Maury Wills, whose long tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers began the year after the team moved to the West Coast in the late 1950s and included three World Series championships, died September 19 at his home in Sedona, AZ, the team said Tuesday. He was 89.
Wills, a five-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop, was a prolific base-stealer credited with helping to bring the craft back to baseball as an offensive strategy. After stealing 50 bases in 1960 in his first year with the Dodgers, in 1962 he became the first player to reach 100 steals in a season, finishing with 104 to break Ty Cobb’s record that had stood for 47 years, earning him the NL MVP Award. He is 20th on baseball’s all-time steals list.
Wills was born Maurice Morning Wills in Washington D.C., where he was a three-sport athlete in high school. He spent more than eight minor-league seasons before cracking the Dodgers roster that had been dominated at shortstop by Pee Wee Reese and then Don Zimmer.
The diminutive Wills played with the Dodgers from 1959-1966, winning World Series titles in 1959, 1963 and 1965, and had stints with Pittsburgh and Montreal before returning to L.A. to play from 1969-1972. He finished with a .281 batting average and 2,134 hits in 14 major-league seasons.
After working as a baseball analyst for NBC in from 1973-1977, Wills managed in the Mexican leagues, resulting in a short-lived stint managing the Seattle Mariners in the 1980-81 season. After that, he stayed close to the Dodgers franchise, serving as an instructor and a legends ambassador.
“He was a friend, a father, a mentor — all of the above for me, so this is a tough one for me,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who learned under Wills when he played in L.A. “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 later credited a fellow Dodgers teammate during those years, Don Newcome, as well as general manager Fred Claire with an intervention in 1988 that helping him overcome an addiction to alcohol and drugs.
The Dodgers said today they will wear a patch in memory of Wills for the remainder of the season.