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FOR HIRE: Two proven power hitters, one right-handed and one left, who have each hit more than 200 big-league home runs. Available to help contenders down the stretch. Contact L. Wagner or R. Stuart, c/o Phoenix Giants, Phoenix, Ariz. 85008.
Those two frenetic advertisements for themselves, Leon Wagner and Dick Stuart, are alive, well and swinging in the Pacific Coast League. Even though both are in their mid-30s they are still the Daddy Wags and Dr. Strangeglove of old, free swingers at the plate, free formists on defense and free spirits just about any time.
Two hundred homers add up to a tidy sum for any big-league career. It is an especially startling total for both Wagner and Stuart, since neither completed 10 years in the majors and both were such raggedy fielders during their turns in places like Pittsburgh and Boston, Los Angeles and Cleveland that they were often platooned.
Together they give the Phoenix Giants a pair of sluggers whose accomplishments are not matched by anyone on 14 big-league rosters. Only the Cubs, with Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams, have more 200-home-run hitters than the Triple A Phoenix team. There are at present only 16 players in the majors who have hit that many homers, and that list glistens with the most authentic names—Aaron, Howard, Kaline, Killebrew, Mays and Robinson.
That Stuart led the National League in errors for more seasons than any first baseman in history and that Wagner's career fielding percentage is only a shade higher than that of the 1945 Browns' one-armed outfielder, Pete Gray, tells more about why they are no longer in the majors than do their respective ages of 36 and 35 years. Managers long ago wearied of the defensive weaknesses that earned Stuart and Wagner the nicknames Stone Fingers and The Butcher. They are both hitting as ever, though. Wagner is averaging .288 and Stuart has taken over the team lead in homers, after playing only two months.
Although both men were given unconditional releases this spring—Stuart by the Angels and Wagner by the Reds—they are not two old hands illogically gasping their way to oblivion instead of retiring gracefully. There are four major league pennant races this season, where there used to be two, and it appears that at least two of them will be close until the end. When the 25-man roster limit is lifted on Sept. 1 pinch hitters with Stuart's or Wagner's power will become valuable. To Wagner, who needs just 20 more days in the majors to qualify as a 10-year man in the players' pension plan, a hitch with a contender in September could mean $60 extra a month when he is 50 years old. Stuart is still a season away from 10-year status, but he hopes a shot at the majors this fall will earn him a job in the big leagues next year.
"I'm in semiretirement now," says Wagner. "I have so much confidence in my moneymaking ability that I blew the $34,000 salary I had in Chicago easier than most guys would give up $10,000. I'd like to go out as an example to those guys who flip out of their minds when they're dropped—the guys who can't face society when their careers are all over."
Pretty somber stuff from Daddy Wags, but he claims it is genuinely him. "I don't want to be made out as some dumb, black ballplayer just because I've got a sense of humor," he says. There is not much chance of that. He grosses more than $3,000 a month from his salary at Phoenix and income from real estate.
Besides, as he sees it, his earning potential is largely untapped. Wagner figures his chances of returning to the majors are 70 to 30 in his favor, he has a $27,000 offer to play in Japan next year and he has his face. "I made a couple of shows for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. once and they wanted me to stay in acting," he says. "They loved my high cheekbones; I'm about half Indian.