“I know I can make this team a winner. I have complete confidence in myself almost to the point of being cocky.”- Maury Wills
If confidence is the indicator of the success a manager will enjoy, then former Mariners skipper Maury Wills should be in the Hall of Fame for the time he spent in the Northwest. Instead, the one-time Dodger great is considered by many to be the worst Major League manager of all-time.
Though he didn’t get a job as a major league manager until 1980, Wills began his managing crusade years earlier, when, in 1976, he published a book titled How to Steal a Pennant. In the book, which was essentially a job resume, Maury made the bold statement, “Give me a last-place club, and after three years we would be strongly in contention, and by the fourth year we’d go all the way.” Wills wouldn’t last twelve months trying to navigate the Mariners through troubled waters. Clearly Seattle’s lack of a World Series title to this day is the result of Wills’ early dismissal.
To be fair, Maury Wills inherited a very bad team. The team’s record at the time of his hiring stood at 39-65; its lineup featured Mario Mendoza as its starting shortstop for 90 games that season and Mike Parrott (he of the 1-16 record, 7.28 ERA, 1.894 WHIP and 5.21 FIP) was mired in a horrible stretch of bad pitching and bad luck; the hitters collectively garnered a 4.0 WAR, with the leader being Bruce Bochte, with 2.8 WAR.
Wills proved himself to be totally inept in the role of big-league manager, with many glaring shortcomings. For one, he was not a good communicator and could not manage personalities. His failure at in-game managerial decisions was well known. Accountability was also a problem, as evidenced by his deflecting the blame for his failures on to the media on multiple occasions.
It would later become made known that Maury Wills had a drug habit at this point in his career, which could explain not only some of the issues going on in his personal life, but some of his most famous gaffes:
- He once left a spring training game in the sixth inning without saying anything to any of his coaches or players.
- One game was reportedly held up for ten minutes while he tried to decide on a pinch-hitter.
- Once called for a relief pitcher when there was no one warming up in the bullpen
- In the first 22 games of the 1981 season, Wills used twenty different starting lineups
- Once told broadcaster Dave Niehaus during the spring of ’81 that he was excited about “that guy” they had in left field the previous year. Niehaus probed the manager, asking, “you mean Leon Roberts?” Roberts had been traded to the Rangers in a blockbuster trade two months earlier.
His most egregious offense, however, came during the April 25, 1981 Mariners/A’s game at the Kingdome. Trying to give the M’s an advantage against breaking ball specialist Rick Langford, Wills order the Mariners head groundskeeper (Wilber Loo) to extend the batter’s box several inches towards the pitching mound. This, of course, would allow the hitters to move up in the box and swing at the pitches before they broke. Martin wasn’t fooled and asked Umpire Bill Kunkel to measure the batter’s box. The American League would suspend Wills two games and fine him $500.
During his only Spring Training with the team, Wills had stayed in a nice suite at the Fiesta Inn while the Mariners players stayed at a Ramada Inn. Is it any wonder, then, that Mariner pitching coach Wes Stock was later quoted as saying, “I think Maury lost the respect of the players.”
One player, however, was sad to see the manager fired. Julio Cruz, the speedy second-baseman, attributed a lot of his knowledge on the art of base stealing to Wills.