The Los Angeles/California/Anaheim Angels have played almost 60 seasons of baseball. As the baseball world is suspended due to circumstances outside its control, it is time to look back at the history of this organization. There have been many talented players to put on the uniform, and we at Crashing the Pearly Gates wish to highlight the best who have ever represented the Angels. Without further ado, here we go!
The Angels acquired Leon Wagner (from the Toronto Maple Leafs, then an independent minor league team) just before their first season began in April of 1961 and he debuted in their third-ever game.
He had 451 hits in 442 games as an Angel, but it was his 91 homeruns that gave Leon Wagner his fame and the young Los Angeles Angels of Avalon (Boulevard, location of Wrigley Field) their credibility. If this list had been compiled after five seasons of Angels baseball he arguably could have been number one among these rankings. Most of his offensive records set int he 1960s still hover in the top 30 but his 37 homers in the 1962 season was a team record that took 15 years to be tied (by Bobby Bonds) and 20 seasons until it was surpassed (by Reggie Jackson). It is still in the club’s Top Ten. His Slugging % of .490 as an Angel still ranks seventh in club rankings and his OPS of .881 and OPS+ of 124 each rank sixth. His Win Probability Added (WPA) of 5.0 in 1962 ranks seventh in a field where only Vlad and Trout hold places on the list above him.
In the second year of the club’s existence, he brought home the headlines with an All-Star Game MVP award. For the deadball early ‘60s, his .291 batting average in 1963 ranked 7th in the American League. He scored 4 runs fewer (243 to 247) than Bobby Knoop in 1,084 fewer Plate Appearances as an Angel. It is a curiosity for the ages to speculate what he might have accomplished with a bat had he played with the Designated Hitter rule, as his knees belied him after years in the field and weakened his power during his later playing years.
Wagner had personality to spare and opened a clothing store in Los Angeles that advertised with the slogan “Get your rags from Daddy Wags”. For all of the pathos played out in the name of Angel relief pitcher Donnie Moore, that Leon Wagner died homeless a few miles from old L.A. Wrigley Field seems a far sadder tragedy. Drugs and drink apparently had their way and a series of bad choices revealed the larger openings in society’s safety net. He was 69 and living behind a piece of plywood near a DWP meter in an alley when he died in 2004.
I did not know the sad story about his demise. He was one of my favorite players on the original team.
I didn’t know that either. Such a shame.
First star player for the Angels. Definitely a worthy addition to the list.
Kind of fitting this posts on Jackie Robinson Day.
Eighty is a massive under-appreciation for what the great Leon Wagner did and meant for the Angels as they got their franchise off the ground, in my opinion.