Wagner wants World Series for self, Cox
Veteran closer eyeing first career trip to Fall Classic, records
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Billy Wagner has the utmost respect for Bobby Cox and recognizes the Braves manager as one the primary reasons that he chose to sign with Atlanta.
But when asked if he bought into the notion that the Braves players would be making every effort to ensure that Cox's final season was a special one, the jovial Wagner provided the reminder that he's the one who has never had the opportunity to experience participating in a Fall Classic.
"Heck, I haven't been to the World Series ever," Wagner said. "How about going out there and putting out a little effort for me? [Peter Moylan] can go out there and go like an inning and two-thirds and give me a third-of-an-inning save every once in a while. I mean Chipper and all these guys, Bobby, they've gone to the World Series a couple of times. I've never been. How about one for Wags?"
When the Braves signed Wagner in December, they did so with the belief that he still has the potential to be the dominant closer who can help them get back to the postseason. The 38-year-old reliever persuaded them with the success he experienced during the 17 appearances he combined to make with the Mets and Red Sox after returning from Tommy John surgery last year.
After reporting to Braves camp on Friday wearing a flannel shirt, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, Wagner reiterated that he's confident that his arm is healthy and that he is ready to display the kind of work ethic that can only prove beneficial to the many young pitchers who will be looking to him for guidance.
"I think when you're an athlete, you come into camp looking to impress," Wagner said. "Everybody is critiquing you. Everybody wants to see you. If you come in and are lazy and aren't doing anything and you have a tough year, then there's always that question.
"But if you come in and are working hard and handle yourself the right way, then there's not really a lot of questions from your teammates."
As Wagner prepares for his first season with the Braves, he has already earned the respect of many of his new teammates.
"I'm going to take whatever he says as gospel, because the guy has been around forever," Moylan said. "He's been as good as it gets for as long as I can remember. It's going to be great having somebody like that in the bullpen."
Wagner has been around long enough to notch 385 saves and position himself to become just the fifth Major Leaguer to notch 400 saves in his career. But an even more appealing goal for the veteran closer would be to surpass the 424 saves recorded by John Franco, who holds the record for the most registered by a left-handed pitcher.
Active saves leaders
"I don't necessarily sit there and say, 'I want to get to this or I want to get to that,'" Wagner said. "I went through my contract with the Mets and it put me in a situation to top Franco. I have to have a special year this year to top Franco, and I worked this offseason with the mind-set to be able to accomplish that. If I save 40 games this year, then there's a great chance that the Braves are going to the playoffs."
If Wagner notches 40 saves and surpasses Franco, there's seemingly a chance he could opt to retire and return to his rural Virginia farm to begin his life away from the mound. But for now, he said that he's simply looking forward to this long-awaited opportunity to play for Cox.
When asked the primary reason he has found himself envious of Braves players, Wagner simply said, "Bobby," and then explained that he appreciates the aggressive approach he takes while trying to win games on a nightly basis.
"You're always watching from afar, but it's like with [Tony] La Russa," Wagner said. "They take care of their guys. That's not to say that they baby or coddle them, but they use them the right way. If there's a save opportunity or the game is on the line in the eighth inning, he's not going to sit there and worry about my feelings, as far as, 'Well, he doesn't like to throw in the eighth.'
"If the game can be won or lost there in the eighth, he's going to put you in there. That's what the closer is supposed to be."
As he prepares for his 16th Major League season, Wagner knows that there are some who doubt his ability to persevere and remain effective over the course of an entire season. But at the same time, he said that these beliefs will only serve as motivation as he attempts to further enhance his already-impressive resume.
"The toughest part is hearing the critics," Wagner said. "That's always the toughest part, hearing, 'Well, he's done, he'll never be the same, he'll never do this, he'll never do that.' I'm one of those guys when you tell me that I can't do something, I'm going to kill myself to do it. That motivates me."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.