Greatest moments in Dodger history, No. 10: Maury Wills sets stolen base record
Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and the greatest moment countdown continues
I’m assuming everyone knows how this works by now, so I’m going to drop the explanatory introduction to these. If you need a reminder, click on any of the Nos. 20-25 greatest moments below.
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No. 10: Maury Wills sets the stolen base record (9,062 points)
Maury Wills should be in the Hall of Fame.
Wills came up to the Dodgers in 1959 and stole seven bases in 83 games. In 1960 he led the league with 50 and led again in 1961 with 35. Good, but not earth-shattering numbers, and well below the record of 96 set by Ty Cobb in 1915.
And then, in 1962, Wills stole the spotlight.
He stole five bases in the first two games of the season, giving the league fair notice that he was planning to run with abandon. He stole eight bases in April, 19 in May, 15 in June, nine in July and 22 in August. But in September he really turned it on.
In a game against the Cubs in Chicago, he stole second, but the Cubs protested to umpire Jocko Conlan, saying he made the call before the ball even reached the bag.
Conlan replied, “You ain’t got him all year. Why would you think you’d get him this time?”
Wills had 95 stolen bases, one from tying the record, as the Dodgers began a game against the Cardinals on Sept. 23 in St. Louis. Curt Simmons was scheduled to start for the Cardinals.
“The writers were always asking me who was the easiest pitcher to steal off of,” Wills said in a 2012 interview. “I never told them, but the truth was it was Curt Simmons. I think I could steal off him today.”
When the game started, Simmons wasn’t on the mound. Larry Jackson was.
“The toughest guy to steal off was Larry Jackson,” Wills said. “Suddenly, he was on the mound. I found out later that Simmons had given him the ball. The Cardinals didn’t want to give up the record.”
Wills singled and stole second in the first inning to give him 96 steals, tying Cobb.
“Tying it is nothing,” Wills said. “When you get that far, you want it alone.”
Wills stayed off the bases until the ninth inning, when he singled with two out and no one on. The whole stadium knew he would go for the record. Larry Jackson knew too.
“Jackson threw over to first 16 times,” Wills said. “Bill White was the first baseman and every time I went diving back into first base, he’d slap the ball down hard on my head or face. They were killing me.”
It was then that something Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis told him that came into his mind.
“It had been just a couple of weeks earlier,” Wills says. “Al stopped me on the way in, took me in his office and reminded me that, once in a while, I ought to try a delay steal. We practiced it right there in his office. You take a shorter lead, you make the pitcher think you have given up, that he’s won. You don’t even break until you see the white of the ball leave the catcher’s hand. At that point, the catcher’s eyes and infielders’ eyes are off you and on the ball. Then you break.”
Wills broke and stole second. The record was his. He finished the season playing in each of the Dodgers’ 165 games, stealing 104 bases.
In 1961, the entire National League stole 468 bases. That number rose to 788 in 1962 and in 1970, the NL had 1,045 stolen bases. Mainly because of Maury Wills, who blazed a new trail for baseball.
Wills spent 15 years on the baseball Hall of Fame ballot. The highest percentage he received was 40.6% in 1981 (you need 75% to be elected). He dropped off the ballot after the 1992 election and today his fate rests in the hands of the Golden Days Committee.
The Golden Days Committee meets this year in December. Hopefully they do the right thing.
Previous greatest moments
No. 11: Dodgers move to L.A.
No. 12: Don Drysdale’s scoreless innings streak
No. 13: Four straight homers against the Padres
No. 14: Sandy Koufax’s shutout in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series
No. 15: Dodgers win 1981 World Series
No. 16: Roy Campanella Night
No. 17: Rick Monday’s 1981 NLCS home run
No. 18: Rick Monday saves the flag
No. 19: Winning the 1988 World Series
No. 20: Winning the 1959 World Series
No. 21: Sandy Amorós’ catch in 1955 World Series
No. 22: Cody Bellinger’s catch in 2020 NLDS
No. 23: Justin Turner’s walkoff homer in 2017 NLCS
No. 24: Sandy Koufax strikes out 15 in 1963 World Series Game 1
No. 25: Mike Scioscia’s 1988 NLCS homer
Padres are afraid of Dodgers fans
Here’s an interesting item from Bill Shaikin: It happens every year: The Dodgers play in Petco Park, and their fans overrun the ballpark.
This year, the San Diego Padres boast one of the best teams in baseball, and they would like to try something new when the Dodgers come to town.
A home-field advantage. And an incentive for fans to keep their tickets off the resale market.
With Petco Park operating at limited capacity to start the season, the Padres have decided not to sell single-game tickets for now. The Dodgers play at Petco Park on April 16-18.
“We really, really want our season-ticket members to hold on to their tickets,” Padres Chief Executive Erik Greupner said Tuesday during a media tour of Petco Park, “because our hope is they’re going to want to be here, dressed in brown and gold, cheering for this team, and we can get 100% Padres fans in the ballpark for those games.”
Padres fans could put their tickets for that weekend on the resale market and recoup much of the cost of the season ticket. As of Tuesday afternoon, StubHub tickets for this weekend’s series against the Arizona Diamondbacks started at $35, while tickets for the weekend series against the Dodgers started at $320.
“We’re going to be announcing … a special surprise for that weekend,” Greupner said, “for our season-ticket members that keep their tickets and come to the game. We’re going to have a number of really neat things for them that weekend.”
He did not reference the Dodgers by name, instead calling the Padres’ opponent that weekend “a team from a little ways up north.”
And the last bullpen spot goes to.....
Scott Alexander, with Dennis Santana optioned to the minors. It’s virtually certain that Santana will get plenty of time with the Dodgers this season though.
Where is Adrián González?
Former Dodger Adrián González said Tuesday that he has signed with the Guadalajara Mariachis of the Mexican League, a good way for him to train in anticipation of representing Mexico in this summer’s Olympic Games.
Mexico is one of four countries that have qualified for the six-team Olympic baseball field, along with Israel, South Korea and host Japan. The United States is among the 12 countries set for last-chance qualifying tournaments to determine the other two spots.
New this season: A daily live blog
This season, the Times is going to live blog every Dodgers game, so while you are watching or listening, you can join me and Jorge Castillo as we give you some insights and discussion of what is going on in the game. If you have a question during the game, you will be able to email me and I will answer you in the live blog. And, if you can’t watch or listen to the game, we’ll be providing updates of what is happening in the game every half-inning so you will know who’s winning and who’s losing.
The live blog starts Thursday for the home opener, and you’ll be able to find it by clicking here.
Vin Scully on Maury Wills breaking Ty Cobb’s record. Watch it here.
Until next time...
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