By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor
Former Philadelphia Phillies closer Billy Wagner hasn't pitched in the MLB since 2010, but the former flame-throwing lefty has kept the game close to him since retiring.
The 45-year-old, who spent 16 years in the majors with the Phillies, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves, has coached baseball at The Miller School of Albemarle, a private school near Charlottesville, Va, for six years now. Wagner has had a chance to coach his oldest son Will, who is a baseball commit to Liberty University, and his second son Jeremy, an opportunity that he says he's cherished. He also talks glowingly about his two other children, his daughter Olivia, who plays varsity basketball despite being in just eighth grade, and his youngest son Kason, who he says is just starting to play baseball and basketball.
Wagner says that his main reason for retiring after 2010, despite being an All-Star that year and reportedly having an offer from the Phillies to play in the 2011 season, was to be with his family. But because of his connection to a few players recently selected to the Hall of Fame and his own candidacy, Wagner's legacy continues to be debated.
The seven-time All-Star got to see his former Astros teammate Craig Biggio inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015 and says he was happy to learn that Jeff Bagwell was voted in with the 2017 class.
"When Jeff was announced to the Hall of Fame, I was very excited for him. Jeff was a great teammate and great player," Wagner said of Bagwell, who he spent eight years playing alongside. "Jeff wasn't a loud leader but he had a stare that got his message across. As a teammate I always wanted to impress him with how I played. I'm just proud to say I had a chance to play with a great leader and teammate."
Wagner's individual Hall of Fame case did not see the type of upswing that Bagwell's has over the past few seasons, as he saw his total dip slightly from 10.5 percent in 2016 to 10.2 percent this year. Wagner isn't surprised that his Hall of Fame case hasn't caught fire.
"My Hall of Fame percentage didn't change very much and I honestly wasn't surprised," Wagner said. "I wasn't a popular closer or player. I didn't have a catchy name like "Mo" (Mariano Rivera), "Hoffy" (Trevor Hoffman) or even "Light's Out Lidge" (Brad Lidge)."
Wagner says he also played with more of a chip on his shoulder than the aforementioned trio, something he doesn't think has helped his case.
"They were very laid back, under control studs. Me, I was an emotions on my sleeve, Type A, never back down guy," Wagner noted. "That has hurt my votes for the Hall of Fame. I'm really not expecting much moving forward with the Hall of Fame voting. I'm expecting to stay around the same percentage or possibly be off the ballot. It's a great and humbling honor to be on the ballot."
There has been a Twitter campaign for voters to more thoroughly examine Wagner's case. Hoffman has been on the cusp of induction for a few seasons now, but Wagner has a lower career ERA, FIP and xFIP and a comparable career WAR. Hoffman does have 601 career saves to Wagner's 422, but Wagner says he didn't get as many chances as Rivera and Hoffman, who are No. 1 and No. 2 in saves all-time.
"A lot of how I'm looked at is based on what I didn't do," Wagner said. "For example, people wonder if I pitched enough innings, had enough saves or won enough championships. For me the saves are important as a team statistic, as I have always said I had a hard time leading the league in saves when I got about half the chances as Hoffman and Rivera did. It's really hard to get 500 or 600 saves when you don't have the opportunity."
While Wagner probably could have pitched a couple more seasons, he's correct in stating that he didn't have as many chances to accumulate saves as Rivera or Hoffman. Both have more saves in their career than Wagner even had save opportunities. He also only pitched in 14 postseason games in his career, which isn't something that most voters will hold against him, but it's something that works in the favor of a player like Rivera.
After two years on the ballot, Wagner has also concluded that he's probably more appreciated by those who were his peers than the baseball writers from across the country who vote on the Hall of Fame.
"I once heard a writer say he wouldn't vote for Hoffman because he pitched on the West Coast, like those games don't count. Writers on the East Coast have a hard time appreciating Hoffman because of where he pitched. Also how many East Coast writers stayed up to watch the West Coast games? It's hard to value guys you aren't around," Wagner opined. "Having players and managers vote would give Hall of Fame voting perspective. Ask Derek Jeter how was it to face Billy Wagner. Whether I'm valued as a closer isn't important, but the position is important because if you ask any manager, they hate to lose a game at the end when then had been winning."
Whether Wagner is ever elected to the Hall of Fame or not, he's a proud man. He's sixth all-time in saves. Unlike many stars from his era, he has never been connected to performance-enhancing drugs. He has four children that he's extremely proud of, and has been married to his wife Sarah for 22 years. And he believes that he pitched at a level that few at his position ever have.
"Do I believe I'm a Hall of Famer? I would love to say yes, but when I say that it sounds like I'm bragging," Wagner said. "It's really not for me to say, but I had a great career that most can't match."