Maury Wills, Master of the Stolen Base, Is Dead at 89

The legendary Los Angeles Dodger shortstop Maury Wills passed away on Monday night at his home in Sedona, Arizona. He reintroduced base-stealing in the 1960s and was one of the game’s most thrilling players of his era. He was 89.

The Dodgers made a statement on his passing.

The chants of “Go, go, go!” resounded from Dodger fans when the slender Wills took a lead off first base. He was soon off and running — stealing second base, and sometimes third moments later, spurring the usually light-hitting Dodgers to scratch out enough runs to come up winners.

Wills had spent more than eight seasons in the minors when he joined the Dodgers in early June 1959. But he took over at shortstop and helped bring the team four pennants and three World Series championships.

When Wills stole 104 bases in 1962, he broke Ty Cobb’s previous record of 96 established in 1915 and changed baseball from the power game that had predominated since Babe Ruth’s prime. He prepared the way for Rickey Henderson of the Oakland A’s, who established the current record with 130 thefts in 1982, and Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals, who stole 118 bases in 1974.

Following Larry Doby of the Chicago White Sox and Frank Robinson of the Cleveland Indians as the third Black manager in major league baseball history, the Seattle Mariners hired Wills in August 1980. Wills’ time in management, however, was brief and fruitless. Later, he developed a cocaine addiction.

In his heyday, Wills was a master at slipping under or around a tag and was skilled at gaining a swift spring off the bag. He took extended leads and carefully observed pitchers’ routines.

It was mostly a mental struggle for Wills.

In September 1962, he said in an interview with The New York Times, “Stealing is a question of confidence, even vanity.” “It goes beyond just establishing a strong start and a huge lead. It involves having the appropriate attitude. I run with the conviction that even if the catcher and pitcher both make flawless throws, I will still outdistance them. No question exists in my mind.

Wills, often known as Mouse to his teammates, was a well-liked character among Dodger fans in Los Angeles during the team’s first ten years there after moving from Brooklyn. He was not particularly large 5 feet 10 inches and 165 pounds.

Edmund G. Brown and Richard M. Nixon were vying to become governor of California at the beginning of September 1962. James Reston, a Washington columnist for The Times, observed that neither candidate would have a chance if Maury Wills decided to run for governor after the election season.

One of Guy and Mable Wills’ 13 children, Maurice Morning Wills was born on October 2, 1932, in the Anacostia area of Washington, D.C. His father was a clergyman who also had a job at the Washington Navy Yard as a machinist. His mother had a job operating elevators.

Wills was an all-city performer in baseball and football at Cardozo High School in Washington, where he played quarterback on offense, safety on defense, and kicker on special teams. He changed positions after signing with the Dodgers in 1951, becoming an infielder.

The Chicago White Sox, who had their own exceptional base-stealer in Luis Aparicio, lost to the Dodgers in the World Series during his first season. In 1960, his first full season, Wills stole 50 bases. From then on, he won the National League’s base-stealing crown each year through 1965.

In 1962, he was recognized as the league’s most valuable player. He was a member of Dodger World Series champion teams in 1963, 1965, and 1966 as well as a pennant-winning club in 1966, all of which were propelled by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale’s pitching.

After the 1966 season, Wills was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He then played for the Montreal Expos before being traded back to the Dodgers in June 1969, where he spent the remainder of his playing days until 1972.

He had a career batting average of.281 with 2,134 hits, just 20 of which were home runs, and ranked 20th all-time in big league history for base stealers with 586. He was a five-time All-Star and the 1961 and 1962 Gold Glove winner for fielding. Despite spending 15 seasons on the Hall of Fame ballot, he was never admitted.

In the 1970s, Wills served as a baseball analyst for NBC-“Game TV’s of the Week.”

He took over a weak team when he was named manager of the Mariners, but in Seattle, he is probably best known for receiving a two-game suspension after being found guilty of illegally instructing the team groundskeeper to move the batter’s box a foot closer to the pitcher’s rubber before a game against the Oakland A’s on April 25, 1981. The manager of the A’s, Billy Martin, thought that Wills was attempting to give Mariner batters a better opportunity to connect against his starting pitcher, Rick Langford before his delivery broke.

On May 6, Wills was dismissed. His record as the Mariners’ manager was just 26-56.

He revealed his struggles with cocaine addiction in his biography, “On the Run: The Never Dull and Often Shocking Life of Maury Wills” (1992), which he co-wrote with Mike Celizic. However, he became clean in the late 1980s. Later, he taught baserunning to teams outside of the Dodgers’ system.

According to his book, Wills married Gertrude (Elliott) Wills in high school and they had six children together in their first marriage. Both that union and his second union with Angela George ended in divorce.

Two sons, Barry and Bump, two daughters, Mauricia Wills, Anita Wills, Wendi Wills, and Susan Wills-Quam, four daughters, seven granddaughters, and eight great-grandchildren survive him. Many of his siblings continue to live.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Wills’ son Bump played infield with the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs.

Wills didn’t need to glance at the scoreboard to know when his Dodgers had lost, despite the fact that they frequently won. He said to Sports Illustrated in 1965, “I know when I have had a horrible day merely by looking down at my clothes.” If it’s not filthy, I haven’t done my job if I haven’t scored two runs.

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