Dodgers Dugout: The 25 greatest Dodgers of all time, No. 12: Maury Wills
Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and let’s get right to No. 12 in our countdown.
The 25 greatest Dodgers, No. 12: Maury Wills (8 first-place votes, 12,591 points)
It seems appropriate the Maury Wills and Gil Hodges finish next to each other on the countdown, because they both should be in the Hall of Fame.
Wills is credited by many with bringing the stolen base back to baseball. In his first full season as the Dodgers’ shortstop (1960), Wills led the league with 50 stolen bases, becoming the first National League player to steal 50 since Max Carey stole 51 in 1923. He stole more bases by himself than three teams in the National League did.
1961 was a bit of a down year stolen base-wise, as he stole only 35, which was still more than the entire Pittsburgh Pirates team stole (29).
1962 was the year, though. Wills broke Ty Cobb‘s 47-year-old record by stealing 104 bases for the Dodgers, and was named NL most valuable player. He stole more bases than every other team in the NL.
In 1965, he stole 94 bases, more than every other team except the St. Louis Cardinals, who stole 100.
So you could say that Wills is the Babe Ruth of base-stealing.
But the stolen base has become a little-used tool now, with most analytics showing that the value of stealing a base is not worth nearly as much as the damage done if the runner is caught stealing. The Dodgers as a team attempted only 105 steals last season, only one more than the number Wills had in 1962.
By the way, in the year Wills stole 104 bases, he was caught only 13 times.
Wills battled substance abuse issues for years, but he’s clean and sober now, spending his time, much like Don Newcombe, helping others with their problems. He should be in the Hall of Fame, but the fact he isn’t doesn’t really bother him.
“No, not at all,” he said in a 2016 interview. “I have the joy of knowing and recalling the great career that I had, and where I came from to get there, and what I went through. That’s all priceless. You can’t buy it. … Through my program of recovery, I’ve learned to be grateful for where I am, and what I have, and how wonderful my life is. I’ve learned not to hold any ill feelings toward anybody, or any place or thing, for something such as that.”
Will he ever make the Hall of Fame?
“I do believe I will be inducted,” Wills said. “The question is whether they are going to induct me before I die.”
But there are more important things for Wills, 85, to worry about.
“Each and every day, I get a phone call from Los Angeles, from some kid who I helped to turn his life around,” Wills said in 2016. “We review what he continues to need to do. We review his day, and his thinking. I’ll call him on it, if I think it’s going in a direction it doesn’t need to go.
“There’s about eight of them. I keep my phone close to me at all times.”
Note: I received 8,382 ballots from newsletter readers who sent me their choices for the top 10 Dodgers of all time. Points were assigned based on ranking, with the first-place choice getting 12 points, second place getting 10, third place eight, down to one point for 10th place. After tabulating the ballots, I will be presenting the top 25 in points. We will be counting down Nos. 25 to 11, one each weekday, for the next three weeks. Then we will time the top 10 so No. 1 unveils March 29, the day the season opens. There will be separate newsletters for any news that comes out of spring training.
No. 11 is a key pitcher on a Dodgers World Series title team. Who is it? Find out Friday.
Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston.
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