A cut above: Toma enters Royals Hall of Fame
Legendary groundskeeper enshrined as 25th member during Friday's ceremony
KANSAS CITY -- George Toma, son of a Pennsylvania coal miner, decided he liked life better above the ground and working in the dirt. As a result, on Friday night, he became the 25th member of the Royals Hall of Fame.
His father, Toma said before the ceremony at Kauffman Stadium, died when he was 10 of a lung ailment caused by inhaling coal dust.
"I never would want to work in the mines, so I had to get a job on the vegetable farm at 10 cents an hour, 10 hours a day, six days a week. The next year was a chicken farm at 50 cents a day and they gave you lunch," Toma said. "I was fortunate enough to have a neighbor across the street who was a groundskeeper for the Wilkes-Barre Barons of the Class A Eastern League, and he gave me a job when I was 13 years old. Then Bill Veeck gave me a job as head groundskeeper when I was 16 years old. And I just kept on working."
Now, at 83, he is still working in his 70th year in baseball.
Toma walked onto the field before the Royals' game against the Indians through two rows of today's players and was joined by several of his fellow Hall of Famers, Royals alumni, team owner David Glass, club president Dan Glass and Julia Irene Kauffman, daughter of founders Ewing and Muriel Kauffman.
"One motto that George lives by is three simple words, 'And then some,'" David Glass said. "He lives everything that way. All that means is doing whatever is required -- and then some."
Hall of Famer George Brett, who officially inducted Toma, gave an example.
"I used to pride myself on being the first one to the ballpark and the last one to leave," Brett said. "I never beat George to the ballpark and he was still here when I left."
Toma was the head groundskeeper for the Royals from their inception in 1969 through 1995, when the artificial turf was changed to grass, and as a consultant to 1997. But his Kansas City roots go back to 1957, when he was hired to be the Athletics' groundskeeper at old Municipal Stadium.
His mentor Emil Bossard, the Cleveland groundskeeper, warned him against taking the job because he'd seen the field and it was in terrible shape.
"George, don't go to Kansas City because in the springtime it floods you out and in the summertime it's so hot it bakes you out," Bossard told Toma.
Toma debated between KC and a job offer from the Minor League Denver Bears, and went home to think about it.
"I said I was going to take the Kansas City job, because if I screw it up, nobody'll ever know it," Toma said.
Yet, within a short time, Toma had the field is superb shape and his legendary career was in full swing. Before the induction ceremony, he shared some memories. One involved second baseman Nellie Fox of the visiting White Sox, who kiddingly tried to make people think Toma's field was filled with rocks.
"Nellie Fox went outside the clubhouse by Lincoln High School and got some baseball-sized rocks and during batting practice, he'd have the rocks in back pocket and would purposely miss the ball, then hold this big rock up," Toma said. "But, in my 70 years in the game, I never met a bad ballplayer."
He also recalled some shenanigans in which A's manager Alvin Dark would have Toma doctor the area near first base with wet sand to slow down the speedy Go-Go White Sox. The Sox asked the umpires to stop the game and have Toma fix the area.
"So what I did was push the sand about 20 more feet past where it was so when they took off, then they had to plow through a beach to get to second base," he said. "Everybody had a lot of fun in those days."
Before the ceremony, Toma was invited into the Royals' clubhouse to address the players.
"That clubhouse is full of outstanding players and what I like about them is they never give up," Toma said. "Look at all the games they've come back in the ninth inning to win. They're young. And down the road they'll be playing here in October. Every one of them has that 'and then some.' And that 'and then some' is the extra -- they take that base, they slide in hard, they play hard like the old days. They have that 'and-then-some' and they're going to be winners."
Toma thanked God and a flood of folks, including his wife Donna, his sons Chip, Rick and Ryan, his many co-workers, the Royals and "the greatest baseball fans in this great game."
He's also made his mark in other sports, including football where he's worked on all 46 Super Bowls. But his first love was baseball.
"Being in this game 70 years, I don't think I ever had a bad day," he said.
Toma has always done his best. And then some.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.