#73 - (Billy Wagner)

Despite being a natural righty who taught himself to throw left handed resulting from two childhood broken right arms, reliever Billy Wagner was the hardest throwing left handed pitcher I have ever seen pitch.  He also was only 5’ 11,” but seemed even shorter than that when I was hanging out with him on the field (he was injured in street clothes) at Minute Maid (then Enron field) before game time.  Billy ended his 16 year career with 422 saves, a 2.31 career ERA and 1196 strikeouts.  He was the game’s dominant left handed reliever for almost the entirety of his career with the Houston Astros (1995-2003), Philadelphia Phillies (2004-2005), New York Mets (2006-2009), Boston Red Sox (2009) and Atlanta Braves (2010).  To show how dominant Billy really was, check out some of these seasons.  In 1997, his first full season, he struck out 106 batters in 66 2/3 innings—an average of 14.4 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched.  In 1999, the year he won Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year, he struck out 124 batters in 74 innings and set the major league record with an average of 15 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched.  He also saved more games that year (39) than he allowed hits (35).  In 2003, probably his best statistical year, he had 44 saves, struck out 105 in 86 innings in 78 games and threw 159 pitches over 100 mph.  The pitcher in second place (Bartolo Colon) threw 12.  Billy was a 7 time All-Star (1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010).  He was the 6th pitcher and closer in the Astros last no-hitter against the Yankees on June 11, 2003 (I remember being quite disgusted that day).  Billy ended his final season by striking out the the last 4 batters he faced including the last 3 looking.  He now coaches high school baseball.  Here is his Opening Day memory.

“I think the year was 1997 and we were playing the Braves.  John Hudek was sent in to get the save and got in trouble.  So they brought me in with one out and the bases loaded in the 9th. Kenny Lofton came up to the plate, and hit a line drive to third base. Billy Spiers caught it, and stepped on third for the double play. One pitch; game over!”

Thanks Billy .  See you in two. Richie

 

Billy Wagner (3)

#72 - (Bill Stoneman)

I got to know Bill Stoneman a little when he was the Angels’ GM.  But in his younger days, Bill was the ace of the Montreal Expos pitching staff.  He was selected by the  Expos from the Cubs in the 1968 expansion draft and in his 5th start and the Expos 9th game on April 17, 1969; he threw his and the Expos’ first no hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies in old Connie Mack Stadium.  He threw his second one against the New York Mets in old Jarry Park on October 2, 1972—the first ever no hitter thrown in Canada.  Bill pitched for the Expos from 1969 until 1973 when he suffered an arm injury.  He concluded his playing career with the Angels in 1974.  But from 1969-1972, he was a workhorse and among the league leaders in innings pitched, strikeouts and complete games.  Bill was not a good hitter, with a lifetime batting average of .129 who struck out 212 times in 338 at bats.  After his playing career, he got involved in the Expos front office and became the Angels GM in 1999.  He hired Mike Scioscia as the Angels manager and presided over the 2002 Angels World Championship and subsequent ownership transition from Disney to Arte Moreno.  He stepped down as the Angels GM in 2007.  Here is his Opening Day memory.

1972 was the first ever players strike that cost any time during the season.  I was training with the Expos in West Palm Beach. We broke off with maybe a week to go, or so, before the season started. Everybody went home from spring training because the players went on strike, and I didn’t do a whole bunch until finally the strike was over. We worked out for a couple of days and then flew to St. Louis to open the season.  I’m not sure of the exact date–it was April 15th or 20th, something like that–and I started against Bob Gibson and went nine, won the game and I was the only pitcher in major league baseball to go nine innings on that delayed Opening Day.  That’s probably my most memorable Opening Day.

On that day, Bill pitched a complete game 3-2 victory over Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals.

See you in two. Richie

Bill Stoneman (1)