(EDITOR'S NOTE: When all-time great Maury Wills appeared at Westfield, Culver City with the Dodgers' recent Holiday Tour the Observer's Fred Altieri was there to interview him. This is the first of two parts.
By Fred Altieri
Maury Wills was born to be a Los Angeles Dodger. Eighty One years later he is still a Dodger, as sharp and as alert as during the 1960's when he altered the fundamentals of major league baseball with his speed and prowess on the base paths.
Wills recently visited Culver City's Westfield Mall, signing autographs, talking baseball and even playing catch with some of the youngsters.
He and Steve Yeager were on hand to meet and greet Dodger fans during the first stop of the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers Holiday Tour. This is the team's second consecutive year visiting Southland malls featuring Dodger alumni during the holiday season.
Wills was generous with his time and gracious with his words as he spoke about being a Dodger. Sincere and candid, he gave a rare glimpse of his humble beginnings.
"I'm not sure how the Holiday Tour works but I do know that when the Dodgers call on me to go out into the community or the public here in Los Angeles or anywhere for that matter, but mainly in Los Angeles as that's where my heart is, I'm there. No questions asked.
"It's my passion to go out and represent the Dodgers. It's been that way since 1950 when I joined and signed up at the tender age of 17. My parents had to sign for me as I wasn't legal until I was 18.
"As a player when I was younger I might have felt differently but I've grown up now. First of all I'm flattered that the people turned out the way they did in droves to be there because Maury Wills was going to sign autographs. Now, how can you turn your back on that?
"The program called for me to be there for two hours. Well, I was there for two hours and fifty minutes and asked how is the line doing? They told me, "It's long." I said, "Okay, let's keep going." I wasn't all of a sudden going to just stop because the schedule called for me to be finished and leave all those people in the back of the line. It doesn't work that way. That's not what it's all about.
"Those people at the mall were just wonderful. I came out of there feeling ten feet tall. Even levitating a little bit because they made such a fuss over getting my autograph.
"So I gladly stayed until everybody got an autograph or two and even caught ball with some of these little kids, eight year olds and nine year olds. That's how I became a Dodger, with a major league baseball player catching ball with me when I was in the projects in Washington, D.C. at the age of nine.
"The ball player was Jerry Priddy and he played second base for the Washington Senators. I didn't even have a pair of shoes. I was bare-footed. When he befriended me and caught ball with me, he told me that I was good and to tell my folks to get me a pair of baseball shoes because I had a chance to be a good baseball player.
"It turned out that Jerry Priddy inspired me enough to get out of those projects and want to be somebody. I became a major league player because of that and that was the basis of all my work ethic throughout my career, minor leagues and major league and into today. It's ingrained.
"First of all, I'm going back to the '40's. I'm 81 years old and I was born in 1932. So when I'm nine years old, at that time people didn't mix as we know it today. I lived in the projects in Northeast Washington, D.C., an all-black neighborhood and no future whatsoever, one of 13 children, sleeping four and five, six in a bed, only one bath and one door in the house.
"But we loved to play baseball. It started off with softball when we were younger and eventually we got into baseball. So down in our playground came this baseball player with this wonderful uniform on. Clean, well groomed and color coordinated. And he's white.
"We were wondering, "Who is he? Where did he come from?" He had come there to conduct a clinic for us. Apparently the Washington Senators had a program where players would go out into the neighborhoods and conduct clinics on certain days. But we didn't know. We didn't know where he came from. Out he rose."
(End of Part 1)