Wagner died Thursday at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix from injuries sustained in a 1999 car crash, his wife, Gloria, said Friday.
Among the moves he helped engineer with the Reds were the acquisition of pitcher Tom Seaver from the New York Mets in 1977, the firing of manager Sparky Anderson in 1979 and the trade of outfielder George Foster to the Mets in 1982. Wagner also dealt Seaver back to the Mets after the 1982 season.
"Dick Wagner dedicated his life to the game of baseball," commissioner Bud Selig said. "Baseball has lost another of its true gentlemen."
Born on Oct. 19, 1927, in Central City, Neb., Wagner began his baseball career in 1946, when he left the U.S. Navy and was hired by the Detroit Tigers as general manager of their Thomasville farm team in the Georgia-Florida League. With the Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates, he worked for teams in Flint, Mich., and Lincoln, Neb., and he was selected minor-league executive of the year by The Sporting News in the late 1950s.
After leaving baseball for jobs with the Ice Capades and radio station KSAL in Salinas, Kan., he became general manager of The Forum in Inglewood, Calif.
He returned to baseball in 1964 as promotions director of the St. Louis Cardinals under Bob Howsam, and when Howsam moved to the Reds, Wagner followed him as his deputy in 1967.
Wagner helped build the Big Red Machine into a team that won consecutive World Series titles in 1975 and 1976 and then took over from Howsam as team president in February 1978, a position he held
until he was fired in July 1983.
An opponent of free agency, he allowed many of the Reds stars of the '70s to leave for higher salaries elsewhere. After putting together baseball's best record in the strike-interrupted 1981 season, the Reds wound up with the NL's worst record in 1982. When Marge Schott was a limited partner of the Reds, before she became controlling owner, she hired an airplane to pull banners over Riverfront Stadium urging the team to fire Wagner.
Wagner became the Astros' president and general manager in September 1983 and then resigned after the 1987 season when he lost a power struggle with manager Hal Lanier.
Two months later, he became a special assistant in the commissioner's office and worked closely with AL 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 is his survived by his wife, the former Gloria Larsen; son Randy Wagner of Vancouver, Wash.; daughter Cynthia Weick of Stockton, Calif.; three grandchildren; and sister Kaye Wagner of Tarzana, Calif. A memorial service is scheduled for Oct. 14 in Beatrice, Neb.