Wagner would enjoy Manuel's NL clubhouse
Closer needs rally in race to be last member of All-Star team
PHILADELPHIA -- When Billy Wagner joined the Mets in 2004, he had to laugh at the way some of the members of the New York media reacted when he referred to Phillies manager Charlie Manuel as "hillbilly."
"That's just about where we're from," said Wagner, who like Manuel, grew up in rural Virginia. "He never said anything. He used to laugh out there on the field and say, 'You know you're the only one who can call me that.'"
When it came time for Manuel to set his pitching staff for next week's All-Star Game, he didn't include Wagner. But it's safe to say he'd like to have his long-time friend sitting in the National League bullpen next Tuesday in Anaheim.
There's a chance that Wagner could be added to the NL squad as a replacement for Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who was placed on the disabled list Tuesday. But there's also a chance that he could receive a wave of late votes and gain a roster spot courtesy of MLB.com's Final Vote Ballot presented by Sprint.
When the latest results were released on Wednesday, Joey Votto was still leading the contest that will determine who will fill the final spot on the NL's 34-man roster. But Wagner, Padres closer Heath Bell, Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman were still in contention to possibly overtake the Reds first baseman.
Dating back to his early days growing up in Virginia, Wagner has managed to overcome great odds. When he broke his right arm twice, he became a left-hander and displayed the talents that would earn him the title of Virginia's high school player of the year in 1990.
When Virginia Tech's baseball coach told him that he'd give him a scholarship but couldn't guarantee a chance to pitch, Wagner simply went to Ferrum College and set multiple NCAA records.
While pitching for the Mets two years ago, Wagner tore an elbow ligament that required him to undergo Tommy John surgery. Instead of listening to those who said he wouldn't be able to return, the veteran closer instead drew inspiration from the support provided by Manuel and many of his other friends.
"When I blew out, [Manuel] called me before the Mets did," Wagner said. "He called me throughout the winter to see how I was doing. I didn't hear that from the Mets. He called me when I signed with the Braves and said he was happy for me. He's just always been a good friend."
Manuel, who served as Wagner's manager in Philadelphia during the '05 season, hasn't exactly had reason to be happy about the success that the veteran closer has had with the Braves this season.
While converting 17 of his 20 save opportunities this year, Wagner has posted a 1.35 ERA and limited opponents to a .165 batting average and .528 OPS. Each of these marks stand as the best among all NL relievers with at least 15 saves this year.
When Wagner talked to Manuel on Monday afternoon before the start of a three-game series against the Phillies, they didn't talk about the All-Star selection process. Instead, they simply caught up with each other and spent some time talking about the satisfaction the veteran closer felt on June 25, when he became the fifth Major League pitcher to record 400 career saves.
"We're friends way before we were anything else," Wagner said. "We talk more [junk] about playing ball than anything else."
Now in its ninth year, the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by Sprint gives baseball fans around the world the opportunity to select the final player on each All-Star team. Balloting began immediately following Sunday's Major League All-Star Selection Show and continues until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday. The winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly thereafter.
Mobile voting in the U.S. is exclusive to Sprint, Nextel and Boost subscribers. To receive the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by Sprint mobile ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 1122. To vote for a specific player, simply text message your choice to 1122. EXAMPLE: Text "A3" to vote for AL Player 3 or "N3" to vote for NL Player 3. Message and data rates may apply. Mobile voting in Canada is open to all carriers; fans should text their choices to 88555. Standard rates may apply.
The fun doesn't end there, however. Fans, having already decided the starters and this week the final player on each team, once again will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevy via the 2010 All-Star Game MVP Vote sponsored by Sprint on MLB.com during the All-Star Game.
The 81st Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau des Sports, and around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.