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Remembering "Broadway" Charlie Wagner

The news just a bit before the Labor Day weekend of 2006 that Charlie Wagner had passed brought a touch of sadness to Fenway Nation. A fixture on the Red Sox scene from the 1930s on, he worked for the organization for 70 years. He will be missed.  His death came as a result of  an apparent heart attack. He was 93.

In my narrative and oral history, here is Charlie Wagner, one more time.

Dubbed "Broadway" because of his stylish way of dressing, Charlie Wagner was the second oldest living former Red Sox player, the longest serving.  He was born December 3, 1912 in Reading, Pennsylvania and was but  5 years old when the Red Sox won the 1918 World Series. "Broadway was a spry 91 years old when Boston won it again in 2004.

CHARLIE WAGNER: The Red Sox signed me in 1935, I knew the job wouldn't last. In '35, I was 7-16 at Class-B Charlotte, which I wasn't happy about, but my skipper said I was a prospect.  The next year I was able to win 20 games at Class-B Rocky Mount and 20 at Triple-A Minneapolis in 1937. And the next year, 1938, I made the big club.

Charlie Wagner's major league debut was April 19, 1938. After being used by the Red Sox in both starting and relief duties, the young hurler ad his first full season as a starter in 1941, the  second arm in a pitching rotation that included Dick Newsome, Mickey Harris and Lefty Grove. Finishing with a 12-8 record, three shutouts, Wagner posted an ERA that was the best on the Boston pitching staff and the 3rd best in the American League.

CHARLIE WAGNER: The Boston writers hung the name "Broadway" on me. People said it was because of the stylish way I dressed, still dress, I guess.  But I wasn't a rowdy. My second year we got Ted Williams. We were sitting at our lockers one day, Lefty Grove was next to me, Jimmy Foxx next to him and Ted comes in bellowing: "Okay, who doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, doesn't chase girls and goes to bed early?"
The office of manager Joe Cronin was next to us, and he came  and said "Ted, Wagner's your man." A lot of these guys played with him, but I lived with him, and it was a joy.

We became very good friends. He got up early, and I got up early. We didn't drink or smoke. No nightclubs and all that stuff. We were good roommates. Ted liked company, but he was a loner in a sense. He liked company when he wanted company.

We lived at the same hotel in Boston. It was the Sheraton Hotel on Bay State Road, the nicest hotel. You could hide away there, and nobody would know it.  It had a roof garden. I used to go in there and sit in the corner and watch people come in. Ted could look out the window early morning and see which way the wind would be blowing at Fenway Park. Sometimes, he would get a little angry: "Do you see that wind blowing straight in from right field. You lucky pitchers!"
Ted would fly out and fly back. He liked to do things alone. But he had a friend everywhere in America.  He knew how to handle success, he knew how to handle the test.

Wagner served in the Navy after the 1943 season, one in which he compiled career highs in wins, complete games, innings pitched and strikeouts. He returned to the Red Sox in 1946. His final game was August 8th of that year, and it  ended a six-season Major League career spent totally with the Red Sox, 1938-42, 1946.
But the end of his active playing career was just the beginning of his long tenure with the Red Sox as assistant farm director, scout and spring training special instructor. Still in uniform in spring training, Wagner is driven around the Boston's spring training camp on a golf cart. He looks and listens and offers tips gained through the years to pitchers.  There have been so many players scouted and helped by "Broadway" through all the decades like Reggie Smith.

CHARLIE WAGNER:  Reggie Smith had all the potential, which was apparent, but he had to settle in and take his lumps. He was moved from third base, to second, then the outfield. He finally found his niche. He had the  best arm of his time and as good as any that's ever been in baseball. We tried him at second base and then we put him in right field. Right field is a tough place to play. They always say that you put your least talented player in right field-- but right field is an important place because you got to make the throw to third base. it. He would throw from any place, anywhere on the field and the ball would never hit the ground.

Charlie Wagner seemingly never hit the ground. He had been the man in motion for the Red Sox, a tremendous friend to Ted Williams and so many others.

CHARLIE WAGNER: It's hard for me to talk about him. I talked to him over the phone maybe twice a week for a long time. And the last few weeks, why, his voice started to pepper down and just, unfortunately, he was just tired of being sick. We had a lot of great days together, a lot of them.

The Red Sox celebrated their 100th anniversary on May 27, 2001, with a pre-game ceremony. And there on the field at Fenway was Charlie Wagner - throwing  out the first pitch to Carlton Fisk. 

Then on July 6, 2005 in a special ring ceremony at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Pennsylvania.  Dr. Charles Steinberg, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs for the Red Sox, presented Wagner with his "World Series"ring. 

CHARLIE WAGNER: The ceremony tore me apart. I sure appreciate it. Wearing this ring means so much to me that I can't explain it. Cherish your memories.

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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