Inept

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.

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Taking Flight/Setting Sail

Imagine being a Seattle Pilots fan in the spring of 1970. You had heard the threats of ownership towards the end of the past season: show up, or else. Other threats came from the city: pay up, or face eviction. It had become quite apparent during the off-season that the financially strapped team could not survive long enough to move into the new stadium that was to be built in Seattle Center. A judge would declare the team bankrupt on April 1, 1970 and ordered the team be sold to an ownership group headed by Bud Selig, the man who had struck an agreement to buy the team during secret negotiations during Game One of the 1969 World Series. And so just days before the beginning of what was to be their second season, the Pilots took flight. Destination: Milwaukee.

70 Topps 2a

I wonder how many disappointed fans tore up their 1970 Topps Pilots cards upon the news of their team leaving town. I certainly would have, as a child. But some fans/collectors, the discerning ones, might have look at their Diego Segui card and seen hope. After all, here was a man who had left has family and home in Cuba to pursue a career in the Major Leagues. And yet, despite not living up to the promise that he had shown, with stuff that former pitching coach Cot Deal once compared to Juan Marichal, Segui was chosen by the Pilots with the 14th pick in the (American League) Expansion Draft that followed the 1968 season. He would go on to become the team’s MVP during their lone season.

70 topps 2b

I look at the back of Segui’s 1970 Topps card, from a set as drab and gray as a Seattle winter, and wonder if anyone back then saw a foreshadowing in his card number. There didn’t appear to be a bright future for baseball in Seattle- certainly not a second major league team. But there it was: 2.

Of course the city would later be awarded another franchise, and when the Mariners team officials began putting together a roster prior to their 1977 maiden voyage, they turned to the former Pilots star.

Scan 36

The Mariners set sail on April 6, 1977 with the thirty-nine year old Segui getting the nod. Diego took the loss that night against the Angels and would struggle to an 0-7 record through what would be his last season in the majors. On the positive note, he did strike out 10 Boston hitters in a game and watched his strikeout/walk ration improve to the best it had been in nine seasons. He also saw his hits per 9-innings hover around 9 and the number of home runs per 9 increase to the highest of his career. After 39 appearances (six of which had been starts), Diego Segui pitched the final game of his major league career, a September 24th start against the Chicago White Sox. And, as you might have heard, the righty holds the distinction of being the only player to have played for both the Pilots and the Mariners.