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Remembering Maury Wills

Maury Wills circa 1986 Photo by Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images

Maury Wills, the former National League MVP and all-time Dodgers stolen base leader, died on Monday night, and reaction poured in from around baseball.

“Maury Wills was one of the most exciting Dodgers of all-time,” said Dodger president and CEO Stan Kasten in a statement. “He changed baseball with his base-running and made the stolen base an important part of the game. He was very instrumental in the success of the Dodgers with three world championships.”

“I was extremely, extremely saddened to hear of his passing because we had something in common,” Dodgers broadcaster Jaime Jarrin said of Wills, to Bill Plunkett at the Orange County Register. “We reached the Dodgers in the same year, 1959. We would talk about that many times.”

“As a kid, my greatest wish was to play in the big leagues,” Wills said in 2004, quoted in Ken Grunick’s obituary of Wills at “When I was 14, I heard about Jackie Robinson and I wanted to play for the Dodgers. I spent 8 1/2 years in the Minors, and it appeared it would not happen. I wanted to play with Jackie Robinson and didn’t get to do that, but I did play for the Dodgers.”

Beth Harris at the Associated Press had this anecdote from Wills’ trip to the 1962 All-Star Game in his hometown of Washington D.C.: “Wills stayed at home with his family instead of at the team hotel for the All-Star Game. He arrived at the ballpark carrying a Dodgers bag and wearing a Dodgers shirt. However, the security guard wouldn’t let him in, saying he was too small to be a ballplayer.”

Wills received racist taunts while chasing down Ty Cobb’s stolen base record in 1962, and credited teammate Sandy Koufax for helping him through it. From Scott Allen in the Washington Post: “It was a little sad, but I had a goal — I wasn’t going to let anything bother me, and I had a friend taking some of that pressure off me anyway. We helped each other; we had our own ways of dealing with things.”

Richard Goldstein’s obituary of Wills in the New York Times includes this quote from Wills in 1962: “Stealing is a matter of confidence, even conceit.”

In an interview with J.P. Hoornstra at the OC Register in November, Wills said, “So much goes into stealing a base, and the first thing is eliminating the fear of failing. When you do that, there’s a good chance you will make it. I had to eliminate the fear of failing, which I did.”

“He stole second, he stole third and, when the situation called for it, he stole home. He disrupted pitchers and embarrassed catchers and infielders,” wrote Steven Henson and Mike Kuiper at the Los Angeles Times.

Glen Sparks wrote the SABR bio of Wills, chronicling his incredible life during and after his playing career.