Hearne: Groundskeeper Hall of Famer George Toma’s Greatest Hit Jobs

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…

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5 Responses to Hearne: Groundskeeper Hall of Famer George Toma’s Greatest Hit Jobs

  1. chuckc says:

    Hmmm… kinda cool. Interesting.
    Reggie Jackson could flat out spit.

    Remember him standing outside the batters box, looking over at the coach for a sign (Like someone else could tell Reggie what to hit.) and spittin like a lawn sprinkler. Zap, 2 seconds, Zap, 2 seconds, Zap, 2 seconds—a perfect stream right between his front two top teeth. Then he just cleans your clock like the straw that stirs the drink. Dude could play, back in the day, when baseball was great.

    I bet Orphan knows some great Philly stories about the Vet. I always read it was the worst surface in major league sports.

    I like that picture of Crosby Kemper the 3rd (He was Baylor’s first white running QB, for those of you who don’t follow the Bears, isn’t that cool!?!?!?!?) lookin in the mirror channeling Bill Buckley.

    Its time to face facts. If the Royals and the Chiefs want great playing surfaces again, then it ain’t gonna be a white boy who leads them to the promised land.

    Two words, Tony Botello.

  2. Orphan of the Road says:

    My last night in KC before I moved to Philadelphia I want to see the Royals one last time.

    It was when the Player’s Association had given the ultimatum to put a warning track before the wall. At that time the turf ran right up to the wall and player’s had trouble judging how far they were from it.

    I think it was Mayberry who his a blast and Reggie chased it right into the wall, full speed. Next week the change was made.

    The turf was always terrible but it became deadly after Tose sold the team and Braman took over.

    Sitting home one night watching the Phillies on TV the camera panned to two women fighting in the stands (this was before TV found this tasteless). As the camera zoomed in Richie Ashburn murmurred, OMG, and Harry Kalas said that looks like Carol Rose. It was, Pete had given his girlfriend (also named Carol) a ticket to the game. Right next to his wife. THAT is why he doesn’t deserve to be in the HOF.

    I was there the day the fans rioted during a Cardinals-Eagles game. There were fights everywhere. I had taken my 10-year-old twins to their first game and a friend came too. As the Vet began to resemble a scene from The Wanderers, the PA announced beer would stop being sold in 10-minutes. One of my son’s tugged on my pal’s arm and said, you’d better hurry.

    Best of all I personally got to set the pitcher’s mound at The Vet in 1974 before the home opener.

    Guys would haul full kegs of beer from the ground up to the top of the stadium. You’d see four or five kegs every game.

    I met guys whose families has had Eagles season tickets since they were the Frankford Yellow Jackets.

    It really was a third-world country in the 700-level of the Vets. Sucked if you couldn’t hang with the big boys LOL

  3. chuck says:

    I knew it.

  4. Orphan of the Road says:

    It all pales when compared to seeing Curtis McClinton on KMBC doing the sports. His inability to pronounce Chi Chi Rodriguez became part of a storyline on WKRP in Cinncinati.

  5. chuck says:

    Curtis the “King” McClinton

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