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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cole: 45 Years Ago Today: Maury Wills Returns to the Dodgers

Lover Come Back…indeed!

Today’s Dodgers don’t make headlines with trades as early in the season as June 11. Yesterday’s Dodgers did, and General Manager Buzzie Bavasi pulled off one such deal 45 years ago today, correcting the baseball injustice that had Maury Wills wearing something other than Dodger Blue for parts of three seasons: Bavasi acquired Wills and Manny Mota from the Montreal Expos for Ron Fairly and Paul Popovich on June 11, 1969.

Mota would go on to record a then-best-in-history 150 pinch hits (ex-Dodger Lenny Harris holds the current record with 212). Still an L.A. fan favorite, he has been with the team in one capacity or another since that very day (happy anniversary!). He is also the answer to the riddle, “What do you call a baseball coach with a flat tire?” Answer: “Manny Mota and jack.”

But bringing back Wills - L.A.‘s shortstop and captain - was the real story. Maurice Morning Wills had been a part of the club’s 1959, 1963 and 1965 World Series championships, was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in the near-miss 1962 campaign, when he broke Ty Cobbs’s 47-year-old record with 104 stolen bases, and had been an All-Star in 1966.

But Wills went 1-13 in the World Series that October as the Dodgers were swept by the Baltimore Orioles in humbling fashion. Bavasi, no doubt employing the famous “better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late” strategy, shipped his shortstop off to Pittsburgh for Bob Bailey and Gene Michael on December 1, 1966.

...Wills, along with his Bucs’ teammate Mota, were selected by the Expos in the 1968 expansion draft, and were on the chalk lines when Major League Baseball opened for business in Canada, April 14, 1969 at Jarry Park (Montreal 8, St. Louis 7, Dan McGinn with 5 1/3 innings of shutout relief over Gary Waslewski).

Hitting just .222 at the time of the trade 45 years ago today, Wills improved to .297 the rest of the way. The Dodgers moved into first place ten days after his return, ultimately finishing fourth in what was known that year as the NL’s “Wild Wild West.”

Wills, at 38, led the Dodgers to within a game of the division crown in 1971, losing out to the Giants on the last day of a memorable race, and retired after the 1972 season. He worked as a baseball analyst for NBC, managed the Seattle Mariners for parts of two seasons, and in recent years has been a fixture at Chavez Ravine during homestands.

Repoz Posted: June 11, 2014 at 09:23 AM | 8 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: dodgers, history

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   1. esseff Posted: June 11, 2014 at 12:05 PM (#4723314)
Today's Dodgers don't make headlines with trades as early in the season as June 11. Yesterday's Dodgers did,


Because the trade deadline at the time was June 15.
   2. Mark Armour Posted: June 11, 2014 at 02:00 PM (#4723432)
According to Bavasi's later accounts, the 1966 trade of Wills was the one time in his 18 year tenure as GM that Walter O'Malley demanded that he get rid of someone. Wills' crime was not his poor performance in the Series (if so, Bavasi would have had to trade the entire offense), it was that he skipped out on the team's post-season trip to Japan. He claimed injury, but the Dodgers figured out that was not true. O'Malley was embarrassed -- Koufax also stayed home, and soon retired -- that arguably his two most famous players were not there.
   3. Bruce Markusen Posted: June 11, 2014 at 06:09 PM (#4723619)
It's interesting that Wills played virtually no shortstop during his two years in Pittsburgh. The Pirates already had a reliable defender in Gene Alley, so they shifted Wills over to the corner and went with a non-classic kind of third baseman.
   4. Sunday silence Posted: June 11, 2014 at 07:34 PM (#4723658)
how good was Bob Bailey at that point? The trade is just beyond my memory.
   5. Walt Davis Posted: June 11, 2014 at 08:12 PM (#4723676)
Wills, at 38, led the Dodgers to within a game of the division crown in 1971

That's a stretch. Wills hit 281/323/329 with just 15/8 on steals and scoring just 73 runs out of the leadoff spot (3rd on the team). His 91 OPS+ was the worst among the "starting" players and rather paled next to Allen's 151 (not to mention Allen's 8 for 9 in steals). Wills added average defense and put up a solid 2.5 WAR, 4th among position players and 7th overall ... so an important piece but "led" is hard to see.

As to that trade ... I suppose it wasn't clear whether Fairly had a position with the future Dodgers but he did give the Expos 17 WAR in 5+ seasons and added another 5 WAR before he was done. Wills part 2 gave the Dodgers 8 WAR (he was really good in the second half of 69). Mota went on to give them 11 WAR, most of it early, so I guess the trade works out as even.
   6. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: June 11, 2014 at 11:22 PM (#4723751)
Dodgers shortstops in the Wills interregnum:
67--Gene Michael
68--Zoilo Versailles

I didn't remember either of those guys playing for the Dodgers
   7. Bhaakon Posted: June 12, 2014 at 12:19 AM (#4723776)
I don't see how someone could ever forget a guy named Zoilo Versailles.
   8. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: June 13, 2014 at 02:21 PM (#4725113)
I don't see how someone could ever forget a guy named Zoilo Versailles.

I certainly remember him--just not playing for the LA's

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