Willie James: A LIFETIME DEAL LASTS TWO YEARS

D oyou know you’re going to be rich the rest of your life? Willie Wilson to Alysia Quisenberry when Wilson and Dan Quisenberry signed their lifetime contracts with the Royals on April 10, 1985. That was a very happy time for me. They were good numbers. I was going to get paid for the next 40 years. But just as important for me I was going to be a Royal for life. To have a steady job in the same place where your kids were being brought up and where you were a part of the community was important to me. It was a great deal. I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I was a Royal. I was drafed as a Royal. I played in the minor leagues as a Royal. If you count up all the years, I had more than 15 years as a Royal. That contract, for me, meant that I was a Royal. That was the first and second thing I thought about. The funny thing. My lifetime deal only lasted about two years.

The deal was entirely Mr. (Avron) Fogelman’s deal. He had bought about 49 percent of the Royals in 1983. He negotiated the whole deal with Dan Quisenberry, George Brett and me. They wanted to do one with Frank (White) also, but for some reason Frank didn’t want to do it. I remember hearing by word of mouth that Mr. K pretty much didn’t like the deal at all. The way the deal was going to work was that for the next four years I would get $1.25 million a year. Of that, $250,000 was going to be invested in one of Mr. Fogelman’s real estate deals, and I would get $1 million in salary. The real estate investment would provide the money for the lifetime deal. I would be getting guaranteed payments every year until 2005. Then in 2005 I could continue with guaranteed payments of about a million a year for the next 20 years or I could take $16 million in a buyout. It could have been more depending on the value of the real estate. But two things were going on.

I was going through a divorce, and I didn’t think I wanted to be paying half of everything for the next 40 years to my ex-wife. We were talking to Mr. K since he didn’t like the deal anyway. We negotiated out of the lifetime deal, I think in 1987. I got a $5 million buyout of the lifetime deal. My ex-wife got $2 million in the divorce settlement, and I had to pay $800,000 in taxes for her. We never talked about changing the terms of the contract. I had a four-year contract making $1.25 million a year that ended in 1990. After that, the team had four years of options – their options – that they could keep me another four years when I was going to make $1.7 or something that would eventually rise to about $2.3 million or something like that. It never got to that because they didn’t exercise their options. That’s when (then general manager) Herk Robinson and (then manager) John Wathan were deciding to get rid of the whole heart of the team – Frank, Quiz, me and Bob Boone. They just decided we couldn’t play anymore, which I didn’t understand at all. I had hit .290 that year. The only guy who had a higher batting average on the team was George. They’d give a lot to have guys who could hit .290 today.

Sometimes, I think about that contract now and just go, Wow, what would it be like? It was going to be a million bucks a year. If I was smart, or my ex wife was smart we would have done something else. But we were in our mid-20s, and we weren’t thinking straight. You don’t think about when you are going to be 40 or 50. You are right in the moment. It was a great deal. I was very pleased and happy that they thought enough of me afer what I had gone through in 1983 and 1984 to give me a lifetime deal. I didn’t think it was a deal that could be turned down. I don’t know if I could have made more money by becoming a free agent, I probably could have because the money was really out there at that time. (George) Steinbrenner (of the New York Yankees) was giving people money that weren’t even top-notch players. He was just giving money away. I don’t know if the drug thing would have made it less likely for me to get a big contract. I thought about not signing the deal and becoming a free agent – though it was a short thought. I also remembered how the Royals had treated me. The Kauffman’s were great owners, great people — both Mr. and Mrs. K. I felt indebted for how they stood by me. I wanted to be around when we won things. We had gone to the World Series (1980), we had lost three years in a row to the Yankees, we lost a one-game playoff with the A’s, and we lost in ’84 to the Detroit Tigers. I just wanted to stay there and win at that place for those people and that owner and the players I had been with for those years. I respected everybody in that organization. Sometimes it was hard for me to express that because I had outbursts (laughter), outbursts here and there. But in between the outbursts, I thought I was a really good guy. I didn’t like a lot of attention, and I was getting it there – for the wrong reasons as well as the right reasons, but I just felt this was the best place for me as far as having an understanding owner with a great heart and wanting to win a championship. This was a team that took a chance on me more than once.

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