Maury Wills, base-stealing shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers, dies at 89

LOS ANGELES — Maury Wills, who as shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers on three World Series championship teams intimidated pitchers with his base-stealing skills, has died. He was 89.

Wills died Monday night at home in Sedona, Arizona, the team said Tuesday after being notified by family members. No cause of death was given.

Wills played on World Series title teams during his first eight seasons with the Dodgers in 1959, ’63 and ’65. He also played for Pittsburgh and Montreal before returning to the Dodgers from 1969 to 1972 when he retired.

During his 14-year career, Wills batted .281 with 2,134 hits and 586 stolen bases in 1,942 games.

Wills’ 97th batter on September 23, 1962 broke Ty Cobb’s record for stolen bases in a single season. He became the first player to steal more than 100 bases that season.

The Dodgers will wear a patch in memory of Wills for the remainder of this season.

“Maury Wills was one of the most exciting Dodgers of all time,” said team president and CEO Stan Kasten. “He changed baseball with his base running and made stolen base an important part of the game. He was instrumental in the Dodgers’ success with three world championships.”

Wills had an ill-fated stint as manager of the Seattle Mariners from 1980-81, going 26-56 with a .317 win percentage.

He was the 1962 National League Most Valuable Player, the same year he was MVP of the All-Star Game played in his hometown of Washington, DC

Wills stayed at home with his family instead of at the team hotel for the All-Star Game. He arrived at the ballpark with a Dodgers bag and a Dodgers shirt. However, the security guard would not let him in, saying he was too short to be a ball player.

Wills suggested the guard escorted him to the door of the NL clubhouse, where he would wait while the guard asked the players to confirm his identity.

“So we’re going down there and baseball players have a sick sense of humor because when I was standing in front of the door with my Dodger shirt and my holdall and the man opened the door and said, ‘Everybody here knows this boy ?’ and everyone looked at me and said, ‘I’ve never seen him,'” Wills told The Washington Post in 2015.

After the game, Wills left with his MVP trophy and showed it to the guard.

“He still didn’t believe me, he thought I might wear it for someone,” Wills told the Post.

Wills led the NL in stolen bases from 1960-65, was an All-Star selection seven times and won the Gold Glove Awards in 1961 and ’62.

He was credited with reviving the stolen base as a strategy. His speed made him a constant threat on the basepaths, and he would distract pitchers even when he wasn’t trying to steal. He carefully studied the pitchers and their pickoff moves when he was off base. When a pitcher’s throw propelled him back to the bag, he became even more determined to steal.

Once, in a game against the New York Mets, Wills was on first base when pitcher Roger Craig bagged 12 times in a row. On Craig’s next throw, Wills stole second place.

At age 32, Wills bandaged his legs before games because of the slip penalty.

After retiring from the Dodgers in 1972, Wills spent five years as an analyst at NBC. He also managed winter ball in the Mexican Pacific League, winning a league championship in 1970-71.

Will’s tenure as manager of the Mariners was widely viewed as a disaster and he was criticized for his lack of managerial experience. It was evident in the numerous gaffes he committed, including demanding a relief pitcher when no one was warming up in the bullpen, and held up a game for several minutes while he was looking for a pinch hitter.

Will’s biggest mistake came on April 25, 1981, when he ordered the Mariners’ ground crew to extend the batter’s box a foot longer toward the hill than regulations allowed. Oakland manager Billy Martin noticed this and asked home plate umpire Bill Kunkel to investigate.

Kunkel questioned the senior groundsman, who admitted Wills ordered the move. Wills said it should help his players stay in the box. However, Martin suspected that this should give the Mariners an advantage over Oakland’s breaking ball pitchers. Wills was suspended for two games by the American League and fined $500.

Wills led the Mariners to a 20–38 record to finish the 1980 season and he was fired on May 6, 1981 when the team was 6–18 in last place. Years later, Wills admitted he probably should have gained more experience as a minor league manager before being hired in the big leagues.

Wills struggled with alcohol and cocaine addiction until he sobered up in 1989. He credited Dodgers with helping the great Don Newcombe overcome his own drinking problems. Newcombe died in 2109.

“I’m standing here with the man who saved my life,” Wills said of Newcombe. “He was a conduit for God’s love for me because he was chasing me all over Los Angeles to help me and I just couldn’t understand it. But he persevered, he didn’t give up and my life today is wonderful because of Don Newcombe.”

Born Maurice Morning Wills in Washington, DC on October 2, 1932, he was a three-sport standout at Cardozo Senior High. He earned All City honors as a quarterback in football, basketball and pitcher in baseball, earning the nickname Sonny.

In 1948 he played on the school’s undefeated football team, which never gave up points. On the mound in 1950, Wills threw a one-hitter and knocked out 17 in a game. The school’s baseball field is named for him.

Wills has his own museum in Fargo, North Dakota, where he was a coach and instructor for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks from 1996-1997.

He is survived by his wife Carla and children Barry, Micki, Bump, Anita, Susan Quam and Wendi Jo Wills. Bump was a former major league second baseman who played for Texas and the Chicago Cubs.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Maury Wills, base-stealing shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers, dies at 89

Laura Coffey

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