Billly Wagner didn't make the cut. Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images.
Five votes. Five lousy votes. Billy Wagner fell five stinkin’ votes short of being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the final 2024 vote announced Tuesday.
Wagner was named on 73.8 percent of ballots cast by Baseball Writers Association of America members. It takes 75 percent to get elected.
What does a guy gotta do around here to get into the Hall of Fame? This was Wagner’s ninth year of eligibility. One more year, if he fails to garner 75 percent in 2025, he will drop off the ballot and his Hall of Fame future will fall into the hands of a special election for veterans.
Wagner’s credentials are undeniable, historic and should have been enough to get him across the finish line. He pitched 16 years in the big leagues, his first eight with the Houston Astros (1995-2003) before shorter stints with the Philadelphia Phillies (2004-05), New York Mets (2006-09), Boston Red Sox (2009) and Atlanta Braves (2020).
He may have worn different caps over his career, but in Houston we know that he was first and foremost an Astro. And he belongs in the Hall of Fame next to his Astros teammates Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.
For cryin’ out loud, he averaged 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings, blowing strike three past one-third of all hitters who dared to step into the batter’s box against him. Opposing hitters batted .187 against him, the lowest in history for pitchers who hurled 800-plus innings. He averaged a stingy 5.99 hits per nine innings. He finished in the top 10 for saves in the National League ten times.
Were the baseball writers watching the games and not stuffing their faces with hot dogs?
Wagner’s number that stands out most for me is seven. One measure of a player’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame is how he compared to the best players of his era. Apples to apples. Wagner made the All-Star team seven times. For comparison with his Hall of Fame teammates, Craig Biggio (third ballot inductee) was an All-Star seven times. Jeff Bagwell (elected on seventh try) was named an All-Star four times.
Here is my standout memory of Wagner.
I got lucky and was invited to sit in the front row behind home plate at Minute Maid Park. Billy Wagner was called to pitch the ninth for the Astros. It was something I’ll never forget, the sight and sound and sheer ferocity of his 100 mph fastball.
You could hear Wagner exhale as he unloaded the pitch. The ball appeared to jump and whistle over the short 60-feet, 6-inch distance from the pitcher’s rubber to home plate. When the ball hit the catcher’s mitt, it sounded like a rifle going off – crrraacckkk! A cloud of dust scattered from the catcher’s mitt. The batter stood frozen, his knees buckling at the prospect of having to swing a wooden fly swatter against a cannonball defying the principles of speed and distance.
I remember thinking, how can anybody hit a 100-mile fastball?
And how does Billy Wagner throw a baseball that hard? Heck, I’m bigger than he is!