June 8th, 2012
During a Dodger Adult Camp in Vero Beach, FL, Duke Snider looked back at the Dodgers-Yankees rivalry in the World Series and pondered the odds of a perfect game. “I guess if you played enough times, there was a chance someone might do it,” Snider said. “But of all the people in baseball … and it’s Don Larsen.”
The journeyman retired all 27 batters he faced in a 2-0 victory in Game 5 of the 1956 Fall Classic at Yankee Stadium. Larsen in his career posted an 81-91 regular-season record, including a 3-21 mark in 1954.
Which makes Friday’s no-hitter by six Seattle pitchers against the Dodgers the most surprising by an opponent in Los Angeles history. The others (John Candelaria, 1975 Pirates; Nolan Ryan, 1981 Astros; Tom Browning, 1988 Reds; Dennis Martinez, 1991 Expos; Kent Mercker, 1994 Braves) were complete games of at least nine innings by one pitcher. Browning and Martinez were perfect.
The Dodgers playing in Seattle this weekend brings to mind the career minor-league shortstop who at age 25 tried switch-hitting at the suggestion of his manager at Triple-A Spokane. Maury Wills was in his eighth year of professional baseball and seemingly forgotten in the Dodger organization, playing behind veteran Pee Wee Reese and touted prospects Don Zimmer and Bobby Lillis.
Spokane manager Bobby Bragan noticed one day Wills took his swings from the left side during his final round of batting practice to save time. “Sometimes you just notice things,” Bragan said. “He just looked natural doing it.” The pair worked on Wills batting left-handed after a long homestand, figuring there would be less pressure on the road.
The Dodgers sold Wills’ contract to the Detroit Tigers during spring training in 1959 on a “trial” basis, but the Tigers were unimpressed and returned him. Wills was returned to Spokane and promoted to Los Angeles during the summer of 1959 because Zimmer was nursing a broken toe.
Wills would steal 586 bases during his Major League career from 1959-72, including 104 during his N.L. MVP campaign in 1962.
“I wanted to quit 100 times, but I couldn’t go through with it because I love the game too much,” says Wills, who serves as a Dodger baserunning instructor. “I like encouraging young players because God blessed me with meeting Bobby Bragan and he turned me around, so one person can make a difference.”