Welcome to this new series here on FROM VIRGINIA TO THE SHOW, where we will look at the careers of baseball players who are enshrined in the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. We lead off with Billy Wagner.
Wagner grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, in the small town of Tazewell. He was a natural right-handed pitcher, but had to learn to throw as a lefty after breaking his arm twice in childhood accidents. He parlayed that into a run at Tazewell High school where, in his senior year, he had a 7-1 record and a 1.52 ERA, with 116 strikeouts, in just 46 innings.
Wagner would go on to Ferrum College, where in 1992 he set an NCAA per-nine-innings records with 19 1/3 strikeouts and fewest hits allowed-1.88.
He was a first round draft choice in 1992 by the Houston Astros. In last 1995, he made his major league debut, pitching in only one game late season, and would open the 1996 season at AAA. He won 6 games in 12 starts for AAA, but when his contract was purchased in the Summer of 1996, he was tabbed the team’s new closer by Astros management. He would finish the season with 9 saves in 13 opportunities, and opponents batted .165 against him.
Wagner had his first full major league season in 1997, and took off. He converted 23 of 29 save opportunities that first full season and set a major league record of 14.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
Wagner would go onto play for 14 years, with Houston, Philadelphia, New York Mets, Boston, and Atlanta. He racked up 422 career saves, 2 short of the all-time record for lefties, and is one of only 5 closers in the history of baseball to reach 400 saves. He was a 7-time all-star and was the 1999 NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year.
Wagner’s 225 saves with the Astros are a franchise record, as are his 12.39 strikeouts per nine innings-more than Nolan Ryan! He is also second on the team list with 464 games pitched. He is also 4th on the Mets list with 101 saves.
On June 11, 2003, while with the Astros, Wagner was one of a record 6 pitchers to throw a combined no-hitter. No Astros pitcher has thrown a no-hitter since, and the mark of 6 pitchers to combine to do so has been matched only once.
On June 25, 2010, Wagner closed out a Braves win against the Tigers to reach his milestone 400th save.
Wagner retired after the 2010 season, and stands 5th place on the all-time saves list. He now serves as the baseball coach at a private school in Crozet.
Billy Wagner was elected to the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.