SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield spotted legendary basestealer Willie Wilson walking through the clubhouse and immediately approached him."Did you ever think it was possible to lead the league with just 34 stolen bases?" Merrifield asked with a smile. Merrifield did just that in 2017.Wilson just shook his
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield spotted legendary basestealer Willie Wilson walking through the clubhouse and immediately approached him.
"Did you ever think it was possible to lead the league with just 34 stolen bases?" Merrifield asked with a smile. Merrifield did just that in 2017.
Wilson just shook his head and smiled back.
"Not really," Wilson said. "But the game has changed."
• Royals Hall of Fame
Wilson, one of several Royals guest instructors this spring, was one of the greatest basestealers of all time. Speed was at the forefront of his game. And he has noticed less emphasis on speed today.
"I have noticed it over the years," Wilson said. "I wouldn't say the guys today are better than us or we were better than them; it's just different. They are more into hitting the ball out of the ballpark and we were more into manufacturing runs. That's the difference. But they still want to win and so did we."
There is money in home runs, which has fueled the desire of many young players to swing for the fences repeatedly.
"But I still think speed is a money-maker, too," Wilson said. "A guy that leads off and gets on base and puts pressure on the pitcher makes it easier for the No. 2 and No. 3 guys. I don't think George [Brett] would be in the spot he is if U.L. [Washington] and I weren't doing the stolen-base stuff. We all helped each other."
Wilson stole an American League-leading 83 bases in 1979, then swiped 79 a season later. He stole 668 bases in his big league career.
"You have to remember that we were on turf back then," he said. "A guy that was slow on turf, you could really see he was slow. We just played the game a little different. I think if I wasn't able to use that speed I never would have been the player I was."
Wilson has been a regular in Royals camp in recent years. He always looks forward to meeting with the Royals' younger players.
"Baseball is in my blood, always has been," he said. "It's nice to be down here and get recognized by the younger players. And for me, it's nice just to hang around with the Royals."
And what kind of tips does Wilson give someone like Merrifield?
"We don't want to interfere with the coaches and what they're teaching," Wilson said. "We don't talk too much about technique. We just talk about the mental part of the game and how to prepare for a long season. We just don't want to come down here for a week and start interfering.
"But as far as Whit goes, he's a baseball player. He's a good kid. He's really a good situational hitter. You need a single, he does that. You need a homer, he tries to do that.
"And if you need a steal, he can do that."
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.