Groundskeeper Toma elected to Royals Hall of Fame

Groundskeeper Toma elected to Royals Hall of Fame

Groundskeeper Toma elected to Royals Hall of Fame
KANSAS CITY -- George Toma, the legendary groundskeeper, is the 25th member of the Royals Hall of Fame.

Toma, who made generations of players happy with his carefully tilled dirt and his luxurious grass, will be inducted at Kauffman Stadium prior to the Royals-Twins game on Friday, Aug. 31.

"It's an honor and pleasure to be inducted into the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame," Toma said. "Not only am I very proud and enthused about this great award, but I'd like to say this award has many, many fingerprints on it. ... And nobody has ever worked for me, they all worked with me."

Toma was effusive in his praise for those he worked with, as well as those he worked for, repeatedly thanking the Royals' former owners, Ewing and Muriel Kauffman, who he will be joining in the Royals Hall of Fame. He said that he's received letters from the Kauffmans' daughter, Julia Irene, over the past few years in which she wrote that her parents would be proud of his accomplishments.

"I had the opportunity to work for so many great, great owners," Toma said. "I'm appreciative of it. Julia Irene would keep my spirits up and say, 'Mr. and Mrs. K are proud of you.' And looking up to heaven, I hope he is and she is."

Toma is the first member chosen by a veterans committee created as part of a redesigned voting process established last year. The 16-member committee votes in even-numbered years on the candidacy of non-field personnel, as well as players and managers no longer eligible in the regular phase of the voting. The committee consists of Royals Hall of Famers, club executives and media members. Candidates must be named on 75 percent of ballots to be elected.

"You can't talk, you get tears in your eyes. It's unexpected," Toma said. "I never thought I'd be in the NFL Hall of Fame or the Groundkeepers Hall of Fame or the Royals Hall of Fame because I'm just a nitty, gritty dirt man, the lowest in the organization."

Toma, 83, established himself after taking over as head groundskeeper of the Kansas City Athletics in 1957, transforming a notoriously poor field at Municipal Stadium into one of baseball's best. When the Royals, who followed the A's into Municipal, moved into what is now called Kauffman Stadium in 1973, Toma came with them as head groundskeeper until 1995 and a consultant until 1997. He was in charge when the stadium's artificial turf was changed to real grass after the 1994 season.

Now he joins Royals stars who used to perform on his fields, such as Amos Otis, Paul Splittorff, Frank White, George Brett and Bret Saberhagen, in the Hall.

Toma also was groundskeeper for the Kansas City Chiefs and his football fame has spread through his work as turf consultant for every Super Bowl. He continues his baseball work at the Twins' Spring Training complex at Fort Myers, Fla.

For Toma, the most important thing about his job was doing things the right way. He always had the safety of the athletes on his mind.

"You have to give the players a good playing field. My theory is the cheapest insurance for an athlete is a good, safe playing field from preschool to the Major Leagues, to the professional baseball," Toma said. "No. 2: You have to give the people in the stands and the people on TV a field of beauty. And then No. 3: You've got to do things without taking too much money out of the owner's coffers."

Players respected Toma's work and called his fields the best they'd ever played on. Brett would take three or four extra steps to make sure he didn't spit his tobacco juice on the turf. Sometimes, though, keeping the field looking good meant butting heads with some of the athletes, coaches and even Major League umpires.

"I always fight to protect the club and the ground crew," Toma said. "And in Spring Training, ... Tim Tschida, the umpire, I just got tired of him spitting sunflower seeds all over the infield dirt and the grass. So I gave him a pretty hard time. Eventually we got him where he would pile them up."

Not even team management was immune to Toma's passion when it came to the quality of his fields, such as the time he was tasked with building fields for the Chiefs' training camp facility in Liberty, Mo.

"We had to take care of William Jewell College and build fields. [Former Chiefs president] Jack Steadman said, 'Here's $44,000 to build two football fields.' We did it, but the only thing was I went over the budget," Toma recalled. "Jack called me in, chewing me out for going over the budget. So I went over the budget, but sometimes you get chewed out but it's your last laugh. The first day of practice there, it rained 4.5 inches, almost five inches of rain overnight. And the field played so great, they had two practices with no problems."

Toma made a point of thanking those who convinced him to stay in Kansas City when the A's left for Oakland.

"I had offers to go to many, many Major League cities and ball clubs, but I fell in love with Kansas City."

Now, he'll be forever enshrined in Kansas City.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.