Maury Wills: He "Stole" His Way Into The Hearts of Baseball Fans
Special to The Informer | 2/29/2012, 9:31 p.m.
My exposure to various media outlets reminds me that the African-American community is fully aware of the marquee sports names in black history. Names like Michael Jordan, Hank Aaron, and Jim Brown, just to name a few. However, even though they are not household names, there are many African-American athletes, both past and present, who have had a tremendous impact on professional sports. One such athlete is Maury Wills.
Maurice Morning "Maury" Wills was born on October 2, 1932. He was born and raised here in the District. Wills was a star baseball pitcher and football quarterback for Cardozo High School, in Washington, D.C. In 1949, the Washington Daily News named Wills an All City pitcher. Wills played on Cardozo's 1948 football team that went undefeated and unscored on. In the 1949-1950 school year, Wills was named All City pitcher in baseball, All City quarterback in football and All City guard in basketball. On May 8, 1950 in a game against Phelps Vocational High School, Wills pitched a no-hitter and struck out 17 batters. In 1950, Wills was signed to a pro baseball contract by the National League Brooklyn Dodgers. Though he threw right-handed, he batted both right- and left-handed. From 1951 to 1959, he played for the Dodgers' minor league teams as a second baseman. In 1959, he was brought up to the major league team, where played shortstop until he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1967. In 1969, he was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the National League's Expansion Draft. During the 1969 season, Wills was traded back to the Dodgers, and played with them until he retired in 1972.
Wills is credited with reviving the stolen base as a part of baseball strategy. In his first full season, wills batted .295 and led the league with 50 stolen bases, making him the first National League player to steal 50 since Max Carey stole 51 in 1923. In 1962, Wills broke Ty Cobb's record of 97 stolen bases in a single season. At the time, it was almost inconceivable that the century mark could be broken, but that's exactly what Wills did. By season's end Wills had set a new major league record with 104 stolen bases. Wills led the National League in stolen bases for six consecutive seasons, from 1960-1965. He has a lifetime total of 585 stolen bases. Wills brought a new prominence to the art of base stealing. Perhaps it was because of the Dodgers' reliance on a low-scoring strategy that focused on defense, pitching, and Wills' speed to compensate for a lack of offensive productivity. Wills became a distraction to opposing pitchers even if he didn't attempt to steal, because he was a consistent threat to do so. Also, Wills was a major force on winning Dodgers' teams for 14 years, and helped lead the Dodgers to three World Series Championships in 1959, 1963, and 1965. He led the Dodgers to a National League Pennant victory in 1966, was a 7-time All-Star, won 2 Gold Glove Awards, and in 1962, he was voted National League Most Valuable Player. His accomplishments are even more significant when we remember that it took him almost 10 years in the minors to break through to the majors in 1959. In 2001, the Maury Wills Museum was opened on the ground level of the Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo, North Dakota.
Currently, Wills works with children through the Red Ribbon Program, a national organization dedicated to the prevention of drug abuse. He is an articulate and informative personality who truly enjoys the benefits baseball has provided him. Speaking about his work with children, Wills stated "I am proud to be a role model to children and aspiring athletes. I feel it is my obligation to give back something to the community that has done so much for me. If I can accomplish this, then I feel I have realized my greatest victory."