“You just got elected to the Royals Hall of Fame and your World Series ring is sitting in another man’s safety deposit box because you had to sell it in the bankruptcy auction.”
| Quote from the opening chapter of the forthcoming book “Inside the Park, Running the Base Path of Life” by Willie Wilson
Willie Wilson was a man adrift.
After trouble with the local police back in 1983 because of drug charges, Wilson endured a 2001 bankruptcy that cost him his home and everything in it. But nothing he lost was more precious than his 1985 World Series ring.
As the years passed, he would bring it up now and again to colleague and business partner Helen Mohr. They had found the original clipping from The Kansas City Star that reported the ring had been sold to John Matthews for $16,250.
But the lead was long dead, and the original ring was still shrouded in mystery.
So Mohr got to work.
First, she contacted the Royals, who gave her permission to have an exact duplicate of the ring made by Balfour Jewelry in Austin, Texas. But she knew that the frugal Wilson would never spend the more than $8,500 it would cost to replace the ring.
That’s when Mohr, who also runs the WillieWilsonBaseball.org site, decided to stage a fund-raiser. More than 100 people contributed to the effort ... and the final money came in from Pearl Jam star Eddie Vedder.
“His smile is gonna light up the skies when he adds that extra weight to his finger,” Vedder said in an email to Mohr. “A couple ounces is gonna balance his spirit for all the days to come.”
But Wilson doesn’t know about any of the efforts to reunite him with his ring, a secret that Mohr hopes Kansas City can help her keep.
“It was amazing to see such a communal effort,” she said.
“We had people pledge two dollars and we had people that pledged thousands of dollars and from all walks of life.
“I really hope we can keep it a secret until the presentation, which will be at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum sometime in September. Right now, Willie doesn’t know a thing.”
Mohr suggested that The Star could run this story before Aug. 6, when Wilson is scheduled to return home after a trip to Canada.
“I created separate pages on the website and would post updates while Willie was out of town, deleting them before he got back. That’s how we’ve been able to keep it a secret so far.”
Mohr said that most of the donations came from people who knew Wilson through the Royals and Cubs fantasy camps — where he met Vedder — and through Wilson’s community work highlighted by his baseball camps for underprivileged children.
That’s how longtime friend Jon Warden, a pitcher for the 1968 World Series champion Detroit Tigers, first got to know Wilson.
“When you’re an athlete — football, baseball, basketball, whatever — that ring symbolizes the apex of success,” Warden said. “I’m sure that Willie has seen people come up to me and want to see my ring if I had a dollar for every time I had a picture taken of it, I’d be a rich man. And I’m sure he’s said to himself, ‘Dang, I wish I had my ring.’
“Now (he and I) are going to able to wear our rings together. That will really be something special.”
Ron Robinson, who came within one strike of pitching a perfect game for the Reds in 1988, echoed Warden’s thoughts.
“He deserves that ring,” Robinson said. “Everyone goes through hard times — not just baseball players, but everyone. I have (a World Series ring) from the 1990 Reds, even though that year I was traded to the Brewers when they were in the (American League).
“I remember trying to pick him off, but he was just too fast. He really had an incredible career, especially in Kansas City. And he gives so much time and money to the community; it’s really great to see the community standing up for him.”
Mohr got permission from Royals general manager Dan Glass to investigate a replica of the ring in 2011 but was reluctant to involve the team further.
“I didn’t really approach the Royals because I felt like they had already done so much for him already,” Mohr said. “We knew we could have (a ring) created, but Willie is just like everyone else, with bills to pay. Life goes on, and he just couldn’t see justifying such an expense.
“We first put information about how to donate on Twitter and Facebook June 1 and that’s when things really started to take off.”
Wilson, who appears at six to eight events a year for the Royals, is also an analyst for Time Warner’s Metro Sports and is very involved in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
“It’s incredible to be able to help bring back something that a person has cherished and thought was forever lost,” Mohr said. “Believe it or not, some people wrote in mean things, referencing Willie’s past, but for every one message that was mean, there were six nice ones that came in.”