Los Angeles Dodgers legend Maury Wills died Monday at his home in Sedona, Arizona. He was roughly two weeks short of his 90th birthday. The seven-time All-Star spent most of his career in Los Angeles, though he also had brief stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Montreal Expos. Wills helped the Dodgers to three world championships, winning the 1962 National League MVP, a year in which he became the first player in the modern era to steal over 100 bases in a season. His mark of 104 stood for 12 years, eventually surpassed by Lou Brock. A stout defender at shortstop, he won back-to-back Gold Gloves in 1961 and 1962. After his playing career, Wills managed the fledgling Seattle Mariners for two seasons in the early 1980s.
Legacy of Maury Wills
By making speed the focus of his game, Maury Wills ushered in a now-bygone era in baseball. Since the days of Babe Ruth, power was the dominant mindset, at least from an offensive standpoint. But Wills is largely credited with implementing the steal as a key strategy. Once he reached first base, it became very likely he’d reach second. Even the mere threat of him taking off became a major distraction for pitchers. Wills led the NL in steals for six consecutive seasons from 1960 to 1965. His knack for theft on the base paths set the table for later speedsters like Brock and Rickey Henderson.
In 1962, everything came together for Wills. That year, he hit .299 with a .720 OPS. He also led the NL with 10 triples, matching his output from 1961. The All-Star Game MVP Award was instituted that year, and Wills became the first recipient. Oh, and he stole 104 bags in 117 attempts.
That same year, Wills set a record likely to stand forever. He played in all 162 games, impressive in itself. But the Dodgers finished the season tied atop the NL with the San Francisco Giants. In those days, that scenario was settled by a best-of-three playoff — and all games were part of the regular season. The Giants won two out of three to take the pennant. But Wills played in all three contests, giving him 165 games played for the season. Barring any expansion to the current schedule, that mark is unreachable. Despite the series loss, Wills got a small consolation over San Francisco, beating out Willie Mays for league MVP.
Over his 14-year career, Wills hit .281 with 2,134 hits and 1,067 runs scored. He stole 586 bases, which is now 20th all-time. In recent years, Wills has barely missed out on induction into the Hall of Fame by era committees. Even though he’s no longer with us, an eventual induction would seem fitting for one of the first star players on the West Coast.