George Toma

Groundskeepers are hard at work to better their playing fields for the 2008 season. I congratulate Tony Leonard, who is ready to go with plans for his field. With the GrassMaster system, if one needs to sod, it will be the entire field, and he is ready.

I have seen a problem lately where a great groundskeeper received some bad sod, not what he paid for. The sod grower switched sod farms on him, so now he suffers. We must learn from our mistakes. Sometimes they are not our mistakes, but we have to take the heat.

I remember when I took the job at Kansas City Municipal Stadium in 1957. It was the home of Kansas City Athletics. The field was in bad shape. It was a Kentucky bluegrass field overrun with crabgrass, crowfoot and knotweed. The field should have been completely resodded, but in those days, one went with a sod company and looked at a cow pasture and picked out the best looking grass for sod.

In May of 1958, we sprayed the field with herbicide to kill the weeds. Then, you guessed it, the field turned brown, filled with dead weeds. The press just about ran me out of town.

With the help of Dr. James R. Watson of Toro, we seeded the field with common bermudagrass—35 cents a pound. In a few weeks, the field was a sea of green and looked like a golf course green all year. The press, players and scouts all said it was the best playing field in baseball.

At Super Bowl XXIII at Miami’s Joe Robbie Stadium—a PAT system field with no root system—Groundskeeper Gary Morris had his work cut out for him. Consulting and helping was Tom Mascaro. In those days, there was no sodding, just seeding. We put a good field together, but the logo on the 50-yard line was so worn out we had to sod that area. Glen Mons, stadium manager, would not let us use soil-grown sod, feeling it would contaminate the system. People accepted that as fact for years, but look at all the sodding done now with soil-grown sod. We used thick-cut, sand-grown sod. The players worked out on Saturday and loved it.

It started to rain late that afternoon, so we covered the field. Morris said he had to turn on the field pumps to remove the rainwater that came down from the stands onto the playing field. Scott Martin, of the Chiefs, and I checked the tarp and secured it for the night.

The next day, we took off the tarp around noon. I told Scott Martin to mow the grass. He came to me and said, “There is a funny sound.”

It was the pumps. They ran all night and sucked all the moisture from the rootzone. It was bone dry, with no root system and no good footing. After a few plays, the NFL logo at center field was a mess. In my 66 years, this was my most embarrassing day. One must delegate authority at times, but they must follow up and check it out.

It hurts me to see bad fields. It hurts me more when groundskeepers do not get the best sod available. There is good sod out there. When groundskeepers purchase poor sod, they are hurting the people they work for, the players and their grounds crew.

George Toma is an NFL Hall of Fame inductee, founder of the Sports Turf Managers Association and mentor to hundreds of sports field managers over his 66 years in the profession.