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Dodgers star Wills blazed trail on basepaths

7-time All-Star credited with reviving stolen base as offensive strategy
MLB.com

Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today we look back on the career of former Dodgers star Maury Wills.

Wills was a major contributor on three championship Dodgers teams and a pioneer for modern base stealing. A nightmare for opposing pitchers, Wills is often credited for reviving the technique as an offensive strategy in the 1960s.

Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today we look back on the career of former Dodgers star Maury Wills.

Wills was a major contributor on three championship Dodgers teams and a pioneer for modern base stealing. A nightmare for opposing pitchers, Wills is often credited for reviving the technique as an offensive strategy in the 1960s.

After eight-plus seasons in the Minor Leagues, Wills broke into the Majors on June 6, 1959. He played 83 games that season and started all six World Series contests at shortstop as the Dodgers defeated the White Sox for the franchise's first championship since moving to Los Angeles.

In his first full season in 1960, Wills stole 50 bases, beginning a run of six straight seasons in which he led the National League. He was the first NL player to steal 50 bases since Pittsburgh's Max Carey (51) in 1923.

In 1961, Wills made his first of seven All-Star appearances and won his first Gold Glove Award. He had the best season of his career in 1962, winning the NL MVP Award in a narrow race over Willie Mays. That season, Wills took home another Gold Glove Award, hit .299 and stole 104 bases, eclipsing Ty Cobb's longstanding 1915 record of 96. Wills' 104 steals were more than any other Major League team in 1962.

Wills and the Dodgers returned to the World Series three more times during his tenure in Los Angeles. The Dodgers swept the Yankees in 1963, bested the Twins in seven games in '65 and were swept by the Orioles in '66. Willis excelled in the '65 World Series, hitting .367 with three doubles, three RBIs and three stolen bases.

After the 1966 season, Wills' final All-Star campaign, he was dealt to the Pirates in exchange for Bob Bailey and Gene Michael. Wills spent two seasons in Pittsburgh before he was selected 21st overall by the Expos in the 1968 expansion draft. Montreal traded him back to the Dodgers midway through the 1969 season, and he finished his career where it started, retiring after three and a half more seasons wearing Dodger blue.

Wills finished his 14-year career with a .281 average, 2,134 hits, 1,067 runs scored and 586 stolen bases. He went on to serve as an analyst for NBC and managed the Mariners for parts of two seasons in 1980-81. Wills retired last year after 22 seasons in the broadcast booth, providing radio commentary for the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks, an independent minor league team.

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Dodgers