Three degrees of separation: Cobb to White to Vanni to Wills
In 1962, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills was the most exciting player in baseball, stealing 104 bases, and leading his team to the National League playoffs.
Wills led the National League with 10 triples, won a Gold Glove, and was awarded the National Leagues Most Valuable Player award that year, beating out the great Willie Mays by seven points.
To put this gaudy stolen base sum in perspective, Wills’ swipes in 1962 were more than the total of any other team in the major leagues that year. The 104 thefts broke the great Ty Cobbs major league record of 96 stolen bases, set in 1915.
And this relates to Seattle…how?
Jo Jo White, a native of Red Oak, GA., and a Detroit Tiger as a big leaguer, learned the tricks of the base-stealing trade from another Georgia native and Detroit Tiger, Roystons Ty Cobb.
White came to Seattle from Detroit as part of the Fred Hutchinson deal after the 1938 season in what was then the biggest trade in Seattle pro sports history. On Dec. 12, 1938, the Rainiers sent Hutchinson to the Tigers for Ed Selway (minors), George Archie, Tony Piet, Jo Jo White and cash.
While Hutchinson went on to pitch 10 seasons with the Tigers (won 95 games, lost 71), White became a key cog in the Rainiers’ Pacific Coast League pennant winning trifecta of 1939 to 1941.
White, who played with the Rainiers from 1939 through 1942, and again from 1946 through 1948, became an ignitor for the club, spraying line drives to all fields and commandeering the base paths with skilled abandon. White’s best statistical season with the Rainiers came in 1942, when he hit .297 (175 hits) with 30 doubles and 69 RBIs. He had a high of 47 stolen bases in 1939, leading the PCL that year, and 35 in 1940.
Whites base-stealing protege during the Rainiers’ championship years was a young Edo Vanni, only two years removed from Seattles Queen Anne High School (Vanni went on to play 15 seasons at the minor- league level, including 1938 through 1941, 1946, part of 1947, part of 1948 and part of 1950 with the Rainiers).
Fast forward to 1957.
Seattle Rainiers coach Edo Vanni, working for legendary PCL manager Lefty ODoul, pays forward the base-stealing tricks of the trade hed learned from White nearly 20 years earlier to his protege, 25-year old Rainiers shortstop Maury Wills.
Three degrees of separation: Cobb to White to Vanni to Wills.
Lou Brock shattered Wills’ record 104 steals with 118 swipes in 1974. Ricky Henderson stole 130 bases in 1982.
Wills played for the Rainiers in 1957, stealing 21 bases in 147 games.
Many of the historic images published on Sportspress Northwest are provided by resident Northwest sports history aficionado, David Eskenazi, who writes “The Wayback Machine” every Tuesday. Check out David’s “Wayback Machine Archive”. David can be reached at (206) 441-1900, or at the following e-mail
(Wayback Machine is published every Tuesday as part of Sportspress Northwests package of home-page features collectively titled, The Rotation.)