Maury Wills, legendary base stealer for Dodgers, dies at 89

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A mild-mannered shortstop, Maury Wills spent nearly a decade in the minor leagues honing his limited skill set, studying the pitcher’s instincts and teaching himself to hit from both sides of the plate.

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When the Dodgers finally pulled him up to the big leagues, it paid off in spectacular fashion as he helped lead them to three World Series titles in four tries and almost single-handedly reinvigorated base stealing as a major offensive weapon. began.

An integral part of the Dodgers of the 1960s, Wills led the National League in steels six times, earning two Gold Gloves for his fielding and defeating Willie Mays for the league’s most valuable-player award in 1962, when He charmed baseball. The immortal eclipsed the 47 year old mark of 96 by Ty Cobb, setting a record with 104 stolen locations in the world.


Wills died Monday night at his home in Sedona, Ariz., not far from the stadium where he caused so much damage to opposing clubs, the Dodgers announced Tuesday. He was 89 years old.


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Wills became an important coach with the Dodgers in his later years and developed a strong relationship with a young Bess Steer when Dave Roberts was traded to the Dodgers from Cleveland in December 2001. Roberts stole 118 bases in a 2½ season before being traded to the Boston Reds. The Sox, for which they formed the basis of perhaps the most famous heist in history, during the 2004 American League Championship Series.

Roberts, who wears the number 30 as a salute to Wills as Dodgers manager, had a tear running down his cheek when he spoke about his mentor before the first game of the doubleheader on Tuesday at Dodgers Stadium. .

“He just loved the game of baseball, loved working out and loved the relationship with the players,” Roberts said. “We spent a lot of time together. He showed me how to appreciate my craft and what it was like to be a big leaguer. He just loved teaching. So I guess that’s where I got my enthusiasm, my passion and for the players.” My love meets Maurya, I get a lot from there.

Roberts said that he “probably” would not be managing the Dodgers if not for Wills and his influence.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts stands with Maura Wills during an alumnus game at Dodger Stadium on June 1, 2019.
(Mark J. Terrill / The Associated Press)

“And in a strange way, I think I enriched his post-baseball career as far as every game I played or managed,” Roberts said. “I remember even during the games I played, he’d come down the suite and tell me I need to peck more, I need to do this or that. … a coach would say , ‘Mauri is at the end of the dugout and wants to talk to you.’

“It just showed that he was into me, and to this day, he would be cheering for me.”

Batting in the leadoff, Wills hit .299 in the season he set a steal-base record, collecting 208 hits, 29 of them singles. At the recently opened Dodger Stadium, however, those lowly singles chanted “GO! GO! GO!” And Wills was happy to oblige, usually successfully.

He was caught stealing only 13 times that season and later stated that the number should have actually been eight because Jim Gilliam, hitting behind him, failed to engage with hit-and-run plays five times. He was thrown out. His prowess on the basepath led to a career-high 130 runs that season.

Wills was so afraid that the San Francisco Giants’ ground crew dug out the basepath and added peat moss and moist soil to slow it down in an important late-summer game at Candlestick Park in 1962.

Wills quipped in a 2021 interview with The Times’ Houston Mitchell of remembrance of shenanigans years later. “I was glad they would go through all that trouble to try to stop me,” he said.

Wills stole 586 bases in his 14-year career and, in his retirement, told the Center Daily Times of State College, PA: “When you’re a base steer, you’re a different kind of guy. … you have to be arrogant to be a good base stealer.”

And in an era when the Dodgers relied on pitching, supplied primarily by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, and runs were at a premium, each base stolen by the Wills provided some stress relief. “Playing the Dodgers,” he once said, “a run is a mountain.”

He stole the second, he stole the third, and when the situation required it, he stole the house. He obstructed the pitcher and embarrassed the catchers and fielders. Usually, he would single out, steal the other, then score on someone else’s single. Or, draw a single, steel second, bad throw and take third, then score on the flyout.

Maurya made himself a superstar. He taught himself not to make mistakes,” former teammate Norm Sherry told The Times in 1980.

Wills may not have been as big a draw as Koufax or Drysdale, but he was right behind them. Legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully described the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Wills as a “doer mouse.”

With fame, however, came temptation, and while he was running the bases, Wills couldn’t let go of the temptation. In his autobiography, “On the Run: The Never Dull and Often Shocking Life of Maura Wills”, co-written with Mike Selzic, he claimed to have a love affair with Hollywood star Doris Day—in his autobiography, “Doris Day: Her Own Story”, “he denied it—and Eddie Adams. He had an unstable and corrosive six-year relationship with a woman named Judy Aldrich and blamed her for heavy drinking.

He played hobbies with entertainers, even playing Las Vegas gigs, singing along to himself on the banjo, guitar or guitar, but was not always a clubhouse favorite, even if he was the team’s captain. Were.

Ron Fairley, Jim Gilliam, John Roseborough, Maury Wills and Tommy Davis wear Dodgers uniforms in an old photo.
Dodgers Ron Fairley, Jim Gilliam, John Roseborough, Maury Wills and Tommy Davis from left in 1962.
(The Associated Press)

After Wills was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, then-Dodgers general manager Buzzy Bavasi told Sports Illustrated, “A lot of our bowlers didn’t hit him straight with him.” “Maybe that was a little too intense for his taste, I don’t know.”

Still, Wills was a productive player on a winning team and would have spent his entire playing career with the Dodgers—he ended with them after stints with Pittsburgh and Montreal—were it not for an escape after the 1966 season.

After having just been swept in the World Series by the Baltimore Orioles, the Dodgers embarked on a barnstorming tour of Japan. Wills, who was suffering from a mid-season knee injury, said the knee was hurting and asked to skip the tour, return to Los Angeles and seek treatment. Not allowed, he left anyway.

Instead of flying straight to Los Angeles and receiving treatment, he stayed for a week in Honolulu, where he joined singer Don Ho in his act, playing his banjo, singing and joking. was. Bavasi, who was vacationing in Hawaii with his wife, caught the act one evening, and soon after Wills was sold to Pittsburgh.

Wills hit a career high in 1967 with a .302 batting average, in his first year with the Pirates, and remained a productive player throughout his 30s. In 1971 at age 38, he batted .281 with 169 hits in 149 games for the Dodgers. He was released after the 1972 season with 2,134 career hits.

During his playing days, Wills spent several winters as manager of the Mexican League team, and it was his hope that he would continue his career as a major league manager. He turned down the Giants, who offered him a one-year contract in 1977, and was working on a broadcasting career and serving as a part-time baserunning coach when he finally got his managerial shot.

The Seattle Mariners, an expansion team then in their fourth humiliating season, fired Darrell Johnson in early August 1980 and hired Wills to take him out. On their first night at the top, the Mariners lost 8–3 to the Angels, falling to last place in the American League West. It was as good as it was for Wills with the Mariners. They finished last, then began the 1981 season 6–18, their worst start ever, and the Wills departed in early May.

That, coupled with her deteriorating relationship with Eldritch, sent her into a tailspin. He used alcohol and cocaine, locked himself in his home alone, stayed up high for days, covered windows with blankets, had hallucinations, suffered intense paranoia, contemplated suicide .

Wills estimated that in one year, he spent $1 million on cocaine—and though he sobered up in 1989, descending into the dark may have been part of the reason why he hasn’t been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was dismissed 15 times by the Baseball Writers Assn. of America and an additional 10 times by a veterans committee.

“I believe I will be included,” Wills told The Times in 2016. “The question is whether they’re going to join me before I die.”

The Dodgers helped get him into a drug-treatment program, but Wills dropped out and continued to use drugs until he began a relationship with Angela George, who helped get him into a rehabilitation clinic. Wills, again with the help of the Dodgers, eventually calmed down in 1989, and he and George later married.

“Some people grow old but never grow up,” Wills said of his dark days. “That’s what happened to Maury Wills. In those three years, I was 15.”

Maury Wills signs baseball for fans.
Maury Wills signs autographs before a Dodgers Spring Training game against the Milwaukee Brewers on March 19, 2011 in Glendale, Ariz.
(Name Y. Huh / The Associated Press)

Maurice Morning Wills, one of 13 children, was born on October 2, 1932, in Washington. He decided to become a baseball player after attending a baseball clinic organized by Jerry Priddy, a major league infielder who played for the Washington Senators.

“I didn’t have a pair of shoes,” Wills told the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune in 2001. “Until that man…


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