May 4, 1966 – Wagner and Brown Collide on Maris Pop Fly
The Indians started the 1966 campaign red hot, coming into New York for a mid-week series with an 11-1 record. With Sam McDowell, Sonny Siebert, and Luis Tiant in the rotation and hitters like Rocky Colavito, Leon Wagner, and Fred Whitfield, the 1966 Indians were one of the more promising teams since the mid-50s. Luis Tiant threw a four-hit shutout on against the Yankees Tuesday night, setting up a Wednesday evening showdown in the Bronx.
Leon Wagner was one of baseball’s most endearing characters in the 1960s. The muscular, always affable Wagner was the first star of the expansion California Angels. After two All-Star performances some disputes with management, “Big Daddy Wags” was traded to the Indians in 1964.
Both Sonny Siebert and Mel Stottlemyre came out firing. The Tribe recorded only one hit through the first three innings. Likewise, Siebert retired the first eleven Yankees in order.
With two outs in the fourth, Roger Maris popped a fly into short left field. Shortstop Larry Brown raced into the outfield, as Leon Wagner charged in from left field. There was a spectacular head-on collision in left field. Both players lay motionless near the left field foul line for several minutes. Some sources indicate that Brown swallowed his tongue and nearly died in Yankee Stadium. Brown credited trainer Wally Bock with saving his life and carrying him off the field.
Wagner had a concussion and a broken nose, but returned to the field only a few days later. Brown fared far worse. He suffered multiple skull fractures, a broken nose, and broken eye sockets.
“I’ve played college football, and I’ve seen split lips, smashed noses, cut faces, and earlobes torn off. But this was the worst I’ve ever seen.”
Indians third baseman Max Alvis
Brown spent 18 days in the hospital in New York, and did not return to the field for six weeks. He lost 10 pounds while in the hospital, and was out of condition when he returned. His batting average dropped 24 points from the .253 he posted in 1965.
Dick Howser replaced Brown at short and Chuck Hinton replaced Wagner in left field. Siebert and Stottlemeyer continued their pitching duel until Sonny Siebert helped out his own cause, leading off the top of the 8th with a bunt single. Vic Davalillo grounded to short and Siebert was thrown out at second. Davalillo then stole second. Chuck Hinton hit one back at Stottlemyre on the mound. Stottlemyre’s throw to first missed the mark, and Davalillo was able to score on the error.
In the bottom of the 8th, the Yankees would manufacture one run when Lou Clinton hit an RBI single pinch-hitting for Stottlemyre.
In the top of the 9th, Steve Hamilton replaced Stottlemyre on the mound and gave up a leadoff home run to Indians first baseman Fred Whitfield. Hamilton would be pulled in favor of reliever Pedro Ramos in short order, but the damage was done.
Siebert would go on to record the complete game win, and moved the Indians to 13-1 for the season.
1964 turned out to be Wagner’s most productive year with the Tribe. He totalled 100 RBI with 31 home runs, and 14 stolen bases. As productive as he was on offense, Wagner was sometimes comically bad in left field. When asked why he caught foul balls with only his glove hand he once quipped, “I’ve found that I field better if I catch the ball with only one hand. When you use two hands, the other one just gets in the way.”