Dodgers’ Dave Roberts has ‘heavy heart’ after demise of mentor Maury Wills

By Rowan Kavner
FOX Sports activities MLB Author

Dave Roberts wore the numbers 52 and 10 when his major-league taking part in profession started in Cleveland. Upon a commerce to Los Angeles in 2002, he switched his quantity to 30.

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He made the change in honor of Dodgers legend Maury Wills, the baserunning paragon whose death Monday at his home in Sedona, Arizona, left Roberts combating again tears as he described what the three-time World Collection champion meant to him.

“I discovered final evening,” Roberts stated earlier than the Dodgers’ Tuesday doubleheader in opposition to the Diamondbacks. “I do know he handed peacefully. I’m going to have a heavy coronary heart. Maury was very impactful to me, personally, professionally.”

Wills’ daring baserunning revolutionized the sport within the early Sixties. The seven-time All-Star led the league in stolen bases for six straight seasons from 1960 to 1965 and set a major-league file on the time with 104 stolen bases in an MVP 1962 season. He additionally received the second of his two Gold Glove Awards that yr as a Dodger shortstop.

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Sixty years later, one other prolific base-stealer is now the supervisor of the Dodgers. Roberts discovered from Wills, one other light-hitting speedster who needed to battle his strategy to major-league taking part in time.

“He was a buddy, a father, a mentor, all the above for me,” Roberts stated. “So, this can be a robust one for me.”

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Wills performed within the minor leagues from 1951 to 1959, stealing 281 bases in that point earlier than taking these abilities to the massive leagues with the Dodgers.

Roberts was a Twenty eighth-round select of UCLA in 1994. He did not debut till 1999 and solely performed sparingly till he was dealt to Los Angeles, the place Wills’ baserunning tutelage helped him steal 123 bases over components of three seasons. By then, Wills had change into an teacher for the Dodgers. The realm the place Wills labored with gamers on bunting and baserunning grew to become generally known as “Maury’s Pit.”

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“He simply cherished the sport of baseball, cherished working and cherished the connection with gamers,” Roberts stated. “We spent loads of time collectively. He sort of actually simply confirmed me to understand my craft and what it’s to be a giant leaguer. He simply cherished to show. I believe loads of the place I get my pleasure, my ardour, my love for gamers is from him.”

In Roberts, Wills noticed a little bit of himself. Roberts, who snagged 45 bases in his first season with the Dodgers and carved out a 10-year taking part in profession, stated he does not assume he’d be the place he’s right now with out Wills, whose enthralling feats on the basepaths induced Dodgers followers to rise to their ft and shout, “Go! Go! Go!”

Wills as soon as informed Sports activities Illustrated he may have a look at his uniform and know the sort of day he had. If it was clear, he did not really feel he had completed his job.

“I keep in mind even throughout video games once I performed right here, he would come down from the suite and inform me I have to bunt or do that,” Roberts stated. “I might come and meet him on the finish of the dugout. The coach would say, ‘Hey, Maury’s at the end of the dugout, wants to talk to you.’ So, it just showed that he was in it with me. Even to this day, he would be there cheering for me and rooting for me.”

Wills played 14 major-league seasons, including parts of 12 seasons with the Dodgers. He stole 586 bases in his career, which ranks 20th all time, and batted .281. While his career 88 OPS+ didn’t match other Hall of Fame candidates, and he never did get inducted into the esteemed Hall, his impact during his time was unquestionable. Wills tallied five hits in the 1959 World Series, scoring a run and knocking in a run in the deciding Game 6 win against the White Sox. Six years later, Wills went 11-for-30 with three stolen bases in the 1965 World Series.

After his playing days, Wills served as a baseball analyst for NBC Sports for six years and later became manager of the Seattle Mariners in 1980-81. He went 26-56 in a short tenure as manager and later opened up about alcohol and drug-abuse battles that would follow. But he would recover and help the Dodgers again in both a teaching role at spring training and with the team’s community relations department.

His words of wisdom in “Maury’s Pit” would serve Roberts well, even after his time as a Dodger ended.

After Roberts was traded to Boston in 2004, his iconic steal in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series flipped the series against the Yankees. Wills’ bold voice stuck in Roberts’ head as he darted for second base in a comeback win. The Red Sox stormed back from a 3-0 series deficit to win the ALCS and the World Series.

“I remember Maury Wills on the backfield in Vero Beach,” Roberts told MLB.com in 2014. “He said, ‘DR, one of these days you’re going to have to steal an important base when everyone in the ballpark knows you’re gonna steal, but you’ve got to steal that base, and you can’t be afraid to steal that base.’ So, just kind of trotting out onto the field that night, I was thinking about him.'”

The Dodgers will wear a jersey patch for the remainder of the 2022 season to commemorate Wills.

“I know he’s resting in a better place today,” Roberts said.

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. He previously was the Dodgers’ editor of digital and print publications. Comply with him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.



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