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About Jon
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1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
6) using hyperbole when something less will suffice
7) using sarcasm in a way that can be misinterpreted negatively
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12) claiming your opinion isn't allowed when it's just being disagreed with

Where There's a Wills, There's No Way
2003-03-03 09:17
by Jon Weisman

First of all, a quick aside: congratulations to Kazuhisa Ishii, Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort. Whatever happens in the coming season - and it may well not be good - theyíve all had serious injuries, and for them all to make such glowing returns in the same game is nice thing. Too bad the game wasnít on TV in Los Angeles - I really would have liked to have seen it.

Iím a little late on this topic, but I wanted to talk about Maury Wills and the Hall of Fame.

First, letís get his hitting and fielding stats out of the way. For his career, Willsí OPS+ was 88, meaning that his OPS was 88 percent of the league average. In 14 seasons, the longtime Dodger shortstop exceeded the league average once.

In those 14 seasons, Wills made 331 errors, or more than 27 per 162 games. By comparison, Jose Offerman has made 26.3 errors per 162 games, excluding the 62 games in which he was a designated hitter. Wills would need Ozzie Smith range to compensate for those mistakes and be worthy of the Hall.

Or, I suppose, he would have had to revolutionized the game with his stolen bases.

Wills stole 586 bases in his career, at a success rate of 73.8 percent, winning six consecutive stolen base titles from 1960, his third season, through 1965. In 1962, one year after Roger Maris broke Babe Ruthís home run record, Wills broke the stolen base record by stealing 104, in 117 attempts, and won the National League Most Valuable Player award.

OPS doesnít account for stolen bases, but EQA does. Willsí career EQA (adjusted for park and era) is .264 - slightly above average. He was above the average total of .260 in half of his 14 seasons.

So at least weíre not necessarily discussing the Hall of Fame credentials of a below average player. Of course, Willsí single-season best EQA, .289, is less than the .292 career EQA of Maris, himself a borderline Hall of Fame candidate.

Now, let's get to the biggest argument made for Wills, which is that what he did for baseball is bigger than his stats. By making the stolen base a weapon in the 1960s, Wills is said by many to have revolutionized the game.

I quibble.

People seem to think Willsí achievement has the same or similar importance as Babe Ruth revolutionizing the game with home runs.

The differences? No. 1, Ruth was a weapon unlike any that had ever been seen before, while the stolen base in 1962 was the return of something that had been around before, but laid to rest. Sort of like the difference between the Revolutionary War and, well, any U.S. war that followed.

No. 2, who was the revolutionary here? Maury Wills, or Dodger manager Walter Alston? At worst, it had to be some combination of the two. Hitting a home run vs. spraying the ball around the park was more Ruth's doing than anyone else's, but wouldn't Alston deserve credit for recognizing the weapon that was before him and using it? Or did Wills start stealing 20 bases a month on his own, defying not only opposing catchers but his own manager?

And as for the revolution - here are the NL stolen base totals for 1962, when Willsí stole 104, and the ensuing 10 seasons:

1962: 788
1963: 684
1964: 636
1965: 745
1966: 737
1967: 694
1968: 704
1969: 817
1970: 1045
1971: 900
1972: 954

This is a revolution? Perhaps Iím being overly simplistic, but shouldnít stolen base totals have gone up following Willsí record year?

If there was a revolutionary, letís talk about Lou Brock, who stole bases prodigiously and got on base more than his average contemporary. Lou Brock is a Hall of Famer.

Iím not trying to take any credit away from Wills for the stats he produced. Theyíre all his. I also praise him for helping the Dodgers win many games, pennants and World Seriesess. I mean, in that respect, as far as Iím concerned, thank God for Maury Wills.

But the conventional wisdom that those stats had a profound effect on the game itself? Whatís that stuff you wash hogs with? Oh yeah - hogwash.

I guess you had to see Maury Wills to appreciate him. No, thatís not true. I appreciate him, and I never saw him play. I guess you had to see him to over-appreciate him.

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