They say it’s lonely at the top…
That’s likely to be the case with KC Sultan of Sod George Toma and the new "MLB Groundskeeper Hall of Fame. " I couldn’t resist poking a little fun at the hall yesterday, but silly as the concept seems, there’s no doubt Toma is deserving of the props.
That said, it’s hard to imagine Toma’s new award and the "hall" bringing much of any import to the table in the years to come. Now that it’s shot it proverbial wad on about the only groundskeeper anybodys ever heard of in the grass growing game. Quick, tell me who’s next?
Now let’s review what made Toma so special – I’m talking about his chutzpah.
Toma was good enough at his game and old school enough to speak out even when it wasn’t in his best interests to do so. Which probably explains why he’s still doing his post retirement thing for the Super Bowl and the Minnesota Twins and not the Royals or the Chiefs.
Let’s start with Kansas City Library honcho Crosby Kemper III‘s successful effort to install real grass in Kauffman Stadium in the early 90s. An effort Kemper launched and waged in my column in the Kansas City Star.
""I plan to call it the Ad Hoc Commission for the Full Employment of George Toma," Kemper told me in 1993. "(Toma has) an international reputation, and I think we ought to spotlight it. Especially since the team isn’t doing so well, we’ve got to find what assets we can. "
Has it been that long since the Royals sucked? And were so bad that the team’s playing surface became a cause celebre?
Toma weighed in on Kemper’s side, despite the fact that the dude signing his paychecks, Herk Robinson, was dead set against getting rid of the artificial turf.
Toma could have kept it in his pants, cashed his paychecks and left Kemper to duke it out with the former Royals GM ,but he didn’t.
"Rain shouldn’t be a problem for real grass, because drainage systems are better now than before," Toma said. "And the expense should be about the same in the long run.
Which side were the players on, I asked. "I know they’re pulling for natural grass," Toma said.
There you have it; Toma was a rebel.
Take the time he dissed former Royals owner Ewing Kauffman‘s daughter Julia, the local heiress nobody – and I mean, nobody – in KC messes with.
"Julia and I had our moments," Toma wrote in is book Nitty Gritty Dirt Man. "The Yankees were in town for the playoffs, and before the game I was chatting with Reggie Jackson behind the plate. Now Reggie and I had known each other since he signed with the (Kansas City) A’s and played at Municipal Stadium. But Julia saw me, ran to Herk Robinson and said, `Hey, you have to fire George Toma. He’s talking with the enemy.’ Some people just don’t understand sports, I guess."
Or the time four years back when he ripped Carl Peterson‘s Kansas City Chiefs after an NFL Player Association poll dissing the turf at Arrowhead.
"I think they have to become groundskeepers again — I’m not ripping them — but right now they’re caretakers," Toma told me. "They know if a field goes bad they can re-sod it, but they’re not getting good sod. How can anybody re-sod two times in one week? I’d be embarrassed if I had to re-sod twice in one week."
Kansas City had one of the four worst fields in the NFL, Toma said.
"It hurts me," he said. "I have a saying: ‘Do the job and then some.’ And the ‘and then some’ distinguishes the mediocre from the great…I think they’re going to have to change something. They’ve lost something, but I can’t put my finger on it."
Where is the hall gonna find another groundskeeper who’s had skin in the game for 70 years? With Toma’s credentials and anything even approaching his record for speaking his mind, regardless of risk?
Yep, could get pretty lonely in that Groundskeeper Hall of Fame…