May 13, 1934|
|Died: January 3, 2004
Los Angeles, California
|June 22, 1958, for the San Francisco Giants|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 2, 1969, for the San Francisco Giants|
|Runs batted in||669|
|Career highlights and awards|
Leon Lamar Wagner (May 13, 1934 – January 3, 2004) was an American Major League Baseball (MLB) left fielder who played with the San Francisco Giants (1958–59, 1969), St. Louis Cardinals (1960), Los Angeles Angels (1961–63), Cleveland Indians (1964–68) and Chicago White Sox (1968). He batted left-handed and threw right-handed.
Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he graduated from Tuskegee University. He was affectionately known as "Daddy Wags" during his playing days. This was due to his distinctive left-handed batting style and his notable and unique body gesticulations, primarily below the waist, before going into his devastating stride. His outfield play did not match his stellar hitting. He was at least briefly in the clothing business, advertising his venture as "Get your glad rags from "Daddy Wags". He was also known as "Cheeky" for his high cheekbones (being of half Native American and half African-American descent).
He broke into the big leagues at age 24 for the San Francisco Giants in their first year in San Francisco on June 22, 1958. A solid line-drive hitter and colorful player, he compiled a .307 batting average with 13 home runs in 74 games as a rookie. Competing for playing time against a congested Giant outfield that included Willie Mays, Felipe Alou, Orlando Cepeda and Bill White, all of whom were superior fielders, he was traded to the Cardinals after the 1959 season.
He was relegated to a reserve role for St. Louis in 39 games and hit four home runs, one of them notable as the first home run ever hit in Candlestick Park on April 12, 1960, for the only Cardinal run in a 3–1 loss to his former team.
Traded to the expansion Angels in 1961 (their first season), Wagner was a regular for the first time. He took advantage of the opportunity, hitting .280 with 28 home runs and 79 RBI in 133 games. His most productive season came in 1962, when he blasted 37 homers (third highest in the American League) and collected 107 RBI, 96 runs, 164 hits and 21 doubles, all career highs, while batting .268. Wagner played in both All-Star Games that season (two All-Star Games were held from 1959 through 1962),) and in the second contest, he went 3-for-4 including a two-run home run. Wagner was voted the second All-Star game's most valuable player and became the first AL player to receive the All-Star Game MVP Award that was first introduced that year and for both games. The first true slugger in Angel history, he hit 91 home runs with 276 RBI in 442 games for them. But in 1963, after his second All-Star selection, he was sent to the Cleveland Indians in the same trade that brought slugging first baseman Joe Adcock to the Angels. Wagner had come to enjoy playing and living in Los Angeles a lot, and resented the Angels for trading him, some of those close to him say for the rest of his life.
As a Cleveland left fielder, Wagner hit 97 home runs from 1964 to 1967. His best year with the Indians was 1964, when he hit 31 homers with 100 RBI and 94 runs. In 1965 he hit .294 with 28 homers. He also stole 26 bases in 30 attempts in 1964-65. A detailed profile of Wagner's highly productive tour of duty in Cleveland is included in the book, "Portrait of a Franchise: An Intimate Look at Cleveland Indians Baseball During the Rockin' Sixties" by Doug Kurkul.
He ended his career as a respected pinch-hitter, leading the AL in 1968 with 46 appearances in that role with the Indians and the Chicago White Sox. Purchased by the Cincinnati Reds in 1968, he returned to the White Sox on April 5, 1969 only to be released by them the same day. He then signed as a free agent with his first major league team, the Giants, making his final appearance in San Francisco on October 2, 1969.
After his playing career ended, Wagner appeared in small acting roles, prominently in John Cassavetes' 1974 film A Woman Under the Influence and as a member of a Depression-era barnstorming team in The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976). He died of natural causes on January 3, 2004.
Although Wagner debuted with the Giants in 1958 and ended his career with them eleven years later, of the 1152 games in which he played only 172 were as a Giant. He was depicted on a 1969 Topps baseball card as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, but never played for them. Leon Schwab, a drugstore owner in Hollywood, on hearing that the Angels had traded him to the Indians for Joe Adcock and pitcher Barry Latman (Schwab's son-in-law) asked, "Is THAT all they got for Wagner?" 
Wagner struggled with alcohol/drug abuse and suffered financially after his baseball career ended. He lived in an abandoned electrical shed next to a dumpster in Los Angeles, which is where his lifeless body was found in January 2004. The coroner determined that he had died of natural causes.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference
- American Heroes
- Leon Wagner at the Internet Movie Database