Wayne Coffey pens a short, but harrowing biography of newly acquired Mets reliever Billy Wagner in today’s New York Daily News. Along with recounting a childhood of poverty and being passed around from relative to relative, the murder of Wagner’s in-laws is discussed, along with the Astros’ reaction.
Billy Wagner (above, right) made his big-league debut on Sept. 13, 1995, in the same ballpark he now calls home. He retired Rico Brogna on a fly to left-center, a happy debut that was followed closely by an unhappy confrontation with the realities of the business.
When the Astros returned home from the road trip, then-GM Bob Watson and manager Terry Collins sat down with Wagner in the Astrodome dugout. They told the promising 24-year-old closer they wanted him to play winter ball, in Venezuela.
Wagner said no. His wife’s father and stepmother had been brutally murdered four months earlier, and with a trial looming, he wouldn’t be going anywhere.
“I need to be with my family,” Wagner said. He said Watson and Collins pressed him.
“It’s not the O.J. Simpson trial,” Wagner recalls Watson saying. Wagner replied with “choice words,” and was told that the club couldn’t promise that he’d be back in the big leagues if he didn’t accede to its wishes.
“Well, there’s 20-something other teams that will look at me,” Wagner said.
Weeks later, Watson, now a VP for Major League Baseball, left to be GM of the Yankees.
“I definitely don’t recall making any offhanded comment about O.J. Simpson,” Watson says. “I’m sensitive to family and what that’s all about. I wasn’t there when the full-court pressure was put on this young man, because I had already gone to the Yankees.”