As one of the most dominant closers of his generation, Billy Wagner’s Hall of Fame candidacy could come down to the wire. After eight years on the ballot, Wagner saw his chances of reaching the National Baseball Hall of Fame increase exponentially this week when his name appeared on 68.1 percent of the ballots in voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. With two more years to get the votes needed to reach 75 percent, Wagner has gained enough momentum that he should at least come close next year.
A first-round Draft pick out of Ferrum College in 1993, Wagner came up through the Astros’ system as a starting pitcher before making the transition to reliever after getting called up to Houston in 1995. He saved a club-record 225 games in his nine years with Houston, making three All-Star teams and finishing fourth for the 1999 National League Cy Young Award. Wagner went on to save another 197 games for the Phillies, Mets, Red Sox and Braves and became an All-Star four more times. He finished two saves shy of John Franco’s record for saves by a lefty.
Wagner’s support has increased from 10.5 percent in 2016 to 10.2 percent in ’17, 11.1 percent in ’18, 16.7 percent in ’19, 31.7 percent in ’20 and 46.4 percent in ’21. His Hall of Fame case will now be decided by the Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee, which considers players whose primary contribution to the game came since 1980. Its next scheduled vote is in the fall of 2025 (’26 class).
With an explosive 100 mph fastball generated from a 5-foot-10 frame, Wagner saved 422 games – sixth most all-time – and posted a career 2.31 ERA while being named to seven All-Star teams. His 11.92 strikeouts per nine innings and .187 opponents’ batting average are the best career totals of any pitcher in AL/NL history with at least 900 innings.
As Wagner continues to walk the high wire of his Hall of Fame candidacy, it’s only fitting that his journey could come down to the end. With two more years to get the votes needed to reach 75 percent, Wagner has gained enough momentum that he should at least come close next year.