#80 - Willie Mays Aikens, - DH
Willie was my favorite player on the 1979 Angels, the first in franchise history to reach the postseason. Along with Dan Ford, he protected A.L. MVP Don Baylor in the lineup that season and put together a solid year at the plate. If Aikens had not been injured just prior to the postseason, you have to wonder how manhandled the Orioles and Pirates would have been by a fierce, young and hungry Angel squad looking to please the Cowboy.
I hope one day you have a blog where you can reward your favorite player from when you were 14 with the lofty position of #80 All-Time player.
Willie is in jail in Georgia on federal drug and weapons charges and I would like to send a printout of this post to him if anyone has the address to his Atlanta prison cell, I would appreciate your posting it as a reply here.
Rob McMillin looks a little deeper at 1979's one-hit wonder...
A popular theory has it that anyone with the first and middle names John Wayne will end up a criminal (c.f. John Wayne Gacy), and so it is with some suspicion I discovered that the next name on the Rev's list was Willie Mays Aikens, a guy whose major league career lasted nine seasons. Aikens was taken second overall in the 1975 draft, one pick behind his teammate on the South Carolina State baseball squad, Gene Richards, who went to the Padres (and became a solid regular with that team). Aikens got the name from the doctor who delivered him, who predicted he would become a famous ballplayer.
Aikens' fielding was infamously bad, and so spent most of his career either at first or in the DH spot. What he could do, though, was hit. He punched 30 homers at AA El Paso in 1976 and 14 homers in a partial season with AAA Salt Lake, which led to a June, 1977 callup that lasted through the middle of July, at which time the Angels slipped him back down to the minors. A successful streak in Salt Lake found him back at the big club in September, but he failed to acquit himself well, and he spent all of 1978 in the minors again.
His one good year with the Angels -- 1979 -- he managed 21 homers, blasting grand slams on consecutive nights June 13 and 14, only the seventh player in the 20th century to do so, and the eighth overall. Though the Angels made it to the postseason that year, Aikens didn't, ligament strains keeping him out of the postseason lineup.
The '79 Angels needed more pitching, but Buzzie Bavasi failed to comprehend this absence, finally using Aikens as tradebait to get outfielder Al Cowens, who repaid Bavasi by hitting .227 in only 34 games, and in turn would be flipped for Jason Thompson, another first baseman/DH type who only stayed with the Angels for a single season. "We seem to be back where we started," Don Baylor said at the time, only Aikens was performing his heroics on the then-strong Royals teams. Kansas City eventually suspended him for drug use; he tried to come back, ineffectively, with Toronto in 1984, and retired in 1985 after only twelve games.
You can read Rob at his 6-4-2 L.A. Baseball Blog everyday.