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Justice for a Thief - A Case for Maury Wills


Forum Column

By Andrew J. Guilford

Two score and seven years ago, Maurice Morning Wills brought to baseball a new strategy, conceived in speed and dedicated to the proposition that stealing bases wins world championships. Maury Wills broke the stolen-base record, introduced Major League Baseball to the West Coast as he brought three world championships to the new Los Angeles Dodgers franchise, posted great personal statistics and changed the game of baseball.

But Wills has never been elected to the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, N.Y. The Hall of Fame Veterans Committee is voting now on a slate of veterans that includes Maury Wills. Now is the time to elect Wills to the Hall of Fame. Justice and history demand it.

Maury was the original L.A. Dodger superstar on the West Coast - the central focus of excitement that riveted a star-studded Los Angeles to baseball's beauty. In 1958, the Dodgers and the Giants brought Major League Baseball to the West Coast. Until then, St. Louis had been its farthest outpost, with the entire western United States denied the chance to fully participate in the national pastime. In that first year, the Dodgers did not make a good impression with West Coast fans, finishing next to last in the National League.

But things changed in 1959 when a 5'10", 160-pound shortstop came up from the minor leagues in the middle of the season. With this addition of Maury Wills to the team, the Dodgers became the world champions in 1959, permanently placing the Dodgers in the heart and soul of their new homeland.

In 2002, fans voted Wills to be the "most exciting Dodger player in Dodger Stadium history." He was the exciting difference between a team near the cellar and a team winning championships - lots of them. Wills has also been an ambassador for baseball by committing himself to a lifetime of community service for many worthy causes.

Perhaps most important, Wills' exciting style changed baseball, opening it up to new strategies and to players of all sizes. When he became a major leaguer, America was fixated on bigness - big missiles with big warheads, big cars with big fins and big baseball players hitting big home runs. America's hunger for home runs was whetted in 1961 when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chased the cherished home-run record of Babe Ruth. As Sandy Koufax liked to say, "Before Maury, it was just a bunch of slow white guys playing."

But something happened in 1962, something appealing to fans who know the game's beauty lies in its inner game of using strategy and skill to turn base runners into runs. Maury began stealing bases at a record pace. He became the first player to steal over 100 bases in a season, stealing 104 and breaking Ty Cobb's record set in 1915. Cobb had been caught stealing 38 times that year, but Wills was only caught 13 times.

In 1962, Wills' stolen bases amounted to more than 25 percent of the league's total from the year before he made the majors. Before Wills, the annual National League total for stolen bases was usually in the 300s. After Maury Wills, it was usually around the 700s, and broke 1,000 in 1970. The game had been changed, for the better and for the little guy (until it later cycled back to home runs, and steroids).

The great Jackie Robinson said in 1966, "Maury Wills started a trend with his 104 steals in 1962. ... Maury is a phenomenon of modern baseball. He is an all-time master at getting on and around the bases on his own momentum."

Before Wills could change baseball, he had to show that stealing bases wins games and world championships. He demonstrated that, too. From 1959 through 1966, the Dodgers appeared in the World Series four times, and missed a fifth appearance by one pitch in the third game of the 1962 playoff with the Giants. (The Dodgers have now failed to make the World Series even once over the last 18 years.) From 1959 to 1965, the Dodgers won the World Series three times. Maury Wills was the principal offensive weapon.

Most fans think post-season play is important in electing Hall of Famers, so it is unfair that Wills' rings have not gotten him into the Hall. The unfairness stings when comparisons are made to the Dodgers' chief rival, the Giants. From 1959 to 1966, the Giants were never world champions and won the pennant only once, by that same one pitch in the 1962 playoff. Yet that Giants team now has five players in the Hall of Fame: the Magnificent Mays (who came in second to Wills in the 1962 MVP voting), the majestic Marichal, the mighty McCovey, Gaylord Perry, and Orlando Cepeda (who publicly has stated that Wills belongs in the Hall).

In contrast, the talent that brought four pennants and three championships in those early years of the Los Angeles Dodgers is recognized with only two players in the Hall: Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Wills, as the principal offensive threat on those championship Dodgers teams, belongs in the Hall.

Beyond revolutionizing the game and winning rings, Wills also posted powerful career statistics. His lifetime batting average is higher than many Hall of Fame middle infielders. For example, his average is 21 points higher than Bill Mazeroski, 19 points higher than Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Smith, 12 points higher than Pee Wee Reese and 8 points higher than Phil Rizzuto.

To a large extent, his numbers should only be compared with his contemporaries. Back in the 1960s, pitching was strong, batting averages were lower, and shortstops were not expected to hit home runs. Some of Maury's numbers are particularly impressive because he had a relatively short career in the major leagues.

An inspiring part of his life story is that he spent many years struggling to pull himself out of the minor leagues by learning to switch-hit and by developing his many skills. He also has succeeded in fighting an addiction problem.

Wills' physical skills included his natural speed and his strong arm as a former pitcher, bringing him acclaim as a great fielder, winning Gold Glove awards as the best fielding shortstop.

Beyond his physical skills, the intelligent and thoughtful strategic analysis Wills brought to the game is admired by those who study baseball. His own success demonstrated the strategy of speed on the base paths. And in the field, he would sometimes purposely drop a pop-up with a fast runner on first and a slow batter, brilliantly forcing the fast runner out at second base, replacing him with the slow batter. Many who have watched baseball for decades have never seen this intelligent, intriguing play made by anyone other than Wills. His knowledge of the game made him the third black manager in the majors.

Not surprisingly, Wills has received many honors over the years. They include the 1962 National League Most Valuable Player award, Gold Glove awards, selection to seven all-star games and the 1962 All-Star Game Most Valuable Player award.

Many baseball experts over the last 40 years have noted that Wills belongs in the Hall and have commented on the injustice of keeping him out.

Here is just a sampling of what has been written.

"While active, I think it was generally assumed that Wills was a Hall of Fame-caliber player. ... He was a smart player, and as a Gold Glove winner, .300 hitter and base-stealing champion on an outstanding team, a player with too many positives to be lightly dismissed."
Bill James, Historical Baseball Abstract, 1985, p. 372.

"Stick Maury Wills into the Hall of Fame. [He] changed the fabric of baseball in 1962 when he broke Ty Cobb's stolen-base record with 104. ... One of the fiercest competitors ever to play his sport."
Doug Krikorian, Long Beach Press Telegram, Aug. 28, 2006.

"I repeatedly voted for Maury Wills, for his base running changed the game in the early '60s. ... I saw enough of Wills to realize he was just as influential as Willie Mays, Henry Aaron or Juan Marichal."
Bruce Jenkins, S.F. Chronicle, Dec. 6, 2006.

"What am I doing in a Hall of Fame if Maury Wills ... can't get in one?"
Hall of Fame Journalist Jim Murray, April 6, 1978.

"In perhaps the biggest error in baseball, the sportswriters failed to vote Maury into the Hall of Fame. Now it is up to the Veterans Committee to remedy the mistakes."
Jeff Torborg,, July 13, 2000.

"It's time for Maury Wills, who revolutionized the stolen base, to be elected to the Hall of Fame."
Allan Malamud, L.A. Herald Examiner, Nov. 30, 1987.

The case is clear. The evidence is here. Maury Wills should be elected to the Hall of Fame. For more information, visit the Maury Wills Web site at, or the Hall of Fame Web site at Andrew J. Guilford, from Santa Ana, can be contacted at


February 13, 2007

Wills Was the Premier Base Stealer of All Time

Reading Andy Guilford's brilliant column, "Justice for a Thief - A Case for Maury Wills" (Los Angeles Daily Journal, Feb. 7) struck a chord with me.

As a young law student just across Exposition Boulevard, I, like millions of other Angelenos, was thrilled by the exploits of Maury Wills and, of course, Wally Moon. We used to wander across the park from time to time to take in a game at that very unusual stadium.

Later, when the Dodgers moved to Chavez Ravine, the thrills continued. Yes, Drysdale and Koufax (and my junior high school classmate Larry Sherry) did make up the best pitching staff in baseball. Along with a crackerjack infield, led by Maury Wills, the defense contained the opposing teams superbly.

But the runs came sparingly to the Dodgers then as now. Never known as a power-hitting team, it scraped them out with walks and bunts and sacrifices, but mostly it was spurred on by the base-stealing antics of Maury Wills, the premier base thief of all time.

That Maury Wills is not in the Hall of Fame is a travesty of justice, indeed. I join Guilford in his quest to have Maury admitted now, and I commend the Daily Journal for publishing this thoughtful column.


Hall of Fame Without Wills: Grave Injustice

The case made by Andrew J. Guilford for the inclusion in Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame ("Justice for a Thief," Los Angeles Daily Journal, Feb. 7) was right on the money. I have attended Dodger games since 1960, and no one has ever generated more excitement than Wills getting on base, immediately prompting the "Go! Go! Go!" chants from the crowd. The Dodgers of the early '60s were offensively challenged in many ways, even accounting for the dominant pitching of the time, and often won games as a result of Wills leading off, getting on base, stealing second, either stealing third or having Gilliam move him over to third by grounding out to the right side of the infield, and then scoring on a sacrifice fly. There is no doubt in my mind that the Dodgers would have been hard-pressed to win pennants in '63 and '65 (let alone the World Series) without Wills at the top of the order. I've always considered his exclusion from the Hall to be one of the grave injustices of the last 30 years. I was fortunate enough 15 years ago to have had the pleasure of meeting him at Dodger Stadium and telling him how I felt about this. He was gracious and showed no bitterness, but you could tell it hurt. Let's hope this mistake is finally corrected. Now about Gil Hodges not in the Hall of Fame - .

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Did you know Maury

-was the first person to steal over 100 bases in a season, with 104 in 1962

-was the 1961 & 1962 winner of the Gold Glove Award

-was the 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, & 1965 leader in stolen bases

-was the 1962 National League Most Valuable Player