Generally, there is rarely a dull moment when Billy Wagner is on your team. For a group that gets more mileage out of other people's words than their actions, Wagner sometimes is a writers' dream.
But at the same time he can also be a nightmare. Sometimes the hot air that blasts from his pie hole has nothing to do with anything, but because Wagner is still one of the better closers in the game for a big-market club, even the craziest stuff he says generates headlines.
It was that way in Philadelphia, too. Sometimes, when there was nothing going on and there were no stories to be found anywhere, all a reporter had to do was grab a big stick and give ol' Billy a couple of pokes and wait to see how long it took for him to growl.
Sometimes it didn't even take a poke with a stick. For instance, take last week's exhibition game against Michigan -- that where Wags threatened to start a bean ball battle with a college team because some undergrad kid had the audacity to attempt a bunt at a time that didn't jibe with his delicate interpretation of some ancient baseball protocol.
"If he got that bunt down, I would have drilled the next guy," Wagner said. "Play to win against Villanova."
Wagner continued: "It's hot and I'm just trying to work on some pitches, and they're bunting like it's the College World Series. Go do that against Villanova."
The thing is the game against the Mets was as big as the College World Series to Michigan as well as all the other college teams playing one-shot exhibition games against big leaguers in spring training. A few days ago when Florida State came to Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla. to play the Phillies, it looked as if the kids' eyes were going to bug out of their heads because they were so excited. Better yet, Phillies' Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt went into the FSU clubhouse to talk to the team for a half hour before the Phils opened up their clubhouse so that the Seminoles could wander in and chat up the big leaguers.
But, you know, Wagner gets chapped by a bunt by a college kid.
Hey, it's one thing to threaten a bean-ball battle against the Phillies in '08 after they ate the Mets' lunch in '07. After the way the Mets strutted scoffed about the Phillies' chances last season it's understandable that the humble pie didn't go down so smoothly.
But a college kid busting his rear in an attempt to impress a big-league scout or coach... come on. Maybe Wagner doesn't remember being a Li'l Napoleon back at tiny Ferrum College where he played Division III baseball. I wonder if Wagner would have fired his big fastball at the Major Leaguers or if he would have deferred to them on a hot day because they're just trying to work on their swings?
My guess is Billy would have reared back to try to throw his heater through his catcher instead of saving it for Shenandoah University, but that's me.
Meanwhile, a post on the New York Times' BATS blog reported that the legendary Sandy Koufax showed up in Port St. Lucie at the request of Wagner to help the ex-Phillies closer how to throw a curveball.
Sandy Koufax... Pretty cool, huh?
This is interesting for a couple of reasons. One is that Sandy Koufax might have thrown the best curve in the history of the game during his comet-like big-league career for the Dodgers. He was also a lefty, like Wagner, so they have that in common. Plus, like Wagner, Koufax could really bring the heat.
In other words, it seems as if the Hall of Famer and Wagner could have a good understanding of one another. Yet for some reason I can't help remembering back when Wagner was pitching for the Phillies and didn't want to let the word out that he threw a pretty nasty slider to go with his high-90s fastball. So wrapped up in the faux machismo of being feared for his heat, Wagner never wanted to talk about how he used his slider on two-strikes counts in order to pile up the strikeouts. People would begin to think that Li'l Bill was losing a mph or two off that notorious fastball if word got out that his real strikeout pitch was a slider.
Worse, when pushed to talk about it Wagner wasn't showed a former CSNer where the sun never shined - literally. Of course he (rightfully) thought that the CSNer was being mischievous with a CSN.com-er, but, you know, that's a different story. The fact is we got to see a lot of Billy Wagner that day when he was asked about throwing a slider.
But now he is working on a curve to go with his fastball and slider, and The New York Times and Sandy Koufax are involved, too.