By Fred Altieri
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part 2 of Fed Altieri’s interview with Maury Wills at Westfield, Culver City during the Dodgers’ recent Holiday Tour)
“The players we looked up to and the players we wanted to be like were these older guys that played on Sundays who called themselves semi-pro. I don’t know why semi-pro, they didn’t get paid.
“They had mixed-matched uniforms on, argyle socks under the stirrups. If they didn’t get too drunk on Saturday night and they had enough players on Sunday, they had a game. And those were the guys we wanted to grow up and be like.
“They just played on playgrounds and fields. There was no such thing as municipal parks in those days. We played on playgrounds where we could find one or go down to Maryland and play in the fields, just an old field.
“But they all had a half pint of whiskey in their back pockets. A half pint of whiskey. It fit into their back pockets. We wanted to grow up and be just like them. Including the half pint of whiskey. Now if we can just grow up and play with them or be like them, we will have been successful. That was our dream.
“It was our thought. We woke up with that and we went to bed with that… until Jerry Priddy came to the playground with this nice, well coordinated uniform on. There was piping around the neck collar and down his sleeves, the belt loops had them too and down the sides of the pant legs. His shoes were clean and his eyes weren’t all red. They were bright and clear.
“And I know from in the late ‘50’s, the ‘60’s, when I came here to play for the Dodgers, we had a program that the players had to go out into the communities to conduct clinics. A lot of the players didn’t want to go but the Dodgers said, “You gotta go. We’d like you to stay a couple of hours but if you can’t, stay an hour and just wing it. But you gotta go.
“I can imagine what they said to Jerry Priddy in the ‘40’s when he had to go out to our playground in Northeast Washington, D.C. The Washington Senators baseball park was in Northwest Washington, D.C. So he had to come a ways and I know he didn’t live anywhere near us. So I always gladly went to these playgrounds when the Dodgers asked us to go.
“In fact, when some players couldn’t go or didn’t want to go, I volunteered to go because I remembered what Jerry Priddy did for me and for my family.”
Wills and Priddy’s crossing paths reflect several interesting correlations: Priddy was born in Los Angeles, played baseball at Washington High School in South Los Angeles, and was laid to rest at Holy Cross Cemetery & Mausoleum in Culver City just steps north of Westfield Mall across Slauson Avenue.
Wills is still tutoring Dodger players and prospects during the Spring Training season. Every February and March at the team’s complex in Glendale, Arizona, he teaches the fine art of sliding in his own personal area affectionately called ‘Maury’s Pit’. He debuted with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1959 and that year helped them win their first World Series championship in Los Angeles as well as their next two titles in 1963 and 1965.
Most baseball fans recall the incredible year Wills had in 1962 when he broke Ty Cobb’s stolen base record by stealing 104 bases and won the National League MVP, beating out the great Willie Mays, Tommie Davis, Frank Robinson, Don Drysdale and Hank Aaron, all near the prime of their illustrious careers.
For Los Angeles fans Maury Wills remains one of the greatest and most popular Dodgers of all time.
“The Negro League players had a profound effect on me. Coming from the players on the weekends with the half pints of whiskey, they were familiar with the Negro Leagues and the Negro League style of playing and that’s how they played. So since we wanted to be with them, the guys on the weekend, we adopted their way of playing ball.
“The Negro League style of baseball, they have a name for it today but they didn’t have a name for it then: “small ball.” Bunting. Running. Fielding. Doing all the little things that don’t make you the big million dollar contracts. The only thing they do is win ballgames. Yes, that was the style of play.
“One of the compliments I got that rings with me each and every day of my life and always will: Hank Aaron at the end of his career wrote a book. In his book he was quoted as saying, “And then some guy named Maury Wills came into the league for the Dodgers and started doing things we had never seen before.”
I swear that just lit me up. Yes. That was old Negro League ball.”
(End of Part 2)