FDR made sure baseball survived World War II. He made it a priority. Alas, baseball could not survive labor strife. To try to recover from that, baseball looked the other way while certain players like Mark McGuire used PEDs and thrilled us with home runs. I think pitchers were instructed to give him pitches to hit rather than to just pitch around him. Masses of fans paid good money to see those games. Sammy Sosa was in the same category.
I will say this for the baseball of today: it takes better care of the players, especially pitchers, than in previous times. The pitch count is used to protect delicate pitchers' arms. Is it done in the spirit of caring, or is it that pitchers represent a big financial investment? That's a rhetorical question.
Leon Wagner and Albie Pearson were important getting the Los Angeles Angels franchise established in California. The Angels weren't quite like our Twins. Here in Minnesota we got an established team to come here for our inaugural 1961 season. The Senators came from Washington D.C. It was one of the biggest thrills in the history of our state.
Meanwhile out in California, baseball was building its presence, having initially gotten the Dodgers and Giants. The Angels joined the (old Brooklyn) Dodgers in La-La Land. The Angels were a brand new expansion team. In those days, expansion teams in all sports were really expected to pay dues, to lose a lot.
My own recollection of the early Angels is that they didn't seem real exciting. But now that I research a little, they really did have some interesting players. They were fortunate having "Daddy Wags" Wagner, a lefthanded hitting power merchant.
I didn't know it at the time, but this gentleman was half African-American and half Cherokee Indian. He had a journeyman reputation by the end of his career. He would have looked good as a Minnesota Twin. He was a graduate of Tuskegee University. His trademark as a player was his rather distinctive body gesticulations, below the waist, before beginning his powerful swing. His weakness was on the defensive side of the ledger. When he was traded from the Angels, drawing the ire of many fans, complaints were heard that L.A. didn't get enough in return. They got pedestrian pitcher Barry Latman - I remember his baseball card - and a player to be named later who turned out to be Joe Adcock (in his declining days).
Wagner had enjoyed being an Angel and living in Los Angeles. He hit 28 home runs with the 1961 L.A. Angels, that first-year adventure. Baseball was steadily moving to the west because of the practicality of plane travel. "A trip west" used to mean St. Louis or Chicago. Wow! In those old days, California had teams in the Pacific Coast League (e.g. the Oakland Oaks), technically minor league, but it had talent which in many cases was commensurate with big league, legend has it.
Chuck Connors played out there and became an actor. Some of the early Dodgers and Angels got cameos in entertainment productions. I caught Don Drysdale on an old "Donna Reed" Show" just recently on the "Decades" channel.
Wagner himself tapped into this. Following his baseball career, he appeared in John Cassavetes' 1974 film "A Woman Under the Influence." He was also in a movie with the cumbersome name "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings" (1976). I saw the Bingo Long movie at our Morris MN theater. Someone would have to tell me Wagner was in it. At any rate, I found it to be a depressing movie, a typical quality of 1970s cinema - a most cynical decade when we were wringing our hands over how the Viet Nam war turned out.
Oh, regarding Wagner's trade from the Angels for such an apparently minor return, I think the explanation was obvious: Wagner had defensive liabilities. We probably didn't pay enough attention to that in the pre-Bill James days. We just looked at a guy's baseball card and instantly assessed certain stats like home runs, RBIs and batting average. Bill James would steer our thinking in a much more constructive direction. Baseball is a game with many inputs.
Wagner had a quite fine 12-year carer with a .272 average, 211 home runs and 669 RBIs, stats that are quite fine by themselves. "Daddy Wags" played 1352 big league games. He was a day-to-day player for the first time with that inaugural '61 Angels team. He responded with a .280 average and those 28 home runs, along with 79 RBIs in 133 games. And he did even better in 1962! He launched 37 home runs from that restless stance of his. The stat was good for No. 3 in league. He surpassed 100 RBIs and scored 96 runs.
Two All-Star Games were played each year at that time. In the second showcase of '62, Wagner went three-for-four including a two-run homer. He was voted game MVP. Baseball went to one All-Star Game in 1963. Wagner was chosen again, but it was after that game, that he got traded. No one in baseball can escape that specter of being traded.
Wagner adjusted to playing in Cleveland and did quite fine there, especially in 1964. He ended his career as a respected pinch-hitter. He bounced around among various teams, always winning respect, and finally played his last game on October 2, 1969, with San Francisco.
Alcohol and drug abuse haunted this special ballplayer. He suffered financially. After all the talent he had shown, he came to the end of his life in utter obscurity and desolation. He lived in an abandoned electrical shed next to a dumpster in Los Angeles. His deceased body was found in January of 2004. He had died of natural causes. Would more intervention have helped in his life? Who knows, but we can feel joy reflecting upon the baseball energy, talent and power given us by Leon "Daddy Wags" Wagner, RIP. He would have looked great in a Minnesota Twins uniform, standing astride Harmon Killebrew.