Eight points on Maury Wills–
- Wills was revolutionary as a baseball player- he helped bring back the stolen base and the running game as a big part of baseball strategy. He led the National League in stolen bases for six years in a row- 1960-65 with a mind blowing 104 steals in 1962. He was only caught stealing 13 times that year. He would lead the league in caught stealing 7 times. 104 steals against 13 caught stealing- that is a highly acceptable percentage-89%. Bill James points out that one of the reasons Wills was so successful was the fact that catchers back then were not used to having to throw out runners attempting to steal since it was so rare. The 104 steals in 1962 was the record at the time for a season-breaking the record of Ty Cobb 1915.
- 5’11” 170, Wills was a switch-hitter and threw right handed. He was a shortstop in his prime, also played some third base in his career. His main weapon was his speed. He didn’t have much pop to his bat hitting only 20 home runs in his 14 year career- 6 in a season is his highest total. Career totals- 20 homers- 458 RBI, .281 batting average, .330 on base percentage. 586 career stolen bases compared to 208 times being caught stealing. His career WAR 39.7.
- Wills claims to have dated the famous actress Doris Day back in the 1960’s when he was with the Dodgers- Day denies that. Either was does it really matter? The key is if Wills did have an affair with Day 50 years ago or whenever- he’s never shut up about it since.
- Maurice Morning Wills. As a very young fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates- Wills was a Pirate in 1967-68- I remember the Pirates legendary announcer calling him by his full name often- Maurice Morning Wills. In the above card- it was taken when he was a Pirate-he had been taken in the expansion draft by the Expos from the Pirates- Topps when they put out the 1969 card just blackened out the P on the ball cap.
- Wills got a late start in his career as far as making the major leagues-he was 26 when he finally made the Dodgers in June 1959. Wills had spent eight years in the minor leagues and wasn’t going anywhere- the Dodgers had given him to the Detroit Tigers organization and the Tigers ended up just giving him back. Then a career changer-his minor league manager Bobby Bragan suggested he try switch-hitting. His career then began to take off. His first full season he was 27, his last game was at the age of 40. The most successful part of his career was with the Dodgers- from 1959- 1966. He was traded to the Pirates for Bob Bailey and Gene “Stick’ Michael in the 1966 off-season. He spent 1967-68 with the Pirates before going to Montreal in the expansion draft in 1969. In June 1969 he was traded by the Expos along with Manny Mota [ I always thought one of the big mistakes the Pirates made during this era was letting Mota go in the expansion draft to the Expos- one of the great pinch-hitters and bench players ever} to the Dodgers for Ron Fairly and Paul Popovich. Maury would spend the rest of his career with the Dodgers being released at the end of the 1972 season. That final season for the first time in his career his salary was $100,000- certainly he was being paid at that point for past services. His last season as a regular was 1971.
- During his career Wills was always spoke of as a candidate to be the first black manager in major league baseball. Frank Robinson in 1975 beat him to it but Maury became the second in 1980-81 with the Seattle Mariners and he was a complete disaster from the get go. He immediately billed the Mariners- Maury Wills Mariners and stated that he would steal a pennant for the Mariners. He lost control of the ballplayers from the start and he seemed uninterested during games at time. Turns out he was in very toxic relationships with a stewardess and with the nose candy. One day he decided to make second baseman Julio Cruz a shortstop. Cruz had never played short before. This was during the season- after one game Cruz was back at second base. In another incident he had the ground crew set up the batters box closer to the mound so his hitter could move up in the box on the Oakland A’s pitchers curveballs. A big problem was the manager of the A’s was Billy Martin- and Billy was always looking for an edge himself- he immediately noticed something was rotten and had umpire Bill Kunkel do the measuring. Wills was suspended two games and fined $500. Not long after that he was fired as Mariners manager. There was a great article in the old Inside Sport magazine about Wills as a manager- it was comical the stupid things he was doing. I need to go dig that issue out and re-read it. I recall one thing they reported on -in spring training Wills was running after kids who had taken foul balls. Shortly after his managing career was over he was arrested for cocaine. The Dodgers stepped in and paid for his rehab but when he came out he continued using drugs. He got in a relationship with a woman who encouraged him to use vitamin therapy to get off drugs.
- Wills son Elliot- aka Bump played in the majors in the 1977- 82. Maury and Bump have had a strained relationship over the years due to stuff that Maury published in his autobiography which is an incredible read- not a good read but incredible as in the stuff Maury says in it. Its one of those books that after you are done reading it you feel like you need to take a shower. In the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract- a must have for any baseball fan- he comes down hard on Maury the human being. Kind of a slime ball.
- A big question on Maury Wills- Does he belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame? A few years ago he was a few votes short of getting in. He will come up for a vote here again soon. I think if he gets in it will be due to his changing the way the game is played- with the stolen base and running game. He was a significant player. It wouldn’t surprise me if he makes it. Of course the way the baseball hall of fame sometimes works he will probably get in after he dies. Maury Wills is 85 now.