Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Former Expo, legendary premise-stealing shortstop Maury Wills dies at 89 CBC Sports

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

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

During his first eight seasons with the Dodgers, Wills played on World Series title teams in 1959, ’63 and ’65. 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 in 1,942 games with 2,134 hits and 586 stolen bases.

Wills broke Ty Cobb’s single-season record for stolen bases with his 97th swipe on September 23, 1962. That season he became the first player to steal more than 100 bases.

The Dodgers honored Wills with a moment of silence ahead of their doubleheader opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday, and flashes of his career appeared on stadium video boards. The team will wear a patch in memory of Wills for the rest of this season.

Manager Dave Roberts, who was an outfielder during his 10-year MLB career, was teary-eyed as he recalled Wills’ impact.

Montreal Expo coach Maury Wills gives Jamie Carroll, left, Scott Hunter, center, and Mickey Morandini some base running tips at the team’s training camp in Jupiter, Fla. (Ryan Ramiorz/The Canadian Press)

“He was a friend, a father, a mentor — all of the above for me, so it’s hard for me,” he said. “He just showed me how to appreciate his craft, showed me how to be a big leaguer. He just loves to teach. I think I get my enthusiasm, my passion, my love for the players from Maurya “

Wills played an active role in Roberts’ playing tenure with the Dodgers. Roberts stole 42 locations in 2003.

“I remember during games when I used to play here he would come down the suite and tell me I got hurt or I needed to do this,” Roberts said. “It showed that he was with me. Even today, he must have been cheering for me, rooting for me.”

Wills had his own stint as a manager, guiding the Seattle Mariners from 1980–81, 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, DC.

Instead of the team hotel, Wills stayed at home with his family for the All-Star Game. He arrived at the ballpark carrying a Dodgers bag and wearing a Dodgers shirt. However, the security guard did not let him in saying that he is too young to be a bowler.

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

“So we walk 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 duffel bag on, and the guy opened the door and said, ‘No one here knows the boy. ?’ And they all looked at me and said, ‘Never seen her before,'” Wills told The Washington Post in 2015.

Dodgers great Maury Wills throws the ceremonial first pitch to begin Game Two of the 2014 National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. (Harry How/Getty Images)

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

“They still didn’t believe me, they thought maybe I was taking it for someone,” 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 basepath and he distracted the pitcher even when he didn’t try to steal it. When he was not on base, he carefully studied the pitchers and their pickoff moves. When a pitcher’s throw threw him back into the bag, he became even more determined to steal.

‘I stand here with the man who saved my life’

Once, in a game against the New York Mets, Wills was at first base when pitcher Roger Craig threw 12 straight times into the bag. On Craig’s next throw, Wills made a second stall.

By the age of 32, Wills was bandaging his legs before the Games due to a slipping sentence.

After retiring with the Dodgers in 1972, Wills worked as an analyst at NBC for five years. He also managed the winter ball in the Mexican Pacific League, winning the league championship in 1970–71.

Wills’ tenure managing the Mariners was largely regarded as a disaster and was criticized for his lack of managerial experience. This was evident in the many gaffes he made, including calling for a relief pitcher when no one was warming up in the bullpen and holding the game for several minutes looking for a pinch hitter.

Los Angeles Dodgers fielder Maura Wills in 1962. (The Associated Press)

Wills’ biggest mistake occurred on April 25, 1981, when he ordered the Mariners’ ground crew to move the box of batter to the mound higher than the rule allowed. Oakland manager Billy Martin noticed and asked home plate umpire Bill Kunkel to investigate.

Kunkel questioned the chief groundkeeper, who admitted that Wills had ordered the change. Wills said it was to help his players stay in the box. However, Martin suspected that this was to give the Mariners an advantage against the breaking-ball pitchers of Oakland. Wills was suspended by the American League for two matches and fined $500.

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

Wills struggled with addictions to alcohol and cocaine until he sobered up in 1989. He credits the Dodgers with pitching the great Don Newcomb, who overcame his alcohol problems, with helping him. Newcomb died in 2019.

“I stand here with the man who saved my life,” Wills said of Newcomb. “He was a channel for God’s love for me as he followed me all over Los Angeles trying to help me and I just couldn’t figure it out. But he persevered, he didn’t give up and my life because of Don Today is amazing. Newcomb.”

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

In 1948, he played in the school’s undefeated football team, which never missed a point. On the mound, Wills threw a hitter and scored 17 runs in a game in 1950. The school’s baseball field is named in his honor.

Wills has his own museum in Fargo, ND, where he coached and coached the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks from 1996–97.

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

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