Wills brought speed back to game

Wills brought speed back to game

Maury Wills used a little bit of old-school strategy to bring the stolen base back to the forefront in the 1960s.

Before Wills arrived in the Majors in 1959, the stolen base was a trend of the past. After all, by 1955 no one in baseball stole more than 25 bases and clubs were looking for power over speed.

But Wills changed that as he made a splash in his first full season in 1960 by stealing 50 bases with the Los Angeles Dodgers, becoming the first National League player to steal 50 since Max Carey in 1923.

The flashy Wills made the stolen base popular again after it had fallen out of favor after Babe Ruth introduced the first home run era.

Wills' prominent role in changing baseball strategy with the stolen base as well his career .281 batting average and three World Series titles now have him just one step away from Cooperstown as a finalist on the post-1942 Veterans Committee ballot at the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Wills will be considered for the Class of 2009 at the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. Any player receiving at least 75 percent of the vote from the Veterans Committee, which consists of the 64 living Hall of Famers, will be enshrined at the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2009. Results from the Veterans Committee vote will be broadcast live on MLB.com on Dec. 9 from baseball's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.

The other members of the pre-1943 Veterans Committee final ballot are Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Al Oliver, Vada Pinson, Ron Santo, Luis Tiant, Joe Torre and Dick Allen.

But Wills, along with Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio in the American League, was revolutionary in terms of bringing speed back into the game.

Wills reached his pinnacle in 1962 when he stole 104 bases, breaking Ty Cobb's modern record of 96 set in 1915. The shortstop also batted .299 with 10 triples that season and won the National League MVP, beating out Willie Mays by just seven points.

Wills also finished in the top 10 in voting for the MVP in three other seasons (1961, 1965 and 1971). A five-time All-Star, he also appeared in four World Series, winning the title with the Dodgers in 1959, 1963 and 1965.

Wills, born Oct. 2, 1932, played with the Dodgers, Pirates and Expos in his 14-year career but was with the Dodgers for all but two of those seasons. In all, he batted .281 with 177 doubles, 71 triples and 1,067 runs scored in 1,942 games. He stole 586 bases, leading the NL in six consecutive seasons from 1960-65.

After retiring, Wills managed the Seattle Mariners for the last 58 games of the 1980 season and the first 25 games in 1981.

But he'll be remembered for his playing career and bringing the stolen base back into the spotlight.

Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.