Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Maury Wills

Claim to fame: Wills revolutionized baseball in the 1960s by the leading the National League in steals from 1960 through 1965. In his 1962 MVP season, Wills stole 104 bases, broke Ty Cobb’s 47-year-old Major League record, and personally accounted for 13 percent of the steals in the National League, a rare feat. Other players soon followed suit. By 1965, the stolen base total in the National League was nearly twice what it was the year before Wills began playing, setting the stage for speedsters like Lou Brock, Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Wills exhausted his 15 years of eligibility with the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1992 and can be enshrined through the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? This post was inspired a piece from Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray in January 1978, not long after Wills first fell short on the Hall of Fame ballot with the writers. Murray wrote:

It’s a good thing these guys aren’t on the gates of heaven. It’s all right to be selective, but will someone in the congregation please rise and tell me why Maury Wills only got 115 votes? Will someone please tell why Rabbit Maranville is in the Hall of Fame and Maury Wills isn’t?

Murray went on to point out Wills’ 1962 record (since broken multiple times), career marks and his impact on bringing back the steal. He added:

If Maury Wills doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, Babe Ruth doesn’t. He did the same thing Ruth did–change a national pastime, forever. For him to get only 115 votes and finish 11th behind a pack of journeymen players is a joke.

Murray was and remains one of the most respected sportswriters ever, nearly 12 years after his death, and in the three years after his column, Wills’ Cooperstown votes rose, to a peak of 40.6 percent in 1981, though he never again cracked 30 percent thereafter. Of the 11 men who finished in front of Wills on the 1978 ballot, all but one — Gil Hodges — is now in Cooperstown. Wills also finished 11 spots in front of future Veterans Committee pick Bill Mazeroski.

So the question is, does Wills belong in Cooperstown? Much as I respect Murray, one of my writing idols, my vote is no though I suspect the Veterans Committee may tab Wills before too long because of how he did on the writer’s ballot. Wills has also gotten sober since leaving the big leagues and turned his life around. As I wrote about another man who did this, Don Newcombe, the committee could do well to honor players who find recovery after falling short of greatness due to substance abuse.

For me, though, Wills’ career was too brief, his game didn’t offer much besides base running  (though he did win two Gold Gloves) and his career marks aren’t impressive. He ranks 19th all-time in career steals. Raines is fifth all-time and until he gets a plaque, I can’t support giving one to Wills. These days, Wills seems more like the Home Run Baker of base stealers than the Babe Ruth.

I’m not surprised at Murray’s piece. It’s common for sportswriters to lobby for local heroes. I recently watched a DVD compiled from 8 mm color footage shot by Washington Senators outfielder George Case and there’s a clip at the end from 1989, after Case’s death, where longtime Washington Post writer Shirley Povich says Case belongs in the Hall of Fame. And though it wasn’t a plug for Cooperstown, the last published words Red Smith ever wrote were, “Indeed, there was a longish period when my rapport with some who were less than great made me nervous. Maybe I was stuck on bad ballplayers. I told myself not to worry. Some day there would be another Joe DiMaggio.”

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

8 Replies to “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Maury Wills”

  1. With all due respect Graham, you contradict yourself.
    “his game didn’t offer much besides base running (though he did win two Gold Gloves)”

    Those two gold gloves in an era of some amazing fielding NL shortstops says alot about Wills’ skills on the field. Maury Wills was indeed an excellent fielding shortstop and third basemen. Maury Wills was a leader on the field for the Dodgers and his skills on the field, at bat and on the basepaths every day had more to do with the Dodger’s success in winning four pennants and three world series in the eight years he played with L.A, before they traded him.

    I can tell you that he won many games for Koufax and company and the loss of his presence would have been sorely felt. It would be without a doubt that if Wills was not on the Dodgers in those years scoring runs and driving opposing teams and pitchers crazy, that the often paultry hitting of the Dodgers would have failed to bring any pennants at all. As it was Dodger pitchers had to fight for all their wins like they were in a world series every game they pitchd, as the team except perhaps in 1962, did not score alot of runs. This pressure no doubt had alot to do with the shortened career of one Sandy Koufax who along with Wills carried the team on his back.

    And Wills has to be credited with altering the game of stolen bases as you say. That is no small consideration here. He revolutionized the game as much as the Babe did in his time. That absolutely changed the game in an equally radical way and had a lasting impact for almost 40 years. Just as the Babe often hit more homers than whole teams did, Wills when he broke 100 steals, stole more bases than every other team in the majors. In 1965 when he stole 94 bases he stole more bases than all but four of the then 19 other teams in the majors. The same could not be said of the great players who came after like Brock, Raines and even Henderson. Which puts him in some ways to comparisons with what Ruth did with homers, since you bring the analogy up.

    Further your comparison of Wills being more like Homerun Baker is a weak and poor one. Wills at 19th all-time in stolen bases is far closer to the top of the list than Frank Baker’s ranking of 785 on the all-time home run list. A more fair equivalent in comparison would be somewhere between Willie McCovey and Ernie Banks who are tied for 18th and 21st respectively. Wills top stolen base years of 104 and 94 are ranked 15 and 30th, which would compare him in the season home run dept. to somewhere around Ken Griffey at 56 and Willie Mays at 51. if you are going to make that analogy than you have to make it more fairly. True that Wills is 5th all-time in caught stealing, but that is not much different than the anti-home run act of striking out which would put him near HOFamer Willie Stargell and well-behind number 1 on that list, another HOFamer Reggie Jackson.

    Also if you compare Wills’ record to other HOF shortstops Phil Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese to name a few, their stats are all comparable with Wills leading in a few important departments. In terms of durability, Wills played one more season than Rizzuto and only two less than Reese. If the great second baseman Bill Mazeroski who did not offer much beyond the range of excellence than his amazing skills in the field, is also worthy of entering the HOF, than so is Wills who altered the game, is one of the top base stealers of his time, is an excellent fielder and hit for a higher average than all three of those players mentioned.

    Of the 21 shortstops in the HOF Wills has a higher lifetime BA than 13 of them.
    On runs scored he beats 7 of them.
    Wills has more stolen bases at 585 than all of them except for Honus Wagner at 722 and George Davis at 615. Wills does not fail to compare to all the HOF shortstops in almost all the catagories and therefor deserves a much closer look. To leave him off the list with his accomplishments would mean you’d need to take a long look at who is in there already who does not have as good a record as Wills does.

    1. I agree he deserves to be in hof. He played for about 13 years 2000 hits excellent defense saved many runs and changed the art of base stealing paving the road for tim Raines etc.

      1. Your so wrong …
        Maury never turned down an autograph seeker.
        He would spend sooo much time after a game signing autographs with family and friends waiting to go get a meal. Never turned anyone down.
        Now days there too many players that can’t be “bothered”.
        Just a lil note about Maury you might not of known about him.

  2. Wills isn’t even in the top 30 SS of all time. He does not belong in the HOF, but would fit comfortably in the HOVG.

  3. Maury Wills does belong in the hall of frame due to his achievements on the field and not kept out due to his mistakes in his personal life. He has turned his life around and is a positive example to all. His drug use, I believe is separate from his personal talent and should not diminish his talents as exceptional baseball player.

  4. I like all of the stats and comments the –Alvy- said above–Actually Alvy says it all–Wills should have been in the Hall years ago–Ask Sandy and Dyrsdale what they would have said? And again defense does NOT count enough in the Hall and Wills was a GREAT shortstop—example–If Hanley Rameirez can stay healthy for 5 more years and have very good seasons-He will have a better chance than wills to make the Hall–That said Hanley is NOT close to what Wills was! Hanley is a great player also-but NOT Wills! I would not trade Hanley straight up for Wills if they were both in there prime

  5. I agree with everything Alvy said on here–I was a kid in the 60s when Wills was in his prime–Without Wills the Dodgers would have no World Sieries Championships–Thats it thats all–Sandy Koufax is my all time favorite player so yes Im a DodgerAl are deserving that are in the Hall of Fame ok–Wills is better by far than many that are in now–Simple
    Maury Wills needs to be in the Hall of Fame-
    -Its ridicuolous that he isnt-
    Nothing left to say!

  6. I want to say he deserved it because regardless of the claims of who did what 1st, or who rekindled base stealing as a game changing artform, in the end, the players themselves all talked about Wills. He was not the best hitter, or the best fielder (though he was stellar), he got caught more than he could have, and his OBP was never as high as youd want from your leadoff man, but there is no doubt the game changed because if his contributions. Were others better than him? Sure. But did their greatness take anything away from the fact he altered the sport forever more? Eve if there were more prolific base stealers after, and better defensive shortstops, and better WARs, he was to Baseball at the time what Wayne Gretzky was to become in Hockey, or Magic Johnson was to be for basketball. He was a change in style that would become the new style for 20 years to follow. And that is worth consideration, hell it is deserving of respect. The overall numbers he put up are not best in the hall by a wide margin, but they are better than half a dozen shortstops who have been enshrined. And the detractions, are no worse than many others. there are some players who’s defense was so tragically awful but is forgiven because of great hitting who are in, and others who will be soon. And Wills is penalized because 9 better players than him were picked as they whittled the totals down, but how many people think of the greatest base stealers and dont have WIlls in the top 3 or 4? What are you gonna say Vince Coleman was better ? Puhleeze. Vince Coleman was battling Ricky Henderson for best of his era (He would go on to lose the battle). Nobody questioned Wills was the most feared of his era when it was happening.
    Yes, his horrific managing is still a legend.
    Yes his caught stealing numbers are almost as unmipressive as his successes are impressive. And he was always flagged as one of baseballs premiere cocaine addicts, even though that came much later in life, and many others who were known abusers of recreational drugs were enshrined and transgressions forgotten when their votes came around. Do I think he deserves it? Yes. not indisputably so, but I think he changed the game to a lev el few ever have. And that is worthy. because most of the hall played the game exceptionally well, but few are credited with altering its future with their play. Damn few. You can count them on your fingers and have fingers to spare. And Wills, can lay that claim
    So Ill vote yes.

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