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How Maury Wills’ spikes wound up in a Las Vegas casino

He could steal you blind. But Maury Wills also would give you the shirt off his back.

Brady Exber, who is to amateur golf in Las Vegas what Wills was to stealing bases in Los Angeles, has a faded photograph to prove it. It shows the two at Dodger Stadium. Both are wearing uniforms that say WILLS on the back above his familiar No. 30.

The generosity of the former Dodgers captain, who was 89 when he died Monday in Arizona, didn’t stop with the jersey. As a token of his friendship with the Exber family, Wills also gave Brady’s dad, Mel, a pair of shoes he wore in 1962.

These were no ordinary wingtips. Instead of on the tips, the wings were in the soles.

They were the spikes Wills wore when he swiped 104 bases to break Ty Cobb’s modern-day record of 95 that had stood since Woodrow Wilson was president.

Wills’ fleet footwear was bronzed and put on display at the old downtown Las Vegas Club that Mel Exber founded. In its later years, the smoky hotel-casino that no longer stands was fitted with a facade patterned on Ebbets Field, the former home of the Dodgers in Brooklyn.

After Wills came to Las Vegas for the elder Exber’s funeral in 2002, Brady Exber returned the cleats to the man who made history after lacing them up.

“Go, go go!” cheered Dodgers fans before Wills went, went, went. He was thrown out 13 times in 117 steal attempts in 1962 when the team moved into Dodger Stadium from the Los Angeles Coliseum.

“When he was with the Dodgers, I’d spend half the summer at his house,” Exber said in recalling his formative years. “He’d take me out to the park early and I’d shag balls. I called him Uncle Maury.”

Most of Wills’ records were surpassed by Lou Brock, Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson and the next generation of base burglars he inspired. But Wills was so fast — and so famous — he could outrun an airplane, Exber said.

He recalled one early fall day when the shortstop was running late in dropping him at the airport so he could return to Las Vegas for the first day of school. A security guard recognized Wills and said he could leave his car at the curbside no-loading zone while he escorted the youngster to the gate.

When they arrived, the Western Airlines jet had started to pull away from the gate. Wills broke for the counter as if it were second base to plead with the agent, who also recognized him.

The plane bound for the desert backed up to the gate.

“That’s how strong Maury Wills was in LA,” Exber said. “He could stop airplanes from taking off.”

Around the horn

In an attempt to set the record straight — or at least put it in chronological order — here’s a list of Las Vegas’ other professional sports team champions (but not major league by definition) before the Aces became the latest one in winning the WNBA title, shutting down the Strip and partying as Prince did in 1999:

— Las Vegas Wranglers (1949): They were the first, winning baseball’s Class C Sunset League title in 1949 with an 88-38 record.

— Las Vegas Stars (1986, 1988): They were the best over the long haul (142 and 140 games, respectively, plus playoffs) en route to winning Pacific Coast League championships.

— Las Vegas Silver Streaks (1988): They were the shortest (or close to it) in capturing the crown in the World Basketball League for players no taller than 6 feet, 5 inches.

— Las Vegas Dustdevils (1994): They were the most local, winning a Continental Indoor Soccer League championship with six former UNLV Rebels and an assistant coach from Las Vegas.

— Las Vegas Locomotives (2009, 2010): They were the most dominant, appearing in three straight United Football League title tilts and were headed for a fourth when the mini-football league folded in a maxi way.

0:01

Forgotten golf fact of the week, posted by retired Associated Press sports columnist Tim Dahlberg of Las Vegas under a Twitter photo of Jack Nicklaus and a wild-eyed guy handing him a dimpled ball and putter.

“That’s Angelo (Argea), Jack’s longtime caddie. At the 1970 Sahara Invitational he partied a bit too much in Las Vegas the night before and didn’t show up at the course for the opening round. Jack not only had no caddie but no clubs.

“He borrowed a set from the pro shop and still shot 74.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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