Maury Wills

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2002 Topps American Pie #29 Maury Wills

Maurice Morning Wills

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Biographical Information[edit]

Maury Wills was a record setting 1960s-era shortstop who had a noteworthy 14-year big league career, mainly with the Los Angeles Dodgers. For six years running from 1960-1965 he led the National League in stolen bases. In 1962 he had a season for the ages, breaking Ty Cobb's seemingly invincible 47-year-old major league mark of 96 with a spectacular 104 swipes, enough to run off with the 1962 National League MVP Award.

When he retired his 586 steals were #10 on the all-time list, the most by anyone since 1929. So big an impact did Wills have on the game that the five-time All-Star got as high as 40% of the BBWAA vote for the Hall of Fame during his years of eligibility. This was matched in the 2007 Veterans Committee election, good for fifth on their ballot. He is the father of Bump Wills.

Early years[edit]

Wills was born in Washington, D.C. and went to high school there. He spent 1951-1958 and part of 1959 in the minors. Except for one year, he always hit at least .250, and three times broke .300. He pitched in two games, showing a good ERA. Mostly, though, he played second base, then third, and finally a lot at shortstop. However, Pee Wee Reese was the Dodgers' regular shortstop through 1956 and then Charlie Neal and Don Zimmer won the job in 1957-1959. Both Neal and Zimmer were two years older than Wills.


Wills had been signed in 1951 by the Brooklyn Dodgers but when he came up to the majors in 1959, they had moved to Los Angeles. He played in 83 games in the regular season, and then 6 more in the Dodgers' winning effort against the Chicago White Sox in the 1959 World Series.

He began his noteworthy base stealing efforts in 1960, when he hit .295 (10th in the NL) and stole 50 bases. In 1961, his batting average and stolen base count dropped, but he was named to the first of his All-Star games and also won his first Gold Glove at shortstop.

In 1962 he repeated both and bagged the MVP. During his incandescent 104 steal campaign he was only caught only 13 times, a fantastic 89% success rate over so many attempts.

In 1963 his stolen base production dropped off sharply, but he hit .302, placing in the top ten in the league. He rebounded some in 1964 but dropped to .275 before bouncing back strong with a prolific 94-steal 1965 season.

With Wes Parker (first base), Jim Lefebvre (second base) and Jim Gilliam (third base), Wills was part of perhaps baseball's first all switch-hitting infield.

Wills featured a strong arm from shortstop. He is also a rare example of a successful batter who became a switch-hitter relatively late in his long minor-league days. Although he hit just 20 home runs in his major league career, Wills would very occasionally try to muscle up and bat right-handed, his natural side, against a right-handed pitcher. He was a rarity, a banjo hitter who also played the instrument.

Wills appeared in four World Series with the Dodgers, in 1959, 1963, 1965 and 1966, topping out at .367 in a busy seven-game 1965.

After another downward-trending season in 1966 he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The NL Champion Dodgers plummeted to 8th in 1967 without Wills, who hit .302 for the Bucs, good for ninth in the league. The Pirates used him as a third baseman because they already had the outstanding fielding Gene Alley at short.

Wills was left unprotected by the Pirates in the 1969 expansion draft and selected by the Montreal Expos. He played shortstop and was the team's lead-off hitter in the Expos' first-ever game on April 8, 1969 at Shea Stadium in New York. He stole 15 bases for the Expos (a team record until Mike Jorgensen swiped 16 in 1973) before a June 12, 1969 trade brought him home to L.A. Wills finished up his career there from 1969 to 1972. He continued to hit for a good average for them in 1969-1971, but fell off sharply in his last season at age 39 when he lost his starting job early in the season to future longtime Dodger fixture Bill Russell.

Overall, Wills' batting averages were pretty high by second dead-ball era standards, a career .330 OBP revealing he didn't draw a lot of walks. It's an indication of how much the game has changed that this was not regarded as an issue at all for a base-stealing lead-off man in his days.

Manager and coach[edit]

After his playing days Wills became a baserunning guru, working for a number of teams, and managed in the winter leagues. He was hired by the Seattle Mariners to succeed Darrell Johnson as manager in 1980, but his stay at the helm was disastrous. Distracted by off-field problems, he led the Mariners to a lusterless 20-38 record to finish the 1980 season. With rumors of discontent running rife during spring training in 1981, he was picked by Sports Illustrated as the manager most-likely to be fired in its season-preview issue, and made that prediction a reality by leading the team to a 6-18 start that spelled the end of his tenure. The team improved noticeably under his successor, Rene Lachemann. Still, Wills was only the third African-American to manage in the major leagues, after Frank Robinson and Larry Doby.

Wills' 165-game 1962[edit]

When the 1962 season ended the San Francisco Giants and the Dodgers were tied with a 101-61 record. Under the rules of the day, they played a best-of-three playoff series. The series went all three games, with the Giants winning the pennant. Wills played in all 162 regular season games and the 3 tie-breaker games, which are counted as regular season games, much like today's one-game playoffs are counted as regular season contests.

To date, six players have played 164 games in a season but no one has tied Wills' 165-game mark.

Dodging an asterisk[edit]

In setting the mark for stolen bases in 1962, Wills avoided the "asterisk" controversy that surrounded Roger Maris when he hit 61 home runs in 1961 to top Babe Ruth's 60 in 1927, but with the schedule advantage of eight more games. Maris had 59 homers after the New York Yankees's 154th game.

Commissioner Ford Frick followed the precedent he set the prior year and ruled that Wills must steal his 97th base by the 156th game to break Ty Cobb's record of 96 in 1915. The number was 156 instead of the usual 154 because the Detroit Tigers tied the St. Louis Browns in two games that May. The games were replayed later, but the players' statistics from the tied games were counted.

In any event, Wills stole his 97th base in the Dodgers' 156th game, dodging an asterisk and sparing the game and its fans no small awkwardness.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 5-time NL All-Star (1961-1963, 1965 & 1966)
  • NL MVP (1962)
  • 1962 All-Star Game MVP
  • 2-time NL Gold Glove Winner (1961 & 1962)
  • 2-time NL At Bats Leader (1961 & 1962)
  • NL Triples Leader (1962)
  • 6-time NL Stolen Bases Leader (1960-1965)
  • 4-time NL Singles Leader (1961, 1962, 1965 & 1967)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 2 (1961 & 1962)
  • 200 Hits Seasons: 1 (1962)
  • 50 Stolen Bases Seasons: 5 (1960, 1962, 1964, 1965 & 1968)
  • 100 Stolen Bases Seasons: 1 (1962)
  • Won three World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers (1959, 1963 & 1965)

1961 1962 1963
Frank Robinson Maury Wills Sandy Koufax
Preceded by
Darrell Johnson
Seattle Mariners Manager
Succeeded by
Rene Lachemann

Year-By-Year Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
1980 Seattle Mariners American League 20-38 7th Seattle Mariners replaced Darrell Johnson (39-65) on August 4
1981 Seattle Mariners American League 6-18 -- Seattle Mariners replaced by Rene Lachemann on May 6

Records Held[edit]

Games played, season, 165, 1962

Further Reading[edit]

  • Lyle Spencer: "Wills' impact on game is Hall of Fame worthy: Former Dodgers star instrumental in World Series championships",, January 3, 2015. [1]
  • Chad Thornburg: "Dodgers star Wills blazed trail on basepaths: 7-time All-Star credited with reviving stolen base as offensive strategy",, February 11, 2018. [2]

Related Sites[edit]