Willie James: SUSPENDED

I got out nine days early for good behavior and then I went home for just a little bit. Then I had to go to spring training. For the first time since I made the team, I was really nervous about going to spring training this year. I had been suspended for a year, but Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said he was going to review the suspension on May 15. So, they let me go to camp, but I couldnt play in any games in the spring. I didnt know what was going to happen when I got there. I was worried about everything. I hadnt been involved with the world for about three months. I wondered if I was going to start, whether I would even make the team after the stigma of the drug conviction. I was worried about what people were going to be saying about me. I knew I had to have a press conference when I first got to camp. But after that, I just basically put my head down and started going to work and blocking people out. I didnt really have a good spring training because I couldnt play in games. So, I would practice and go home. Practice and go home. I always felt like if I was just a Joe Blow Player I would have been out of the league. I had to be a pretty good player to still be in the league. So, thats how I had to think about it. That was my mentality coming back. I was getting crucified by people in the stands, yelling at me, shouting stuff like, Dont snort up the lines and all kind of stuff like that. I got great support from Mr. Kauffman, what a great man. He called me up to his office before spring training began. He said, bring your family. I knew this wasnt going to be a good meeting as far as my brain was concerned. He got me in there and he scolded me like a little kid. I just felt as low as I could be in front of my wife and my child. But then he looked at me and in the same breath goes, Here is what Im going to do. Im going to give you a new contract. But … if … you … ever … do … that … again … you will feel the wrath of Mr. K. I just went, Yes, sir.

Me and my wife kind of looked at each other. I was surprised. I thought he was calling me up there to release me and get on me and tell me he was sending me somewhere else. He scolded me, but then I felt like that was it as far as he was concerned. I started getting ready to go, and he told me I was the only one coming back to the team. The others were all being let go. I just thought, Wow. Mr. K was really a good man. He was the kind of guy I knew back in my days in Summit when I had some really great role models around me. I knew he could have sent me anywhere else. I didnt want to go anywhere else. I didnt want to go to Minnesota or New York or Chicago or L.A. I just liked it here. Mr. K was one of the best owners in the game. It was an honor to know him and to play for his team.

Willie James: SUSPENDED

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