Some 300 miles from the nearest major league ballpark, Elliot Taylor (Bump) Wills enjoys a laid-back lifestyle in his hometown of Spokane, far removed from his six-year career as a second baseman for the Texas Rangers and the Chicago Cubs but still keeping a hand in the game. He drops in on his mother, Gertrude; spends time with his girlfriend, Mary; gives private baseball lessons; and teaches at camps alongside fellow Spokanite and former major leaguer Kevin Stocker. This month Wills, 52, began working as an instructor with Sports USA, a nonprofit corporation that recently built a $4.9 million sports complex in the city. He'll teach hitting to kids aged eight and up. "I'm back where I want to be," says Wills, "doing what I want."
Throughout his playing days Wills had to live with the inevitable comparisons with his father, Maury, the Los Angeles Dodgers' All-Star shortstop. Bump twice helped Arizona State reach the College World Series (1972 and '73) and was the sixth pick in the secondary phase of the 1975 draft, by Texas. As a rookie two years later he batted .287, hit nine home runs, drove in 62 runs and stole 28 bases. Though he set the Rangers' single-season stolen base record, with 52 in '78, he would not have another season as good as his first one.
Wills spent the 1983 and '84 seasons in Japan, then gave up playing. He worked as a home security guard in Arlington, Texas, before rejoining the Rangers four years later as a minor league manager. In 10 seasons his best record was 44-26 in '88, and he rose only as far as Class A Charlotte. "Every coach's dream is to get to the majors," he says, "and it didn't develop." During that time Wills was also a spring-training baserunning and infield instructor with the Rangers and the Florida Marlins. Beginning in 1998 he focused on improving the skills of youth players.
Along the way he married and divorced twice, became the father of three daughters (Mauricia, 26, Meagan, 10, and Madeline, 8) and had a falling out with his father over a salacious anecdote in Maury's 1991 tell-all autobiography, On the Run: The Never Dull and Often Shocking Life of Maury Wills. Bump says that he and his father speak occasionally.
September 12, 2004
Bump's impact on baseball may be best measured by what he's done in Spokane--where it all started for him and where he is teaching young ballplayers the correct way to play the game. "I've always kept in touch with the people who are important to me," he says. "It was great to come back and be part of [the kids'] development." --Andrew Lawrence
After a six-year career in the majors, the son of Maury Wills managed in the minors and is now a baseball instructor.