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Phillies bringing back Billy Wagner would not have been a wise decision



So by now you’ve probably heard the news that the Phillies contacted Billy Wagner just prior to the signing of new closer Jonathan Papelbon to ask whether he was interested in pitching again in the majors leagues.

If anyone says they weren’t surprised here, you don’t get phased easily, or you know something I don’t.

At age 40, Wagner let it be known to the Phillies that he is happily retired in Virginia coaching for a JV baseball team. For a player like Wagner, who is currently fifth all-time in baseball history with 422 saves and a bank account of close to $100 million dollars, who could blame him for wanting to do his own thing?

It’s not like he’s been gone for five years. Wagner retired with the Braves in 2010. Whether he would come back in the role of a closer, left-handed specialist, or setup man for Papelbon, chances are Billy Wagner can still get batters out in the major leagues.

But truth be told, the Phillies should be glad Wagner wants to stay home, because leaving well enough alone here isn’t exactly a bad thing. Although Wagner has been more often than not labelled a good guy as opposed to a clubhouse cancer, this is more of an issue of intangibles than overall numbers.Billy Wagner never 'got' Philly. Photo: Getty

Billy Wagner never ‘got’ Philly. At first, the fans loved him. But Wagner never comprehended the fact that the fans were (and this was more the exception than the rule) only booing the failure of one of his blazing fastballs that failed to hit the century mark on the radar gun and not him personally.

To be fair, it seems this current Phillies team truly needs someone to give the a kick in the you-know-what at times, but someone like Wagner probably isn’t the one to do it. Especially since (unlike Papelbon), he hasn’t won anything at the major league level. 

Just look how Wagner acted upon his departure from Houston in 2003 as well as Philadelphia in 2005. Prior to his trade to the Phillies, Wagner ripped Astros’ management for ‘failing’ to put a winning team on the field. Oddly enough, the Astros fared better post-Wagner and advanced to the NLCS in 2004 as well as 2005 en route to the World Series.

And let’s face it: Wagner had a little something to do with the latter.

If you don’t remember, I’ll give you two words to refresh your memory.

Craig Biggio

Now do you remember? Not only did Wagner cough up that gopher ball that had Harry Kalas, Larry Andersen, and the entire Delaware Valley beside themselves, but he blew the game the night before, too! Wagner had a total of three losses in two years with the Phillies, and two of them occurred on back to back nights. A few weeks later, the Phillies lost the Wild Card to Houston by one game. Here comes Iguchi!!!  Photo: thefightins.com

Then after he left Philadelphia, Wagner had the audacity to blast his old Phillies teammates.  To be fair, this was post-2007, when there were several Phillies who needed to be called out for their shoddy play when it mattered most. However, as extremely talented as Wagner was, did you ever get the impression that his seemingly self-righteous attitude actually could have been part of the problem and not the solution?

Fast forward to Wagner’s time in New York, when Wagner’s lone post season with the Mets was a complete and utter disaster. Then there’s the classic final game of the Phillies-Mets series in late August 2007, when Wagner couldn’t shut down the Phightins in that memorable Thursday afternoon game in the ninth inning. You don’t think it was huge? Comcast SportsNet considers it a classic, and many others would happen to agree. Moreover, the Phils went on to win the NL East by one game.

See a pattern here? And oh yeah, the Phillies won the World Series after Wagner left town, too.

Bottom Line: I don’t doubt that Billy Wagner can still pitch. After all, he is just one year removed from his best overall season in the majors. In saying that, he is a symbol of those Phillies teams from the mid-2000’s who had the talent, but didn’t have what it took to win. Bringing him back would be taking a step back.

Which is exactly what the Phillies have been doing the last three seasons.

In the meantime, Keep On Phightin'!


Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Article and homepage: Getty