25 Jan

on the doorstep

In his eighth year on the Hall of Fame ballot, Billy Wagner got 68.1 percent of the vote, a very nice jump from 51 percent a year ago. It takes 75 percent to make Cooperstown. So, the left-hander is close to becoming the first player from Jackson’s Texas League era to make the Hall. Maybe next year. He is certainly deserving. Wagner, who came out of NCAA Division III Ferrum College in Virginia, was a highly regarded Houston Astros prospect when he arrived in Jackson throwing gas in 1995. The diminutive Wagner, nicknamed “Little Country” by Generals broadcaster Bill Walberg, went 2-2 with a 2.57 ERA in 12 starts for the Double-A Gens, fanning 77 batters, walking 36 and hitting four in 70 innings. He was promoted to Triple-A in midseason, made his MLB debut that September, moved to the bullpen in 1996 and took off from there. Wagner retired in 2010 with 422 saves, still No. 6 on the all-time list and more than Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter. A seven-time All-Star, Wagner posted a 2.31 career ERA and averaged almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings, an eye-popping number. He didn’t have much postseason success and never won a ring, but he did help seven teams reach the playoffs. Jackson’s Texas League teams (1975-99) produced a bunch of standout closers — see Jeff Reardon, Randy Myers, Todd Jones, Rick Aguilera — who never came close to making the Hall. Wagner, who has two years left on the BBWAA ballot, should be the one to break through.

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