On Tuesday, Major League Baseball made its Hall of Fame announcements. One of the handful of former players on the short list for induction included Astros closer Billy Wagner, who was on the ballot for the eighth time. Players need to reach the 75 percent or better mark in Hall of Fame voting to be inducted.
Wagner received 68.1 percent, falling short, but still making a sizable leap from where he had been on previous ballots. Only standout third baseman Scott Rolen will join Braves slugger Fred McGriff in the Hall this year — McGriff was voted in by the veteran's committee.
In baseball's modern era, the closer has gotten more respect than in did in the days when starters were expected to go eight or nine innings. Among the best closers of all time, Wagner certainly made his mark along with current Hall members Dennis Eckersley, Trever Hoffman and Mariano Rivera.
In addition to being one of the most intimidating pitchers ever with a consistent 100-mile-per-hour fastball, the numbers don't lie. Among closers already inducted, he is first in strikeouts per nine-innings pitched (11.92) and opponent batting average (1.87); second in opponent OPS (.558), WHIP (0.997) and ERA (2.31); and fourth on the all-time saves list with 422.
If there was any knock on Wagner, it was that he didn't have the playoff resume of someone like Rivera (who did?) and that his career in baseball wasn't quite as long as others. He didn't get to 600 saves like Rivera and Hoffman, for example, though he spent 16 years in the big leagues. Still, his absolute dominance during his time on the mound should be enough to get him in.
The majority of Wagner's time was spent in Houston where he played from 1995 to 2003. He also played with the Phillies, Mets, Red Sox and Braves. He was an all star seven times and won Reliever of the Year in 1999 when he amassed 124 strikeouts over seventy-two-and-two-thirds innings pitched, racking up 39 saves with an ERA of 1.57. He is the rare reliever to have 100 strikeouts in multiple seasons, doing it four times.
Considering how close Wagner got this time, it would not be a surprise to see him get the needed votes to reach 75 percent in 2024. Players can remain on the ballot for 10 years before being removed and, ultimately, placed in the hands of the veteran's committee. Wagner would be the third Astro from that era to go with Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell to make it to Cooperstown...and he certainly deserves it.
Jeff Balke covers the Astros and Rockets weekly for the Houston Press and co-hosts the Bleav in Astros podcast with former third baseman and current Astros broadcaster Geoff Blum. Follow him on Twitter.