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.”