Notable Black Baseball Families Part 2: SS Maury Wills & 2B Bump Wills
The second entry in an article series on Black families from throughout the entire African diaspora who have had multiple members make notable contributions to the sport of baseball.
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This article series will focus not only on African-American families that have played in the Negro Leagues, Latin American Winter Leagues, MiLB, and MLB but notable Black families from throughout the entire African diaspora who have had multiple members make significant contributions to the sport.
One of the most underrated father-son duos in MLB history, both of the Wills were switch-hitting middle infielders that could play great defense and run the bases well. They’re both pivotal to a plethora of different aspects of baseball history.
The father toiled in the minors for eight years before becoming a 7x All-Star, winning the NL MVP Award, and securing 3 World Series rings during the 1960s. He would change the game forever by breaking a record deemed immortal by almost everyone.
The son excelled in his father's massive shadow despite the expectations and comparisons. He was a star on the diamond in high school and college, overcoming a major injury to get drafted. He carved out a respectable professional baseball career of his own before injuries took their toll. He played multiple seasons in MLB, the Mexican Pacific League, and the Japanese Pacific League.
Born in 1932 and raised in the Anacostia district of Washington D.C., Maury Wills was the seventh of 13 children. He did not begin playing organized baseball until he was 14, doing so for a semi-pro league. He was a top-tier multi-sport athlete in high school, excelling at basketball, baseball, and football.
While colleges wanted him to play quarterback or safety, he wanted to play baseball. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers as an amateur free agent before the 1951 season at the age of 18, receiving a $500 dollar signing bonus. He married his high school sweetheart and had six children before they divorced.
The switch-hitting shortstop spent eight years in the minor leagues due to the sheer amount of infield talent the Dodgers possessed during the 1950s. They had two Hall of Famers in Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese in addition to competent infielders such as Jim Gilliam and Charlie Neal.
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During his long trek through the minors, Wills honed his stolen base technique and was taught to switch hit by the Dodgers development staff. The logic behind the move was based on how fast Wills was since he’d be even more dangerous running out ground balls for base hits from the left-handed batter’s box.
He’d also have the platoon advantage more often since he’d be batting left-handed more often than he would right-handed. The renowned Los Angeles coaching staff helped him with his ability to hit the ball where it was pitched as well.
He was forced to rely on the slash-and-dash approach to all fields since he was a slap hitter that did not hit for much power due to his slight stature. He was 5’11’’, and weighed around 170 pounds.
Pee Wee Reese’s retirement at the end of the 1958 season was the first domino to fall in the series of events that led to the Washington D.C. native’s big break. Don Zimmer got the first shot to win the starting shortstop job during the 1959 season, but he broke a toe during the summer and battled a severe slump for the rest of the season after his return.
A 26-year-old Maury Wills took the Dodgers shortstop job and literally ran with it from then forward. He played 83 games during 1959, going .260/.298/.298 with five doubles and two triples. He played all nine innings in 57 of the 70 games he started. He was the Dodgers starting shortstop during the World Series, recording 20 plate appearances and playing solid defense. The Dodgers would go on to win the World Series, defeating the Chicago White Sox in six games.
It would be one of three World Series rings he would win as the centerpiece of the Dodgers position player group during the 1960s. The ball club that had moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles made speed, defense, and pitching its main calling cards, and Wills was the main reason it happened and was successful. His breaking of Ty Cobb’s single-season stolen base record in 1962 is one of baseball’s most pivotal moments, as many thought that it was an unbreakable feat.
From 1959-1970, Wills was one of the most productive players at his position. Out of 62 qualified shortstops, he ranked second in plate appearances, first in runs scored, first in stolen bases, second in triples, 19th in walk-to-strikeout ratio, second in batting average, and 10th in on-base percentage.
He played the third-most defensive innings of any shortstop from 1959 to 1970. He was third in putouts, second in assists, and fifth in double plays. He won two Gold Gloves, another testament to his defense.
Maury Wills played 12 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, 2 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and parts of one season with the Montreal Expos. He’d play in seven All-Star games, representing the Dodgers in all of his appearances. He won the first MLB All-Star Game MVP Award during the same season in which he’d win the NL MVP for the regular season.
He would go on to be a manager briefly at the MLB level, managing the Seattle Mariners during the 1980 and 1981 seasons. While it would end with him being fired and known as one of the most incompetent managers ever, he would achieve something that had never been done in MLB’s history up to that point. He passed away in 2022 at the age of 89 years old.
Elliot “Bump” Wills was born in 1952. Raised in Spokane, Washington, his parents had settled there during his father’s 8-year climb through the minor leagues. The third of six children, he was particularly close with his older brother Barry. They even had their own phrase: “Ask no quarter, give no quarter.”
A three-year letterman in basketball, baseball, and football in high school, he developed his competitive spirit by following Barry and his friends around. He played with and competed against them in a variety of different sports.
He got his nickname from his grandfather, and it was originally Bumpy. The story goes that he kicked around in his mother’s stomach frequently while she was pregnant with him, causing family members to often remark in wonder.
One day, his grandfather said he was “bumping” and voila. While in college he would drop the y, thinking that “Bump” was a more mature and appropriate version of his family nickname.
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