The Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2022 is popularly known as a class of successful (potential) last chances. After meeting last December, the Golden Days Committee elected Dodgers and Mets legend Gil Hodges, ending a long wait while his widow Joan was still alive. Additionally, 84-year-old Twins legend Tony Oliva and his 83-year-old former teammate Jim Kaat garnered induction.
The decision paid off; Oliva and Kaat were extremely appreciative, and Hodges’ widow passed away on Sept. 18, just under two months after the emotional Induction ceremony. Sadly, though, not all the Hall’s choices were lucky enough to receive a bow on their candidacies prior to their passing.
Base-stealing legend Maury Wills, a Dodger whose instruction and speed have echoed through the ages, passed away on Monday night, per the team’s announcement. He was 89 years old, and would’ve turned 90 on Oct. 2.
Wills, too, was up for election in the winter of 2021-22, but did not receive the requisite votes.
Regardless of that depressing reality, there is absolutely no shame in Wills’ historic accomplishments, and he will be celebrated in Dodger Blue until the Hollywood Hills turn to sand.
Dodgers stolen base legend Maury Wills dies at 89 years old
Wills was truly of a bygone era, though his type of game may yet make a comeback if MLB’s rule changes encourage speed demons to get a running start again.
In 14 seasons, Wills cracked just 20 home runs, but piled up 2,134 hits and stole 586 bases, paving the way for luminaries like Lou Brock to take his torch and run with it (into second, third, and home if possible).
Wills was a candidate for induction to the Hall on the Veterans Committee’s first-ever reworked era-specific ballot in 2014; he fell three votes shy at the time. While the Dodgers’ speedster may be forever assigned to the Hall of Very Good (and while his 1980s legal troubles may have played some role in the voting, the way the game’s grand arbiters tend to behave), he will forever be a ’60s icon who helped pave the way for successful baseball in Los Angeles, earning the first-ever All-Star MVP Award in 1962, as well as the regular-season MVP that year as well, swiping 104 bases.
While Wills’ managerial career with the Mariners eventually encountered significant scrutiny, he went on to learn from his experience and be a valuable roving instructor for the Dodgers for years to come.
Legend has it he even inspired Dave Roberts to trust his instincts and steal the base everyone saw coming back in 2004 with the Red Sox:
"Roberts would never be a slugger or win a batting title. But Wills recognized Roberts’ potential on the bases. They drilled on the details, like how to study the opposing pitcher or how to decide the length of a lead at first base. One day during that spring, Wills concocted a scenario for Roberts: When the entire stadium knew he wanted to steal second base, Roberts needed to possess the courage to run anyway.The message stuck with Roberts after the Dodgers traded him to Boston in the summer of 2004. The Red Sox used Roberts for late-game defense and pinch-running opportunities. They acquired him precisely for a moment like the ninth inning of ALCS Game 4, when Kevin Millar took a leadoff walk against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, and Boston needed a run to survive."
Wills’ legacy is just that. He helped lead a generation of quick-footed ballplayers with impeccable instincts to realize that, no matter the scenario, second base was always there for the taking — presuming you could reach first.
Wills did an awful lot of both in his legendary career, and deserves the celebration he’ll be receiving this week, even if it won’t come in Cooperstown.