Maury Wills (1932
- ) was the speedy shortstop
, leadoff man, and sparkplug for the light hitting Los Angeles Dodgers
team that won three National League
pennants and two World Series
titles in the 1960s
One of the game's all-time greatest base stealers, Wills swiped 104 bags in 1962 to shatter Ty Cobb's 47-year old Major League mark of 96. Moreover, Cobb was thrown out 38 times in 1915, while Wills was nabbed a miniscule 13 times in 1962. Wills also scored a career high 130 runs that year.
Wills was the Dodgers' primary offensive threat in the mid sixties, often creating runs single handedly by bunting his way on base, stealing second and third and coming home on a groundout or fly ball. Wills' speed was considered so dangerous that the Giants used to water down the dirt around home plate and first base to the consistency of mud whenever the Dodgers came to town, in an attempt to slow down Wills' legendary first step.
Wills daring on the basepaths revolutionized the game at a time when baserunning had all but disappeared in favor of slow-footed sluggers and the three-run home run. When Wills stole his 104 bases in 1962, the runner up was teammate Willie Davis, who had only 32. Wills showed that speed could also win ballgames, a truth the baseball world had forgotten in the homer happy era started by Babe Ruth.
A lasting contibution Wills made to the game was his revolutionary way of leading off second base. Instead of leading of sideways along the direct line from second to to third as all previous ballplayers had, Wills led of diagonally back toward left field. This put Wills along the arcing path to third that runners must take to round third and head home. This new type of lead not only allowed Wills to score more quickly from second, but also allowed him to get back to the bag more easily on pickoff attempts. Today this lead is used by all baseball players at all levels of the game.