Markusen: The sad saga of Leon Wagner

From SABR member Bruce Markusen at The Hardball Times on March 1, 2013:

Throughout Black History Month, we celebrate the success stories among African Americans. We find plenty of those in our great game, from the late Buck O’Neil, who was perhaps the game’s best black ambassador, to the wonderful Jim “Mudcat” Grant, who keeps spreading the positive word today, to the multitalented Billy Sample, who is now reinventing himself as an actor.

Then there are the stories of a more mixed variety. I wouldn’t call them tales of outright failure, but they are stories that begin with success before resulting in misfortune, bad luck or tragedy. One of those tragic stories involved the late Leon Wagner.

Wagner is a name not well-remembered today, unless you old enough to have seen baseball in the 1960s. But those who did follow the game at that time will never forget Wagner. He was one of those guys who could not pass through the major leagues without leaving an imprint. With his high cheekbones, the rhythmic wiggling of his lower body at the plate, and his thunderous swing, Wagner became a memorable fan favorite.

His career began in unsettled fashion. Originally signing with the New York Giants, Wagner saw his career interrupted by a stint in the military. He played on an Army team that included another future major league slugger in Willie Kirkland and a future music star in Charley Pride.

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Originally published: March 1, 2013. Last Updated: March 1, 2013.