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Finley also encouraged Toma to be devious with the field, to employ all the little tricks of partisan groundskeeping that Bossard had pioneered in Cleveland. Toma calls it "groundkeeping by deceit."
"Toma was the master," says Oakland A's Manager Billy Martin. "If the Kansas City third baseman couldn't field, the grass in front of him was slanted to make balls go foul. If the fielders were slow, the grass was grown higher. If the pitcher threw a sinker, a little extra hosing in front of the plate was helpful. If the other team could run, he'd pour sand around first base." To Martin, "artist" inadequately describes Toma. "He's more a doctor than an artist," Martin says.
Surprisingly, when the A's moved to Oakland in 1968, Toma stayed behind in Kansas City, serving Finley only as a consultant. (He calls the Oakland Coliseum an "Allied Maintenance-type operation"—Toma-ese for "nobody gives a damn.") "I gave up a good financial life to stay in Kansas City," he says, "but I like living here."
The move to the synthetic-surfaced Truman Sports Complex in 1972 deprived Toma of a showcase, but it didn't stifle his growth as a sports-turf specialist. He maintains a 10,000-square-foot sand-concept experimental plot near the Arrowhead practice field, and he plays with every patch of natural turf allotted to him. At Royals Stadium, for instance, the bullpens are natural grass. The right-field bullpen is currently Derby rye mixed with zoysia, the rye grass providing color in the spring and fall, when zoysia is dormant. The leftfield bullpen serves as a trial plot for Hound Dog, a new tall fescue Toma is testing. The fescues are a versatile grass that Toma likes for high school athletic fields; the new fine-leaf strains combine durability with the fine appearance of lawn grasses.
"We experiment a lot," he says. On his bulletin boards, he maintains whole-year calendars, on which he keeps daily records for every field—every seeding, every watering, every application of chemicals, plus a daily weather record. And not the weather bureau's weather, either, but Royals Stadium weather, taken from his own gauges in the bullpen. A grounds-keeper, Toma insists, isn't just a guy who cuts grass. "He's a doctor, when the grass gets sick. He's a pharmacist, preparing chemicals. He's a dietician, prescribing the right food, adding minerals like iron and zinc. We're half-assed mechanics. We're weathermen—we've got to know when to water, when not to water. We're teachers."
Toma is often asked which he would recommend to a stadium contemplating a change—artificial turf or old-fashioned natural grass—and his answer is a surprising neither. Toma favors the new sand-concept fields. "It's the wave of the future," he says, citing start-up costs of less than half the $1 million he estimates it costs to put in a new artificial turf field. "That money can be gathering interest in the bank," he says.
The best known sand-concept field is Prescription Athletic Turf, developed by Dr. William Daniel at Purdue University. A version of PAT is installed at Miami's Orange Bowl, and an outfit called Southern Turf Nurseries in Tifton, Ga. offers both PAT and several similar systems of its own. The sand concept is essentially a refinement of the drainage system golf course architects specify for under greens. A sheet of plastic is laid on the graded field, followed by a network of perforated plastic tubes which collect water and carry it away. For the Orange Bowl, a six-inch layer of peat gravel was poured over the tubes, and then 12 inches of "special" sand—"Sand is not sand," Toma explains—was put down. Finally sod was rolled out over this base.
The stratigraphy of synthetic turf is comparable—a level of drainage, six inches of blacktop, a layer of foam rubber and a carpet on top—except that, according to Toma, "Six years later you have to rip it up and replace it for $600,000, minimum. You could put a sand-concept surface right on top of the existing field, carpet and all.
"I'm in no way anti artificial turf," Toma adds, but he complains that synthetic turf salesmen will sometimes exaggerate the disadvantages of grass and misrepresent artificial turf as "maintenance-free." For example, the Royals' "gamesaver"—the squeegee-like water remover Toma has to pull with a tractor—ties up more than $30,000 worth of capital and doesn't really dry the field, but just leaves it squishy, like any carpet that has been soaked in a flood. "When they say you can play in a downpour, that's baloney," he says with a snort. "It takes an hour and a half to push the water off the field. If it were a sand-concept field, you wouldn't have to wait more than 10 minutes. All we'd have to do is fold the tarp up."
In his office at icebound Arrowhead Stadium one day in February, Jack Steadman, the Chiefs' president, extolled his groundskeeper's talents, saying, "George knows more about grass than anybody in the world. I could call him in and say, 'George, I want grass in two lanes on I-70'—and he'd have grass in two lanes on I-70. But he's overprotective of his fields.