CINCINNATI -- Former Reds executive Dick Wagner, who played a part in the building and dismantling of the championship "Big Red Machine" clubs, died at the age of 78.
Wagner joined the Reds in 1967 as an assistant general manager and was the club's president and general manager in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He passed away on Thursday at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix from injuries stemming from a 1999 car crash, his wife, Gloria, said on Friday.
"Dick Wagner dedicated his life to the game of baseball," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement released on Friday evening. "He played an integral role with the Cincinnati Reds during the heyday of the 'Big Red Machine', serving as general manager and later president of the club during the late-1970s and early '80s. After a term as the president of the Houston Astros in the early '90s, at my request, he oversaw our New York offices and helped build our organization to what it is today.
"All of us in baseball will miss him. My sympathies and condolences go out to his wife, Gloria, and to his family and friends. Baseball has lost another of its true gentlemen."
The Reds won consecutive World Series championships in 1975-76 with Wagner and general manager Bob Howsam as the architects. When Howsam stepped aside following the 1977 season, Wagner assumed control of the Reds' baseball operations.
An opponent of the free agent movement, Wagner tried to stem the rising tide of expensive player salaries and was part of one of the more difficult eras in the club's history. Big Red Machine stalwarts Pete Rose, George Foster and Don Gullett left the club and popular manager Sparky Anderson was dismissed.
Following his departure from Cincinnati in July 1983, Wagner was Astros general manager from 1986-87. Later, he became a special assistant in the commissioner's office and worked closely with American League president Bobby Brown. In February 1993, five months after Selig led the group of owners that forced Commissioner Fay Vincent to resign, Selig hired Wagner to run the staff in New York. Wagner held the position until January 1994.
Wagner's influence on the Reds is still felt any time a fan listens to a game on the radio. That's because he hired a then-unknown broadcaster from Virginia named Marty Brennaman to call games in 1974. Brennaman is still going strong for WLW AM but recalled it wasn't always a smooth partnership with Wagner.
"Our relationship was very contentious," he said. "He had an idea of how he wanted the broadcast to be, and I had my own idea of what I wanted. But of the 210 applicants in 1974, he hired me, and he also hired Al Michaels. He had a pretty good idea of the kinds of guys he thought could be successful.
"He and I resolved our differences in the years after he left the organization. No matter how at odds we were, I have great respect for him."
When Brennaman was chosen for the Ford Frick Award in 2000, he asked Wagner to be there for his induction to the Baseball of Fame.
"He said 'You're one of the three best baseball broadcasters I ever heard'," Brennaman remembered. "We were at each other's throats a lot but for him to say that, it was as big a compliment anyone has ever given me. He was not one to offer compliments too often."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Information from the Associated Press contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.