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.
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
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.
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.