Toronto Blue Jays from 1977 to 1985.
He had established himself as one of the best forwards in the game before drugs derailed his career. In 1994, Aikens was sentenced to 20 years in prison on four counts of distribution of crack cocaine and use of a firearm in drug trafficking.
He was released on June 4, 2008, following changes to federal drug laws and is sometimes cited as an example of the results of mandatory maximum sentencing for drug offenses.
Aikens grew up in poverty in the community of Bruce Hill in Seneca, South Carolina. He was a standout athlete in baseball, football and basketball at Seneca High School and attended historically black South Carolina State University on a baseball and football scholarship.
As S.C. State baseball dropped out after Aikens freshman year, Willie McNeil, Aikens high school baseball coach, helped him start a summer semi-pro baseball league in Baltimore, Maryland. While playing in Baltimore, he caught the attention of California Angels scout Walter Ues and was selected by the Angels with the number two pick in the January 1975 MLB Draft.
Aikens soon became one of the top players in the California farm system, hitting a league-high 30 homers and scoring 117 runs for the El Paso Diablos in 1976.
He began the 1977 season with the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate in Salt Lake City, where he hit 14 homers and hit a strong .336. medium strike. He was placed on the Angels’ major league roster at the end of the Minor League season in September, where he hit a very unimpressive .198 with 91 at-bats in 42 games and missed his first major league home run.
Aikens returned to hitting in 1978, hitting .326 with 29 home runs and 110 RBIs for the Salt Lake City Gulls of the Pacific Coast League. He returned to the majors in 1979, taking over DH duties and replacing Rod Carew at first base in June and July while Carew was out with a thumb injury and was very productive. In his rookie season, he hit .280 with 21 homers and 81 RBI.
The Angels traded Aikens and Rance Mullinix to the Kansas City Royals for Al Cowens and Todd Cruz at the winter meetings on December 6, 1979. Craig Eaton was sent to California four months later on April 1, 1980, to complete the deal.
Aikens inherited the first baseman’s job upon his arrival in Kansas City, despite not being a very good fielder (he committed a league-leading 12 errors in 1980). Recovering from knee surgery, he got off to a slow start but hit well in the second half of the season.
He finished second on his team behind George Brett in both home runs and RBIs with 20 and 98, respectively. The Royals won their division by 14 games and met the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series for the third time in four years.
After falling short in 1976, 1977 and 1978, the Royals swept the Yankees in three games in the 1980 American League Championship Series to face the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.
Aikens hit two home runs in Game 1 (his 26th birthday) and Game 4 of the 1980 World Series. Until Chase Utley accomplished the same feat in 2009, he was the only player in World Series history to twice managed to hit two home runs in the same game during the same World Series.
He also had the game-winning RBI in the tenth inning of Game 3, the Royals’ first win in a World Series game. Aikens hit .400, but the Royals lost the World Series in six games.