Los Angeles (AP) — Maury Wills, who intimidated pitchers with his base stealing prowess as a shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers on three World Series championship teams, has died. He was 89.
Wills died Monday night at home in Sedona, Arizona, the team said Tuesday after being informed by family members. No cause of death was given.
Wills played on World Series title teams in 1959, ’63 and ’65 during his ﬁrst eight seasons with the Dodgers. He also played for Pittsburgh and Montreal before returning to the Dodgers from 1969-72, when he retired.
During his 14-year career, Wills batted .281 with 2,134 hits and 586 stolen bases in 1,942 games.
Wills broke Ty Cobb’s single-season record for stolen bases with his 97th swipe on Sept. 23, 1962. That season he became the ﬁrst player to steal more than 100 bases.
The Dodgers honored Wills with a moment of silence before the opener of their doubleheader against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday and showed his career highlights on the stadium video boards. The team will wear a patch in memory of Wills for the rest of this season.
“He was a friend, a father, a mentor — all of the above for me, so this is a tough one for me,” he said. “He just kind of showed me to appreciate my craft, showed me how to be a big leaguer. He just loved to teach. I think a lot of where I get my excitement, my passion, my love for players is from Maury.”
Wills took an active role in Roberts’ playing tenure with the Dodgers. Roberts stole 42 bases in 2003.
“I remember during games when I played here he would come down from the suite and tell me I need to bunt or I need to do this,” Roberts said. “It just showed that he was in it with me. Even to this day, he would be there cheering for me, rooting for me.”
Wills had his own stint as a manager, guiding the Seattle Mariners from 198081, going 26-56 with a winning percentage of .317.
He was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1962, the same year he was MVP of the All-Star Game played in his hometown of Washington, D.C.
Wills stayed at home with his family instead of at the team hotel for the All-Star Game. He arrived at the ballpark carrying a Dodgers bag and wearing a Dodgers shirt. However, the security guard wouldn’t let him in, saying he was too small to be a ballplayer.
Wills suggested the guard escort him to the NL clubhouse door, where he would wait while the guard asked the players to conﬁrm his identity.
“So we walk down there and baseball players have a sick sense of humor, because when I stood in front of the door, with my Dodger shirt and duffel bag, and the man opened the door and said, ‘Anybody in here know this boy?’ and they all looked at me and said, ’Never saw him before,” 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 maybe I was carrying it for somebody,” Wills told the Post.
Wills led the NL in stolen bases from 1960-65, was a seven-time All-Star selection and won 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 distracted pitchers even if he didn’t try to steal. He carefully studied pitchers and their pickoff moves when he wasn’t on base. When a pitcher’s throw drove 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 threw 12 straight times to the bag. On Craig’s next throw, Wills stole second.
By age 32, Wills was bandaging his legs before games because of the punishment of sliding.
After retiring with the Dodgers in 1972, Wills worked an analyst at NBC for ﬁve years. He also managed winter ball in the Mexican Paciﬁc League, winning a league championship in 1970-71.
Wills’ tenure managing the Mariners was largely regarded as a disaster and he was criticized for his lack of managerial experience. It was evident in the numerous gaffes he committed, including calling for a relief pitcher when nobody was warming up in the bullpen and holding up a game for several minutes while looking for a pinch hitter.
Wills’ 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 mound than regulation allowed. Oakland manager Billy Martin noticed and asked home plate umpire Bill Kunkel to investigate.
Kunkel questioned the head groundskeeper, who admitted Wills had ordered the change. Wills said it was to help his players stay in the box. However, Martin suspected it was to give the Mariners an advantage against Oakland’s breaking-ball pitchers.