Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dime Box Heroes: It doesn't translate

1981 Fleer #595 Maury Wills MG

I actually found this card in a nickel box along with a bunch of other early-80's Fleer and Donruss cards. (Yes, another flea market pickup.)

So technically, it's a "nickel box hero", but you get what I'm saying.

As a player, Maury Wills was probably the most feared base stealer of his era. His 104 swipes in 1962 broke Ty Cobb's modern single-season record. Wills took the baseball world by storm that year and captured the NL MVP award in the process.

While he had short stints in Pittsburgh and Montreal, Wills is best known for his time as a Los Angeles Dodger. He is one of the most well-remembered players to ever wear the hallowed "Dodger Blue", as he represented the decade of the 1960's to many Dodgers fans.

His short time wearing the "Mariner Blue" in Seattle is also fairly well-known, but for completely different reasons.

It was a disaster, to put it lightly.

After his playing career ended in 1972, Wills managed in the Mexican Winter League for a few years. He openly bragged that he'd be able to turn a last-place big league team into champs within a few years. (The Giants even offered him a one-year deal to manage in San Francisco, but he turned it down.)

After firing Darrell Johnson, the Seattle Mariners hired Wills as their manager in August of 1980. He'd manage their last handful of games that season.

In one of his most famous incidents during his short tenure in Seattle, Wills was going on about his "new" center fielder, Leon Roberts, stating how good Roberts was at covering ground and his determination on the field.

Then one of the Seattle writers reminded Wills that Roberts had been traded to Texas a few weeks prior.

It didn't get much better once the season started. In fact, it got worse.

Before a game against the A's in April of 1981, Oakland manager Billy Martin noticed that the batter's boxes on both sides of the plate were a foot longer than regulation size. The Mariners' head groundskeeper admitted that Wills had told him to lengthen the boxes, presumably to get a better look at breaking pitches. 

Wills was fired a few days later.

He lasted just 24 games into the 1981 season. His career record as a manager? 26-56.

Here's a few better tidbits from Wills's managing career, courtesy of the Big Book of Baseball Blunders by Rob Neyer.

Wills once made out a lineup card that listed two third basemen, but no center fielder.

Wills once held up a game for ten minutes while he searched for a pinch-hitter.

In the sixth inning of a spring-training game, Wills left the field without telling anyone and hopped a plane for California.

Shortly before he was fired, Wills skipped most of batting practice three days in a row.

Wills's 1981 Fleer card is a perfect example of a card that might not be worth much in actual value, but is priceless in personal value. It's a reminder of one of the most disastrous managing tenures in the history of baseball.

Fleer was the only card company to produce a card of Wills as a manager, not counting the '81 Topps Mariners team card. It's one of the best cards to come out of Fleer's initial offering (not counting their '60s legends cards), if not the best.

There's always been a debate among baseball circles. Does success as a player translate into the managerial field? Not in the case of Maury Wills.

Not at all.


William Regenthal said...

I had never heard that. I always heard that Wills is a great baserunning coach. Some guys just aren't really cut out for leadership roles, I guess.

Kev said...

i think maury wills got a AAA steal rating in strat-o-matic one year... now THAT's impressive. (if you know what that means...)

Josh D. said...

Nice research on that one! If I was a big-league manager, I probably would stick around for batting practice (and make sure I had a CF).