Jerry Wolper, our resident newspaper historian, recently turned up another uni-related story from journalism’s digital archives. This one dates back to 1967 and involves Maury Wills, who at the time was playing for the Pirates. He was no longer MLB’s preeminent base stealer (that status had passed to Lou Brock), but he was still a threat on the bases.
The story begins on April 4 of that year — the tail end of spring training, one week before Opening Day. On that date, an AP wire story about Wills appeared in many newspapers. The gist is that he had switched to a new style of spikes and that National League president Warren Giles had ruled them to be illegal. There are a few other nuances to the story, so I strongly recommend that you read the entire AP article here (click to enlarge):
It’s frustrating that there’s no photo, and especially since I’m puzzled by this line: “The traditional baseball shoe’s spikes are triangular, but on Wills’ new shoes the spikes are straight and blunt.” I thought old spikes were always straight and blunt, like this. I’ve tried to find photos of an old pair with “triangular” spikes and have come up empty. I’m also confused by the line about the new shoes “resembl[ing] track shoes,” because track shoes in those days had much spikier spikes — they weren’t blunt-tipped. Hmmmm.
I was intrigued by this story, so I did a little digging and found that four days later, on April 8, a follow-up AP article appeared, indicating that Wills planned to wear the shoes in violation of the league ruling (this one, unfortunately, is a bit blurry, but I still recommend that you read the whole thing):
So this time there’s a photo, but unfortunately it’s too small and blurry to be of any use (and I’ve been unable to find a clean version of it anywhere else). But the text in this article provides a clue regarding the spike design — it refers to “triangular metal plates” (emphasis mine), rather than triangular spikes. So I think the old-style shoes were like this, with the roughly triangular arrangement of the front and back spikes:
And I think what Wills wanted to wear was probably something like this:
As you can see, the spikes on the lower pair are truly blunt-tipped when compared to the upper pair. I’m not sure why this would have been deemed to be a rules violation, except that, as Wills put it in the article, “[B]aseball doesn’t want to try anything new. They’ve always worn the old type shoes and I expect they want to keep wearing them forever.”
Also, gotta love Maury’s line about the A’s: “If the Kansas City players can wear white shoes with green shoelaces, I don’t see why I can’t wear my new shoes.”
Two days later, on April 10 — one day before the season opener — The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran the latest update to the story, indicating that Wills would follow the league edict after all, but that Pirates GM Joe Brown, who was also a member of the rules committee at the time, was lobbying to have the rule changed (click to enlarge):
I couldn’t find anything to indicate how the issue was ultimately resolved, but Jerry Wolper — the one who got this whole story rolling — turned up this item from the July 11, 1967, edition of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
And there you have it.
One thing that’s absolutely stunning about this progression of articles, at least from our contemporary vantage point, is that there isn’t a single mention of who manufactured the shoes, nor any attempt to contact the manufacturer. Corporate theater had not yet hit the uni-verse.
This episode wasn’t Wills’s only brush with rules violations. In 1981, when he was managing the Mariners, he was suspended for two games for instructing the team’s groundskeeper to enlarge the right-handed batter’s box in order to provide an advantage for M’s player Tom Paciorek. No word on what kind of spikes Paciorek was wearing.
Update: Thanks to some good photo research by reader/commenter Mark Guttag, it appears that the spikes in question may have been these:
Hard to believe that that was so controversial, right?
(Massive thanks to Jerry Wolper, whose archival newspaper research continues to yield tremendous dividends.)
By Mike Chamernik
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