There was a time when Maury Wills was concerned about his name ending up on a bust in Cooperstown. Those days are over. The longtime Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop, who was born at D.C. General hospital and raised in the Parkside public housing projects in D.C., used to consider getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame a priority, but now, he’s just happy to be alive. When he is among the 13 inducted into the Washington D.C. Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday, he’ll be in front of family members, which is enough for him.
“I missed out by two votes last year. I got more people who are kind of obsessing over it, just to use a word, maybe that’s not the proper word, more than I am, really,” Wills, 82, said Thursday. “I’m so grateful for the life I’ve had, been given. The career that I’ve been given. If I get into the Hall of Fame, fine, but if I don’t, god has been so good to me.”
A three-sport star at Cardozo High in the 1940s and ’50s, he was signed by the Dodgers at age 17. He still works with the team in an advisory capacity and lives in California. But he says his best baseball memory isn’t his one of his three World Series rings, but the time he got to sleep at his parents’ house before playing in the 1962 All-Star Game at what was then called D.C. Stadium.
“The team hotel was uptown, but I chose to go home to stay with my family,” Wills recalled. “I went back and stayed with my folks overnight and shared with everybody how it felt to be on a major league baseball team.”
As he tells it, getting onto the field was a different matter.
“When I get to the ballpark, the National League team bus had already arrived from the hotel. I came in with my Dodgers bag, blue with LA on it. I had a Dodger golf shirt on, but the security guard wouldn’t let me in, said I was too little. I was not a baseball player. He said, ‘get outta here, boy,'” Wills explained. “I asked the security guard, sir if you just walk down there with me to the National League clubhouse and open the door, I’ll stand out in front, and you can ask those players in there, they’ll tell you who I am. He said, ‘Good idea, come on.’ So we walk down there and baseball players have a sick sense of humor, because when I stood in front of the door, with my Dodger shirt and duffel bag, and the man opened the door and said, “Anybody in here know this boy,” and they all looked at me and said, ‘never saw him before.’ ”
He eventually got in of course, and was named the game’s most valuable player. “When I left the ballpark after the game, I left with the MVP trophy and I showed it to the security guard. He still didn’t believe me, he thought maybe I was carrying it for somebody. I’ll always remember that,” Wills said. He won the National League MVP that season, too.
Getting onto the Wall of Stars was a long time coming. The reason for which have more to do with the hall, than him.
Bobby Goldwater, Georgetown’s sports management program’s interim associate dean is on the selection committee. “The Hall of Fame was kinda dormant for more than a decade. And has only started, and this is frankly with a lot of support from Mark Lerner and the Washington Nationals, to be perfectly honest,” Goldwater said Wednesday. “But the committee has revived. So now, some of what the committee is doing is catching up. For a three-sport star from Cardozo high school like Maury Wills, this is frankly just correcting something that should have been done certainly some time ago. Once he was nominated, it was passed unanimously by the committee.”
His life has had ups and downs, but Sunday will bring things full circle for the man who has a field named after him on Georgia Avenue, where he holds yearly baseball clinics with high schoolers.
“It’s a great thrill. For myself too, of course, but as a reminder that good things happen to you in life when you work hard and comport yourself properly. … Maybe I can be an inspiration for them to have a good life. Talking with them, face to face, up close, before we started the instruction, just talking. We still need a lot of help with our youth,” Wills said. “I want to be one of those persons that can carry a good message for them. This is part of it.”