Maury Wills still looks hard for ways to win the ball game
It was once said of former Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills, the new manager of the Seattle Mariners, that he was much more than the sum of his parts. Maury, a tremendous competitor, was also an expert at finding unexpected ways of beating the opposition.
Wills spent nine years in the minor leagues before the Dodgers, who simply refused to believe their scouts, brought him up. Prior to that LA even tried unloading him on the Detroit Tigers, who looked at Maury one time in spring training and sent him back.
Wills was one of those players who wasn't considered much of a hitter, but who was always on base; who wasn't super fast, but had 104 steals in 1962; and who took his appointment as Dodger captain much more seriously than management intended he should.
Plenty of shortstops had more range than Maury in the field, although few had a throwing arm with his velocity. He was never an easy ballplayer to control and incurred the wrath of Owner Walter O'Malley in 1966, when he went AWOL during a Dodgers barnstorming tour of Japan.
After telling friends he was en route to having a stateside physician check out a leg that Wills said had been bothering him, O'Malley (vacationing in Hawaii) suddenly discovered his shortstop was playing his banjo in a Honolulu night spot.
Walter responded by trading Maury to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he played 285 of his next 297 big league games at third base. But the intense desire to lead and be a winner never left him.
When the San Francisco Giants offered to make Wills their manager in 1977, he was working as a network television and radio broadcaster for NBC at what he considered was a major league salary.
"Managing was something I had thought a lot about because that was the way I hoped to come back to the majors," Maury told me in Los Angeles. "But at that moment I happened to like what I was doing. I was being well paid and I have never regretted that decision or anything else I have ever done in my life."
"As Seattle manager, I'll be my own man and do things my own way. But if I didn't learn something from playing under managers like Walter Alston and Danny Murtaugh, then it wasn't a very good relationship. Actually I shall borrow things from both men and blend them with ideas of my own."
One thing Wills says he will not do is ask certain players to change into something they are not.
"I am not going to ask Willie Horton to bunt and I am not going to ask Bruce Bochte to steal bases," Maury explained."You go with people's strengths, not their weaknesses. If there is a situation on the field that one of my players can't handle, then I'll go to my bench."
"What I've got here right now is a last-place ball club that my have thought its season was over. But I can't look at things that way. I've got to find which of my players can do what and try to create some momentum in what remains of the season.
"What I especially don't want are players going home with the idea that we aren't going to be any better next year. I want them to leave knowing that we've made progress and wishing that next season was next week.
Asked about the Mariners' young pitching staff, which started the season with such high expectations and then nose-dived, Wills replied:
"I really believe that I know what pitching is all about and that I can get the most out of a staff. I won't interfere with my pitching coach once we've established a program, but I will take over in game situations. I plan to build a strong relief staff and then use it, because most starters aren't going to go the distance for you anyway."
Major league baseball's first black manager was Frank Robinson (Cleveland 1975); its second Larry Doby (Chicago 1978); and its third Wills.
Although Robinson's appointment was considered a racial breakthrough at the time, the wonderful significance is that none of these men were picked because of the color of their skin, but because the owners thought they could do a job.
Robinson, who was fired part-way through the 1977 season and is now a Baltimore coach, would like to manage again and undoubtedly will get the chance. Doby, whom White Sox president Bill Veeck didn't think forceful enough, has little or no backing at this time.
Wills, with an expansion ball club in Seattle that had lost nine in a row when he assumed control and had won only four of 25 since the July All-Star break, has a contract through 1982.
Basically that gives Maury two years in which to show a certain amount of improvement in the win column. Otherwise he gets replaced, just like anyone else.