February is a terrible month. The month is a cold, unforgiving time of year deriving its only solace from its brevity and the presumption that you have someone you care about enough to shove enough chocolate in their direction to render them a diabetic so you don’t ponder taking your own life. The famous gangster Al Capone thought the month perfect for allegedly slaughtering a bunch of his rivals, adding to the pantheon of bad crap that happens in February. It also happens to be the time of year when pitchers and catchers report to their various spring training destinations to begin their preparations for the forthcoming baseball season.
Personally, my family and I prefer to celebrate the holiday as it was intended. We sacrifice goats, wear their skin and lash passing females to ensure fertility. Actually, I usually just complain loudly that the greeting card industry/ flower growers lobby invented the holiday in an attempt to force me to feel like I need to justify my feelings for my wife with cheap shit you can buy at CVS while simultaneously counting down (in earnest) to pitchers and catchers reporting to Clearwater Forida. If you are keeping track, pitchers and catchers report on the 19th.
Dead goats and gangsters aside, Valentines day is designed to engender love. If you are reading this, there is a very real possibility that you love baseball and in loving a sport there are always players that find a way to become more than a uniform for us. There are also players that start out as favorites and figure out a way to become hated. My Valentine’s day article focuses on love as it denigrates into hate.
I have always had a soft spot for little pitchers that throw the ball really hard. I suppose it stems from my Yankees fan father telling stories about Ron Guidry. It makes sense that Roger Clemens could throw hard, but little guys don’t seem to have the physiology to throw the ball that hard. I always kind of kept tabs on Billy Wagner, based primarily on my affinity for little guys with big arms and the fact that he switched pitching arms after breaking his pitching arm twice as a youth. When he was an Asrto, I pulled for Wagner when he was not pitching against the Phillies.
The Phillies had been consistently at or below average since their unlikely National league pennant in 1993. Prior to the 2004 season the Phillies actually started to make moves to acquire real baseball players and they had finally moved out of Veterans stadium. The prior season had wrought Jim Thome and the team continued to ascend with the addition of a top flight closer (who replaced Jose Mesa) in the person of Billy Wagner. Wagner was a bit of a loud mouth, but he threw really hard and now he was OUR loud mouth.
Fast forward to the 2005 offseason. Wagner was a free agent after an all star season for the Phillies. He saved thirty nine games and posted an ERA under two. Wagner signed with the Mets. Not only did he sign with the Mets, he talked a bunch of shit on his way out the door. Pat Burrell called Wagner a “rat” for being such an insufferable douchebag. Even his teammates did not like him anymore. He proclaimed that the Phillies didn’t have a chance to compete and he bristled at the mock booing when he failed to hit 100 MPH on the radar gun proving that not only was he an asshole, but he couldn’t take a joke. He followed up his Mets tomfoolery with a stint as a Brave, further cementing his fall from grace.
I suppose that Wagner got his. He watched his former set up man close for the Phillies first world championship since 1980 and had to play for the Mets. Still, it is always hard to actually genuinely like someone only to watch them turn into an asshole.
In summation, go to hell Billy Wagner. Like some sort of jilted lover, I can’t believe I actually liked that guy. Happy Valentine’s day, as long as you’re not a goat.