Caddying for Maury Wills

He should be in the baseball hall of fame. On September 20, I read that Maury Wills died the day before. He was the shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers, starting in 1959 and for much of the 1960s, the spark plug of a team that won three World Series. He should be in the baseball hall of fame. I don’t say that because he died this week; I have been saying it for years.

When he arrived on the Dodgers, power hitting was ascending. In 1961 Roger Maris hit 61 homer runs, breaking Babe Ruth’s long-held one season record or 60, set in 1927, and Mickey Mantle hit 54. Maury Wills, standing 5’10” and weighing about 170 pounds scored runs in a different way. He got to first base by hits, usually singles, or walks and then began stealing bases, being the first player to steal a hundred bases, with 104 in 1962. He was the National League Most Valuable Player that year, a little shortstop who never hit more than six home runs in a season. But he changed the game by mastering the lost art of stealing bases and making a science of it. He studied pitchers and learned their habits and tendencies. I was at many Dodger games during his time there. When Wills reached first base, the fans went crazy in anticipation. And he rarely disappointed them.

But there is another memory, deep in my bank of memories. When I was a teenager, one day my cousin and I were walking to the driving range of the Western Avenue Golf Course (now named Chester Washington Golf Course), a Los Angeles park system public course near my home. My cousin and I learned to play the game on our own at that course. As we walked toward the driving range that day, there were Maury Wills and Don Newcombe hitting golf balls. Newk was a good pitcher, one of the first Blacks to pitch in the majors. Newk was tall and imposing; Wills short and slim. Los Angeles was not a segregated city, but many of its country clubs were. This course, being public, was open to all. Some of the greatest Black athletes played there when in Los Angeles, like Jim Brown and Joe Louis. That day these two magnificent Black baseball players were at the driving range getting ready to play 18 holes.

My cousin and I decided that we should caddy for them. How should we offer our services? We just walked up, introduced ourselves, and said that we’d like to caddy for them. They said yes, to our surprise and joy, and we carried their golf bags and handed them their clubs for four hours. They gave us some money at the end of the round, but I don’t remember how much and didn’t really care. I just remember being in the presence of two Dodger greats, who were friendly and decent men. And good golfers. To reach the highest level of any sport, one must be a very good athlete, and most excel in several sports. In high school, most of them were superstars in two-four sports.

Maury Wills should be in the baseball hall of fame. While his career was not that long, it had enormous impact on baseball. That should be enough to get in the hall. Not many players change the shape of the game. Wills did. Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson would follow in Wills’s steps. The other player I think should be in hall is Roger Maris. What he did in 1961 is enough for a career. I am sorry that baseball’s stodgy old hall of fame voters, whoever they are, are so short-sighted. Maury Wills belongs in Cooperstown. So does Roger Maris. Besides, I once caddied for Maury Wills. He was a good guy and a great base-stealer. He belongs in the hall of fame.

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