For nine years now, one of the best players to ever put on a Houston Astros uniform, Billy Wagner, has been forced to sit and wait for his call to Cooperstown. He has seen his career picked apart ad nauseam by critics, pushed by supporters, and has been forced to hope the writers can figure it out once the Hall of Fame ballots are cast.
The end result: everyone agrees that he is one of the best relievers to ever play the game, a majority agree that he should be a Hall of Famer, but he has still fallen short each and every year of induction into Cooperstown. So what gives?
BBWAA bias against relievers has cost Wagner his rightful spot
Other than Mariano Rivera, who may be the best reliever of all time and who also played in the New York market, Hall of Fame voters sure don't seem to be fond of inducting relief pitchers. Wagner's case is as strong as anybody's: 422 career saves, for those that care about such counting stats, a 16-year career with a 2.31 ERA, a seven-time All-Star, and all the strikeout numbers and peripherals that get those into advanced metrics all jazzed up.
None of it has been enough.
With the announcement of the 2024 Hall of Fame class imminent, Wagner's fate is going to come down to the wire. He is currently hovering just above the 75% threshold on the publicly revealed ballots so far, with the stingy minority of private voters yet to reveal themselves. Like Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, and other relievers before, Wagner has been left sitting on the ballot waiting for voters to figure out that he is worthy, if that ever is going to happen. Smith famously had to wait until the Today's Game Committee opted to let him in.
Wagner's situation is another example of why Hall of Fame voting is broken as it stands. The committees certainly help, but they often don't take action unless something really got screwed up or if a guy is no longer alive. Big markets matter more than small markets, players that played in the '90s all did steroids, DHs need not apply, and relievers should have learned how to be starters. For a significant minority of voters, the Hall of Fame should be as small as his humanly possible, no matter how little sense their votes themselves make.
The worst part is that none of this is Wagner's fault. He went out and did his job -- which everyone agrees is supremely important EXCEPT when it comes to Cooperstown -- as good or better than anybody in baseball history, and he did so for a long time. Now, fans just have to wait and see if Wagner can just barely squeak in on his ninth ballot or if he will have to go to a 10th and final ballot next year and do this all over again.