Willie Mays Aikens, former first baseman for the Kansas City Royals, made baseball history when he became the first player to hit a pair of two-homer games in the 1980 World Series. Years later he made another kind of history, when a longstanding addiction to cocaine ended his baseball career and ultimately led to a nearly 21-year sentence for selling crack cocaine to an undercover officer.
And in 2008, he made headlines yet again when a federal judge reduced his lengthy prison term to 14 years as a result of the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s adjustment to the crack cocaine sentencing guidelines. Aikens was released in June 2008.
“They used my case as an example to show that crack sentencing was cruel and unusual punishment,” said Aikens in an interview. “I’m glad that after spending 14 years in prison, something good came out of this.”
Sentencing reform advocates utilized Aikens’s story to illustrate the unjust sentencing and racial disparities between crack and powder cocaine. After being convicted of attempting to purchase cocaine in 1983, his addiction eventually led to his suspension from major league baseball. He returned to Kansas City after playing ball in Mexico, but continued to battle his addiction, which was quickly ruining his personal life as it had his baseball career.
Kansas City authorities were aware of Aikens’s involvement with drugs. In December 1993, a female undercover officer established a friendship with Aikens and subsequently asked him to obtain crack cocaine for her on several occasions. On at least one occasion, the undercover officer specifically asked him to cook powder cocaine into crack cocaine.
Entrapment and Mandatory Minimums
With this evidence, the U.S. Attorney’s office charged Aikens with multiple counts of trafficking crack cocaine. Because of harsher sentencing penalties for crack offenses, his sentence for selling 2.2 ounces of crack cocaine was treated as equivalent to selling 12 pounds of powder cocaine.
Aikens received a mandatory sentence of 248 months in prison. Had the drug charges against him involved a similar amount of powder cocaine, Aikens would have been sentenced to about 27 months for the drug offense, plus an additional five years because the officer observed a shotgun at his residence.
Rebuilding His Life
While incarcerated, Aikens completed a 500-hour drug treatment program and established an exemplary record of good conduct. He maintained contact with his family, including his two daughters, Lucia and Nicole.
“I’m in a better frame of mind,” Aikens told the Kansas City Star before his release. “I have a spiritual life now that I didn’t have before. I just look forward to being able to get out of prison and go out with those things and be able to live my life like I’m supposed to live it.”
Aikens also kept in contact with his former teammates, coaches and friends including Cal Ripken, Jr., legendary baseball Hall of Famer, who, in November 2005, urged the Pardon Attorney at the Department of Justice to grant Aikens clemency. Ripken wrote in his letter to the Pardon Attorney:
“[T]his man [Willie] who overcame poverty in childhood, [who] rose to fame as a professional athlete, who came so close to ruining his life with drugs and who has now set his feet on the path to recovery…has paid a heavy price for his self-destructive behavior. Willie should not be required to pay such a high price for the crime involved here, involving no violence against others and no damage to anyone but Aikens himself.”
Read Cal Ripken’s letter in entirety here.