Culver City Observer -

Maury Wills: Once A Dodger Always A Dodger

 

April 28, 2016

Fred Altieri

(L-R) Bill White, Dave Winfield, Maury Wills and Peter O'Malley at the 2016 Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation Awards Dinner

Life in a Dodger baseball uniform for Maury Wills came full circle a few weeks ago when the Los Angeles Dodgers broke from Spring Training camp at their Camelback Ranch-Glendale facility in Phoenix for the 2016 Major League Baseball season.

"I've been in the game for many years now. It's time that I play a little golf and enjoy quality time with my wife Carla. That says it all," said Wills who recently made an announcement that this was to be his last spring training as the Dodgers bunting instructor.

"Spring training was wonderful as usual. It was just outstanding.

I enjoyed seeing the players' progress and their ability to bunt when they have to. I enjoy teaching because I know what it is to go from being confused on how to do the fundamentals in baseball to actually grasping it and becoming proficient at it.

"I got to teach Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke who is just as good. To see them go from the practice area called 'Maury's Pit' and accepting my input on the proper way to bunt, perfecting it and then executing it just the way we practiced it is really rewarding and satisfying.

"I'm going to miss that. But now I'm going to enjoy the game a little bit and not have to work at it. My hope is that the Dodgers ask me to make appearances like Sandy Koufax does from time to time. But it's time for me to move on from putting on a uniform every day in spring training."

Wills reflected upon the Player Lifetime Achievement Award he recently received in January at the Beverly Hilton for the 13th Annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation 'In the Spirit of the Game,'

"Stan Kasten, the president of the Dodgers made the presentation. It was very flattering to receive the award Lifetime Award. It was just wonderful. Scouts are the lifeline of Major League baseball. Without the scouts the game would die on the vine," began Wills.

"The people that attended and spoke that night were the heart of the game of baseball. It was so exciting that I really had to tune them out and stay focused on expressing my appreciation. It is something that will be with me forever.

"It took me back to the beginning of my journey aspiring to be a Major League baseball player. As a youngster I aspired to be a Dodger baseball player in the Major Leagues because of Jackie Robinson being hired by the Dodgers.

"It was a long journey getting there. I never gave up believing that I would make it someday. Once I made it, I realized I had a lot of help along the way. God was there for me, too."

Wills began his Major League career as the shortstop for the 1959 World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. By the end of his playing career he had revolutionized the art of base stealing and base running, decisive weapons that helped his team win three World Series and earn him the National League M.V.P. award in 1962.

"We have a saying: "Once a Dodger, always a Dodger." You can put several Dodgers from each era together and we all are teammates. Nobody's a big-shot and everybody gets along just well"

"Peter O'Malley is a Dodger. In fact, he and I had dinner the night before the banquet. The O'Malley's were the ones that helped us develop that Dodger spirit and camaraderie that passes from one generation to another.

"They cared about us. Not only just as baseball players. Even when I had my problems with my addiction Peter O'Malley reached out and spent thousands of dollars on me for my health and welfare.

"He even contacted President Ford's wife, Betty Ford and her doctor, Dr. Joseph Pursch, and commissioned him to work with me. Peter paid for the entire expenses because he cared about me as a person and a Dodger."

Wills spoke about his longtime friend, Sandy Koufax.

"The thing that made our relationship close was that he was a team player. For instance, the pitcher who was pitching the late game of a doubleheader a lot of times would wait for the first game to get over with before he started getting dressed for the next game.

"Sandy Koufax was such a teammate that he would come out on the bench and sit the first game for the entire nine innings in his uniform.

"And Sandy being of this mindset had the respect, admiration and affection from all of his teammates to the point that we found a little extra we could put out when he pitched.

"Sandy had tremendous control. His control was so good he could quarter the quarters of the strike zone. He could put that ball in any one of those sixteenths of the plate anytime he wanted to.

"And that's the thing that made him so great. It wasn't just the velocity of his fastball but it's where he put that fastball with that same velocity."

Another Dodger great has a special place in Wills' heart. "Roy Campanella had already had his accident by the time we got to Los Angeles. Campy didn't come down to Dodger Stadium too often but we would stop upstairs to see him when he came to the games in his wheelchair.

"It was exciting to see him. We would always try to give him warm and heartfelt remarks and he would respond the best way he could. He couldn't always respond audibly but he would touch your arm and you could feel him saying: "Thank you... or you're welcome."

Wills currently enjoys life with his wife Carla in Arizona and he continues to work on his other love: golf. "I live on a golf course now and practice and play often. But in golf, no matter how much I practice I will never conquer the game.

"I've shot under my age two times. And it happened two days in a row. The third day I went out and said: "Where did it go?" That's golf."

In baseball if I was facing a certain pitcher, I already knew that I would get two, three hits, steal three, four bases and score some runs that night. But if I'm going out to play golf I don't know what I'm going to get until I get there. That's why I love the game of golf so much."

Fred Altieri

Maury Wills in Spring Training at 'Maury's Pit'

Ever the competitor, Wills played it close to his blue vest when assessing the Dodgers chances following a productive spring: "The team looked good but every team looks good in spring training. The players worked hard and everyone got along well. But the true test is when the season starts.

"I think the front office for the Dodgers have some outstanding people in place calling the shots. Dave Roberts as a manager was a good selection. I think we're going to be fine but we have to get past just winning our division.

"It's great. The current ownership has adopted the spirit of the Dodgers that was laid down by the O'Malleys. They haven't done anything to diminish that spirit of being a Dodger: "Once a Dodger, always a Dodger."

 

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