Darrell Johnson was fired today as manager of the Seattle Mariners and Maury Wills, the former base-stealing king, finally got his shot at leading a major league baseball team.
President Dan O'Brien of the Mariners announced, "We are relieving Darrell Johnson and Don Bryant, our bullpen coach, and are naming Maury Wills to a two-year contract."
O'Brien said the two years will start with the 1981 season, although Wills will take over immediately as the field boss of the American League team.
Wills, 47, became the third black manager in major league history, preceded by Frank Robinson, who managed the Cleveland Indians 1975-77, and Larry Doby, who guided the Chicago White Sox for part of one season.
Wills is a native of Washington, D.C., and a 1950 graduate of Cardoza High School.
Johnson, 52, had managed the Mariners since Seattle was awarded a major-league franchise in 1977. He was notified of his dismissal by O'brien. mJohnson led Seattle to a sixth-place finish in the AL West in his first season but this year the team, winner of only 39 of 104 games, has been battling the California Angels for last place in the division.
Wills, the former Los Angeles Dodger speedster who stole 586 bases during his 14-year career, is the father of Texas Rangers second baseman Bump Wills.
Maury Wills began his major league career as a player for the Dodgers in 1959, and in 1962, when he was named the National League's most valuable player, he stole 104 bases to break the long-standing record of 96 established by Ty Cobb. Lou Brock stole 118 bases in 1974 to break Wills' mark.
Wills was a standout shortstop for the Dodgers from 1959 through 1966, when he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He went to the Montreal Expos after the 1968 season, and was traded back to Los Angeles during the 1969 campaign.
Wills retired following the 1972 season. He had a lifetime batting average of .281. He played in four World Series and five All-Star games.
Wills managed in the Mexican winter league in 1970 and signed as a player-coach in the Japanese league in 1973 after being released by the Dodgers.
But he decided against playing in Japan in favor of replacing former Dodger teammate Sandy Koufax on NBC's television broadcasting team.
Wills had been mentioned last fall as a possible managerial candidate with the Mariners but Johnson, who managed the Boston Red Sox to the AL pennant in 1975, held on to the job until being fired today.