Born: July 2, 1915
Died: April 19, 1979
Harold Edward Wagner was born July 2, 1915 in East Riverton and grew up in Riverside Township. Hal was an excellent student and accomplishment. He was the star catcher on the Riverton High baseball team and was recruited by Jack Coombs, the old Philadelphia A’s pitcher, who was the head coach at Duke.
Duke had quite a collection of baseball players in the mid-30s, including football star Ace Parker, a great multisport athlete and Eric Tipton. Tipton was a first-rate running back for the Blue Devils and went on to be a hard-hitting outfielder for the Reds during the war years. Coombs and Connie Mack established a pipeline of talent during the 1930s; the A’s owner-manager liked to bring players right from college to the majors. Hal turned out to be the best of the bunch. He signed with Philadelphia after leading Duke to the Southern Conference championship in 1937.
After graduating in the spring of 1937, Hal came back north and signed a contract with his hometown team, the Athletics. He spent the better part of three seasons in the minors—including 1939 with the Newark Bears—and finally made the A’s as a backup to All-Star Frankie Hayes in 1940. Hal was a natural leader. He had his game face on the moment he stepped into the clubhouse and wasn’t afraid to call out teammates whom he felt weren’t hustling.
In 1942, Connie Mack traded Hayes to the St. Louis Browns and Hal was inserted into the starting lineup. He responded by hitting .270 in the first half—enough to earn him a spot on the AL All-Star team alongside Birdie Tebbetts and Buddy Rosar (as a replacement for injured Bill Dickey). Hal faded badly in the second half and ended up at .236.
Hal hung on to the starting job in 1943, and worked in a defense plant near his home. He had a better season behind the plate than at it, and actually garnered a handful of MVP votes. The following season, the A’s dealt him to the Red Sox. He played through August and hit .332 before being called to duty in the Navy. Tex Hughson and Bobby Doerr also went into the service that summer, ruining the team’s shot at a pennant.
Hal’s first season back in a big-league uniform found him as Boston’s everyday catcher. He knocked in 52 runs and handled the Red Sox staff beautifully as they surged to their first pennant since World War I. Hal made his second All-Star team that July and caught the final three innings of a 12–0 AL victory.
Hal went 0–for–13 in the 1946 World Series against the Cardinals, which Boston lost 4 games to 3. In Game 7, Hal left the game in the 8th inning on a double-switch. Roy Partee was behind the plate when Enos Slaughter made his famous dash around the bases to score the deciding run.
The Red Sox traded Hal to the Tigers for Birdie Tebbetts the following year, and the Tigers waived him at the end of the 1947 season. The A’s signed Hal but he didn’t see much action in Philadelphia. In 1949, he was farmed out to Toronto of the International League. He finished his career at age 34 with Dallas of the Texas League in 1950.
Hal moved back to Riverside after his playing days. He worked in sales for a construction materials company and passed away at 63 in 1979.