Elbow surgery may force Wagner to retire

If Wagner (seen here in 2006) has made his last trip to the mound, he would end his career with 385 saves, sixth most in Major League history, second among left-handers.

For a man whose job it is to put fear into the hearts of Major League hitters– a job he's done successfully for 12 seasons– tears coming down the face of Billy Wagner at a press conference are a rare thing. But yesterday, as the New York Mets relief pitcher and Crozet resident announced he would undergo surgery on his left elbow that may end his career, Wagner just couldn't contain himself.

"Will, he was upset," Wagner said, speaking of his 10-year-old son as his eyes welled up. "He's not ready for it to be over."

Specifically, Wagner will have what's most commonly known as "Tommy John surgery." Named for the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher on whom it was first successfully performed, the procedure involves replacing a tendon in the elbow with tendon tissue from elsewhere in the body, usually the forearm, hamstring, knee or foot. While the surgery has saved the career of many a major league pitcher, the vast majority of them were relatively young and could more completely recover. Given the long rehabilitation process and the fact that he will be 38 on Opening Day 2010, Wagner's future as a major leaguer is very much in question.

If Wagner has played his last game, he ends with stats that might qualify him for the Baseball Hall of Fame. He has 365 career saves, sixth-most all-time and ahead of Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Rich "Goose" Gossage, and Bruce Sutter. According to the Baseball-Reference.com Hall of Fame monitor ranking, Wagner trails only the New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera, and the San Diego Padres' Trevor Hoffman in his worthiness for Cooperstown among active relievers.

What Rivera has that Wagner lacks is a World Series ring; however, Wagner vowed yesterday that he would get his before he hangs up his cleats for good.

"Somewhere down the road," said Wagner. "I'm going to help somebody win a championship."


1 comment

If he doesn't get to Cooperstown, I'll personally organize a Boycott!