Maury Wills spent 12 of his 14 MLB seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and to this day remains an instructor in Spring Training. For that reason by itself, it was not a shock to see Maury at Baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee. However, the three-time World Series Champion and 1962 NL MVP had an additional reason to be in Nashville for the week.
Maury’s banjo — the instrument he has played for years and featured on programs such as the Johnny Carson show — was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Wills played the instrument at many venues, and was well known for his talent playing the banjo. In addition to being on the Carson show four times, he was also on the Merv Griffith Show three times and entertained Dinah Shore, Jimmy Dean and Mike Douglas on their respective programs – among others. He also took his talents to Las Vegas, appearing in places such as the Plaza Hotel, Sahara and the Desert Inn.
The Dodgers’ great hit .281 for his career that spanned 14 seasons with 2,134 hits and 586 stolen bases for the Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Montreal Expos from 1959-1972. He broke Ty Cobb‘s record of 96 steals in his MVP season in 1962, finishing with 104 (obviously becoming the first player to steal 100 bases in the season). After Wills’ trade to the Pirates after the 1967 season, the Dodgers fell off. They clearly were not the same without him. After he retired following the 1972 season, Wills became a coach for a series of teams, specializing in base running. He told me the key to a good base stealer was a quick and decisive first step towards second. Maury also started to steal third base later in his career when he realized his own pitcher could not see him moving to second for a pickoff move. If his own pitcher couldn’t get a good look at a base runner, he knew the opposing pitcher could not get a good look at him at second.
Maury managed the Seattle Mariners for parts of the 1980 and 1981 seasons, becoming the third African American manager in Major League Baseball history after Frank Robinson and Larry Doby. The six-time NL stolen base leader (in consecutive seasons) was on the Hall of Fame ballot from the years of 1978-1992, gaining as much as 40.6% of the vote. Recently, he was on the the 2014 ballot for the Golden Era committee, but missed out on the 12 votes needed for induction, receiving only nine. Wills currently serves as a member of the Dodgers’ “Legends Bureau” and helps out each spring. The 2015 NL batting champion, Gold Glove and stolen base leader Dee Gordon has learned a lot from Maury’s wisdom.
The longtime Dodgers legend still has the guitar pick he used for his first lesson. It was the only “lesson” he ever took as he choose to teach himself afterwards. It will now be seen at the Country Music Hall of Fame – among the likes of Maybelle Carter and Earl Shruggs, one of those Wills admired. So, the next time you check out the likes of Garth Brooks and Vince Gill – check out Maury Wills’ banjo, now part of the Country Music Hall of Fame.