Most games played in one season, Cleveland Indians – Leon Wagner, 163, 1964
When Leon Wagner was traded from the Los Angeles Angels to the Cleveland Indians during the 1963 winter meetings for pitcher Barry Latman and first baseman Joe Adcock, he was not happy. Wagner was quoted in news sources as saying "I wished I had been traded somewhere in the United States."
Wagner was one of the first hitting heroes for the expansion team Angels, hitting 91 home runs in three seasons for the Angels. His 37 home runs in 1962 was the Angels team record until 1982 when Reggie Jackson hit 39. (The current record is 47 by Troy Glaus in 2000.) Wagner was also the MVP of the second 1962 All-Star Game, going 3 for 4 with a home run. Wagner did not cut a graceful figure in the field and Jim Murray said he looked more like a bowler than a baseball player, especially when on defense.
In 1963, Wagner had one of the most severe home-road splits in major league history. In 73 games at Dodger Stadium, Wagner batted .262 with 2 home runs and 19 RBI. His OPS was .658. On the road, in 76 games, Wagner batted .315 with 24 home runs and 71 RBI and an OPS of .937. Also Wagner was quite outspoken and was in debt to the Angels after a clothing store of his faced financial problems. So Angels GM Fred Haney was eager to get rid of Wagner.
Angels fans, a distinct minority in Los Angeles at the time (the Dodgers outdrew the Angels in 1963 by about 1.7 million fans), were upset at the departure of "Big Daddy Wags." Latman turned out to be a bust with the Angels and Adcock was 36 years old and couldn't play every day. The Angels were not exactly a well-run organization at the time.
However, the Cleveland Indians were not a model organization either. After finishing second in the AL in 1959, five games in back of the White Sox, Cleveland traded its power hitter, Rocky Colavito, to Detroit, for Harvey Kuenn, who hit a lot of singles.
Colavito led Cleveland with 42 homers in 1959. Woody Held led Cleveland in 1960 with 21. The Indians finished in fourth place, 21 games in back of the Yankees. In 1961, Willie Strickland Kirkland led the team with 27 homers and Cleveland finished in fifth 30 ½ games out. The next year Cleveland had a better record (80-82) but dropped to sixth place. Catcher Johnny Romano led in homers with 27. The 1963 squad went 79-83 and finished in fifth place and drew a little over 550,000 fans. Max Alvis led in homers with 22. After leading the AL in homers in 1959, the Indians wouldn't do that again until 1973 with 158, a down year for home runs in baseball.
The 1964 Indians would also go 79-83 under managers Birdie Tebbetts and George Strickland. Strickland managed the first month of the season as Tebbetts recovered from a heart attack.
Although Wagner played in 163 games, he didn't play in all of the games for the Indians that year. Cleveland actually played 164 games, playing to an 8-8 tie against Minnesota on June 23 and another at home against the Yankees on July 12 that ended 2-2. The only game Wagner didn't appear in was the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Yankees on September 22. That was the middle of a stretch of three consecutive doubleheaders played by the Indians.
Wagner led the Indians with 31 home runs and drove in 100, but he clearly wore down as the season went on. In August, Wagner batted .242 with 3 home runs and an OPS of .669. In September, Wagner batted .198 with 2 home runs and an OPS of .514. Wagner also led all AL outfielders with 11 errors. His range factor in left field was 1.59, below the league average of 1.79 and it would decline for the rest of his career. Wagner struck out 121 times, but walked just 56 times.
Daddy Wags would never crack the 30-homer mark in a season, nor play in as many games. In 1968, he was traded to the White Sox for Russ Snyder. At the end of the year, Wagner was sold to the Reds and was with Cincinnati just long enough to have a baseball card made of him in a Reds uniform, but he was released in spring training with arm problems. He signed a minor-league deal with the Giants, his first major league team, and got called up in September and played in 11 games. In his last major league at bat, he struck out against Padres reliever Frank Reberger.
Wagner would try his hand at acting. He appeared in the 1974 John Cassavetes film "A Woman Under the Influence" and also in the 1976 film "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings." But after that, little was heard about Leon Wagner.
On January 5, 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported Wagner's death on January 3. A few weeks later, a followup story about Wagner by Bill Plaschke reported that Wagner had died homeless, his life wrecked by substance abuse.