Wednesday, September 15, 2010

#367 Leon Wagner

#367 Leon Wagner
This is one of the best photos in the set. Though it closely resembles the pose on Carl Warwick's card, it's zoomed closer, with Leon "Daddy Wags" Wagner's glove seemingly opening to engulf the camera lens. Leon himself is looking skyward with a playful and knowing smirk. For my part, I've never seen a glove with webbing quite like that. It's kind of bizarre, and it seems like balls would be in danger of slipping through the openings.

Fun facts about Leon Wagner:

-A native of Chattanooga, TN, Leon grew up in Detroit and attended Tuskegee University in Alabama before signing with the Giants in 1954.

-After hitting over .300 with excellent power at every minor league stop and taking an 18-month military detour, he debuted with San Francisco in June 1958. In just half a season, the 24-year-old hit .317 with 13 home runs.

-With a logjam in the Giants outfield that included Mays, Cepeda, Felipe Alou and Bill White, Wagner was traded to the Cardinals in 1960. Aside from hitting the first-ever home run at Candlestick Park, his short time with the Redbirds was unremarkable. He played only 39 games for St. Louis before joining the Angels in their inaugural season.

-He blossomed into a star for Los Angeles, leading the club in home runs in each of his three seasons there (28, 37, and 26, respectively). His laid-back attitude made him a good fit on the West Coast, and he owned a clothing store and apartment building in the area. The slogan of his store was "Buy your rags at Daddy Wags".

-Leon had a career year in 1962, batting .268 with 96 runs scored, 37 home runs, and 107 RBI. He played in both All-Star Games that summer (he would also be an All-Star the following year), and was MVP of the second Midsummer Classic with a 3-for-4 performance that included a two-run homer. He was also fourth in A.L. MVP voting.

-Traded to Cleveland, he led the team in homers in 1964 and 1965 (31 and 28, respectively). He also was successful on 26 of 30 stolen base attempts in that span, drove in 100 runs in 1964, and batted a career-high .294 in 1965.

-Wagner declined over the next two and one-half seasons and ultimately was traded to the White Sox, who used him primarily as a pinch hitter. He spent the majority of his final three years in baseball (1969-1971) in the minors, with an 11-game curtain call with the 1969 Giants serving as the final major league experience of his career.

-In parts of 12 seasons, Leon hit .272 with 211 home runs and 669 RBI.

-Leon's post-baseball life was equal parts fascinating and tragic. He sold cars in Honolulu and San Francisco for several years, and even dabbled in acting. His notable roles were in 1974's A Woman Under the Influence and 1976's The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings.

-Unfortunately, Leon reportedly struggled with substance abuse and homelessness later in life, eventually fashioning a crude dwelling from a small electrical shed behind a video store in Los Angeles. He died there at age 69 on January 3, 2004. He was reported to have died of natural causes.
#367 Leon Wagner (back)


  1. I've always liked that look with the cut-out uniform over the plastic warm-up jacket.

  2. Doug - It certainly looks better than the sleeved jersey over the jacket.

  3. Such a sad, tragic ending to his life...Kevin, that 1960 Giants lineup must have given the NL hurlers the "willies"--w/Big Mac,Say Hey, and Kirkland!

  4. Brox - The 1960 Giants: More Willie for your dollar.