LOS ANGELES — 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 years old.
Wills died Monday evening at his home in Sedona, Arizona, the team announced Tuesday after being notified by family members. No cause of death was given.
Wills played on the World Series championship teams in 1959, 1963 and 1965 during his first eight seasons with the Dodgers. He also played for Pittsburgh and Montreal before returning to the Dodgers from 1969 to 1972 when he retired.
During his 14-year career, Wills hit .281 with 2,134 hits and 586 stolen bases in 1,942 games.
Broke Ty Cobb’s Stolen Base Record
Wills broke Ty Cobb’s single-season record for stolen bases with his 97th hit 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 before their opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday and showed highlights from his career on stadium video panels. The team will wear a Wills memorial patch for the remainder of the season.
Manager Dave Roberts, an outfielder during his 10-year MLB career, was moved to tears as he recalled Wills’ impact on him.
“He was a friend, a father, a mentor – all of the above to me, so it’s hard for me,” he said. “He just showed me to appreciate my craft, showed me how to be a great leaguer. He just liked to teach. I think a lot of where I get my enthusiasm, my passion, my love for players comes from Maury.
Wills played an active role in Roberts’ playing tenure with the Dodgers. Roberts stole 42 bases in 2003.
“I remember during the games I was playing here, he would come down from the suite and tell me I had to bunt or I had to do this,” Roberts said. “It just showed that he was in it with me. Even to this day, he would be there to cheer me on, cheer me on.
Wills had his own stint as manager, guiding the Seattle Mariners from 1980 to 1981, going 26-56 with a .317 winning percentage.
1962: Wills was NL MVP and All-Star MVP
He was the National League’s 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 home with his family rather than the team hotel for the All-Star Game. He arrived at the stadium with a Dodgers bag and wearing a Dodgers shirt. However, the security guard wouldn’t let him in, saying he was too small to play ball.
Wills suggested the guard escort him to the door of the NL club, where he would wait while the guard asked the players to confirm his identity.
“So we walk in there and the baseball players have a sick sense of humor, because when I stood outside the door, with my Dodger shirt and my duffel bag, and the man opened the door and said, ‘Anyone here knows this boy?’ and they all looked at me and said, ‘I’ve never seen this 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 wearing it for someone,” Wills told the Post.
Wills led the NL in stolen bases from 1960 to 1965, was a seven-time All-Star selection and won Gold Glove Awards in 1961 and 1962.
He was credited with reviving the stolen base as a strategy. His speed made him a constant threat on bases and he distracted pitchers even if he wasn’t trying to steal. He carefully studied the pitchers and their pick moves when he was off base. When a throw from a pitcher brought 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 into the sack. On Craig’s next pitch, Wills stole second.
At 32, Wills was binding his legs before games because of the slipping punishment.
After retiring with the Dodgers in 1972, Wills worked as an analyst at NBC for five years. He also led winter ball in the Mexican Pacific League, winning a league championship in 1970–71.
Wills struggled with alcohol and cocaine addiction until he got sober in 1989. He credited Dodgers great Don Newcombe, who overcame his own drinking problems, for getting him assistance. Newcombe died in 2019.
“I’m standing here with the man who saved my life,” Wills said of Newcombe. “He was a channel for God’s sake to me because he chased me all over LA trying to help me and I just couldn’t figure it out. But he persevered, he didn’t not give in and my life is wonderful today thanks to Don Newcombe.
Born Maurice Morning Wills in Washington, DC on October 2, 1932, he excelled in three sports at Cardozo Senior High. He earned All-City honors as a quarterback in football, basketball, and as a pitcher in baseball when nicknamed Sonny.
In 1948, he played on the undefeated school football team, which never gave up a point. On the mound, Wills threw a hit and struck out 17 in a game in 1950. The school’s baseball diamond is named in his honor.
Wills has his own museum in Fargo, North Dakota, where he coached and instructed the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks from 1996 to 1997.
He is survived by his wife Carla and his children Barry, Micki, Bump, Anita, Susan Quam and Wendi Jo Wills. Bump was a former major league second baseman who played for Texas and the Chicago Cubs.