MAURY WILLS: HE MADE THE HOMERUN OBSOLETE!
Native Washingtonian Maurice Morning Wills October 2, 1932 (sunrise) September 19, 2022 (sunset)
Sonny Wills aka Maury Wills, Today and Yesterday nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
Dick Heller/Washington Times Sports Columnist
Sonny Wills led the Major Leagues in stolen bases six straight seasons. In 1962 he stole 104 bases breaking the legendary Ty Cobb’s record and was named MVP in the National League. Cobb held the record for 47 years. Wills defined and changed the way the game was played offensively–homeruns became an after thought.’
Over two decades ago when Wills was “Dead Man Walking” as it pertained to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2002 at the Langston Golf Course in Washington, DC I joined Sonny and his brother Donald for lunch. It was here they asked me to start a media campaign to help get Sonny inducted into the hall–enter Dick Heller. I asked the late Washington Times sports columnist to assist me on this mission. The same Dick Heller who helped me get Willie Wood inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1989, and NBA pioneer Earl Lloyd inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2003 and help me to get Jim Brown (NFL) out of jail in 2007. Willie Wood was the only one to say “Thank You.” I remember Muhammad Ali once told me never to expect “Thank You” when you help someone else in a time of need–it was great advice.
Stature of the late NBA pioneer Earl Lloyd in the Charles Houston Rec Center, Alexandria, Virginia.
The late Washington Times sports columnist Dick Heller and I congratulate Green Bay Packer great Willie Wood on his induction into the NFL Hall of Fame.
Sonny was like a big brother not only to his siblings but also to me and other youngsters growing up in the Parkside housing project in NE DC. He was a great athlete at Cardozo High School and he flaunted it. He was one of the best all-around athletes this city has ever seen to include, Avatus Stone, Reggie Lee, Lew Luce (Wilson HS) and Gary Mays.
During breaks while playing in the minor leagues Sonny would come home and join us in pick up basketball games. We would follow him to the other side of the railroad tracks for the games at an elementary school on Minnesota Avenue in NE DC.
He was a great running back with speed to burn. During the off season he played football for a popular DC group of semi-pro athletes, they called themselves the Stone Walls. For whatever reason, they never got the opportunity to play at the next level, college or pro. They were truly “Weekend Warriors” who were admired and respected in The Hood.
Their homefield was Bannecker Stadium located on the Georgia Avenue corridor accross the street from HBCU Howard University. On weekend nights you could find football fans packed into the stadium to see their favorite semi-pro team. The stadium is now named in the honor of Maury Wills aka Sonny Wills.
My freshman year at Spingarn high school, coach Dave Brown would prepare us for the upcoming season by arranging for us to scrimmage against the Stone Walls. Sonny was a running back for the team, kick and punt returner. It was like “Men against Boys.” But it paid off, we had an outstanding 1955 season. We were led by Maury’s little brother, our QB, Donald aka Duck. We won the East Division title against a strong and talented Armstrong High School team. Their QB was future NFL Hall of Fame player Willie Wood. The final score 13-7.
The 1957 Spingarn HS (Green Wave) football team: Lawrence Lucas standing next to NO. 19 and me standing in back row with my helmet in hand. I am standing between Donald Wills and Al Mayor.
1960 Winston-Salem State Rams: DC’s finest; QB Donald Wills (20)-WR Harold Bell (88)-Richard ‘Jelly’ Hansberry (71)-Charlie Mayor (26) and Reginald ‘Slick’ Livingston (82)
I thought I was the straw that stirred the drink in high school, “It was throw me the dam ball, I am open!”
In 1957 the Stone Walls returned to Spingarn for a scrimmage and there was Sonny Wills smiling from ear to ear. This time I was the starting WR and Duck again was the QB.
Instead of Sonny lining up as a running back, he lined up on defense in front of me and he was not smiling. He shut me down and would not allow me to catch a ball. After the scrimmage, he came over to me and said, “Harold you are going to be good one day, but not today.” He walked away, I was steaming!
I still think to this day, Coach Dave Brown was the architect of the lockdown. I was smelling myself and that day was a wake up call. Coach Brown knew how to put you in your place without saying a word.
Like Sonny, Donald and I played all three sports at Spingarn. They were not the best athletes or best baseball players in the Wills family. Older brothers Guy, Bobby and Dukey were considered better. It was thirteen of them, even the sisters were great athletes (Mae and Pat). Rev. Wills their father was a minister and Ma Wills was a stay-at-home mom. They were not the typical “We Are Family” found in a housing project. The Wills children stayed out of trouble and kept trouble out of their home.
Sonny spent almost a decade in the Dodgers’ minor league farm system (8 years), but he made the best of those years. He taught himself to become a switch hitter, All-Star shortstop and the best base stealer in the minor leagues. He was a 27 year old rookie when he finally made it to the major leagues and was he ready!
From 1961 to 1965 he made the home run obsolete. He was considered to be the best shortstop of his time, appearing in 7 All-Star Games. His lifetime batting average is higher than many of the Hall of Fame shortstops. For example, his average is 21 points higher than Bill Mazeroski, 19 points higher than Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Smith, 12 points higher than Pee Wee Reese, and 8 points higher than Phil Rizzuto.
The excitement he brought to baseball stadiums around the country was only matched by Jackie Robinson.
I remember the summer 1962 when he was the talk of the baseball world. The Wills Family rented a bus to travel to Philadelphia to watch the Phillies take on the L. A. Dodgers. Friends and family were invited to participate. Donald and I were home from from school. We were roommates and teammates at Winston-Salem State University (aka Bighouse Gaines U).
As college student/athletes we were struggling to maintain and we thought this trip would provide us with an opportunity to hit up “Big Brother” for some funds. Immediately after the game family and friends gather outside the visitor’s exit from the ball park waiting for Sonny to emerge. He was mobbed by family, friends and fans when he made his exit. It didn’t look like we were going to be able to get our sales pitch in–it looked impossible!
Donald and I were laid back off to the side trying to figure out the best way to get a few words in with him alone. As he was boarding the bus to leave for the airport he looked over and saw us. He pushed his way through the well wishers and took us around to the other side of the bus out of sight. He asked Donald, “Whats on your mind little brother?” Donald told him we were both now in college at Winston-Salem State and needed a little cash to help us out.
His response blew me away, he said “Guys I am broke, but not broke in the sense of being broke like you. I am barely able to keep up with my life style I have to maintain during the baseball season.”
That was all I needed to hear, I turned and walked away leaving him and Donald alone, I didn’t believe him. I later discovered the Dodgers were paying him ‘Peanuts’ compared to the white superstars.
In 1962 our junior year at Winston-Salem, Sonny literally set the baseball paths on fire when he stole 104 bases for a Major League Baseball record. He broke the notorious Ty Cobb’s record that had been around for 47 years. Cobb was the God of the stolen base during his era. He instilled fear into opposing players, he would shapen his spikes every game and slide into bases with spikes high . Cobb was a racist and a dirty player and many were happy when Sonny broke his record.
The Dodgers won the World Series and Sonny was named MVP of the league. In 1963 the following year he send a check to Winston-Salem State University made out to the Winston-Salem athletic department.
The check was from a corporate sponsor and earmarked to be donated to a non-profit organization–enter Winston-Salem State University.
I have no idea how much the check was worth, but through one of our contacts in the President’s office Donald found out it was $10,000. One day he gave me five 20s out of the blue. I never asked any questions relating to where it came from. I had learned early, “never to look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Maury Wills’ omission from the baseball hall of fame had nothing to do with his playing ability. It has everything to do with his character and integrity and that is where he came up short. His choice of white women, especially his relationship with Doris Day was never forgiven by white media. He was a favorite of the tabloids and this pissed off the white media.