|The person who convinced Billy Wagner to come to Boston||09.25.09 at 11:50 am ET|
It’s a good thing Sarah Wagner chose psychology as a major at Ferrum College. Otherwise there’s a good chance Billy Wagner would still be a Met.
Among the twists and turns that came with the hours leading up to the 1:30 p.m. deadline for the Mets to trade Wagner to the Red Sox back on Aug. 25, there isn’t any part of the story that was as important as a phone call the reliever made to his wife just hours before his decision to accept or reject a trade had to be made.
Ironically, that phone call by Billy Wagner was supposed to be to tell Sarah that he was going to stay in New York.
“I wasn’t going to go to Boston,” Wagner said. “I wanted to try and stay healthy, get through the year, and I didn’t know what I had to offer. I didn’t know if I could stay healthy. And the trainers and doctors said it probably wasn’t in my best interest that I pitch into late October or November.”
At 7 a.m. that morning, on decision day, Wagner woke up to find a message from his agent, Bean Stringfellow, who wanted to gauge where his client was at. The pitcher called back, informing Stringfellow of his decision.
“I said, ‘Bean, I’m not going,’ ” remembered Wagner. “He said, ‘Good, that’s great. That’s good for you.’ ”
A little while later, Stringfellow told Wagner that Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona would like to talk to him. So the hurler touched base with the two Sox decision-makers, listening to what they had to say, but not hearing anything that was going to change his mind.
“They’re telling me all the good things,” Wagner said. “They were telling me all the things you need to say, but it’s one of those things that you’re asking me to be in midseason form or shape in the middle of a pennant race and all I’ve had was a few meaningless innings. It was difficult.”
Now it was late morning, and just one last call had to be made — to Sarah.
“I call home and tell my wife, ‘I’m not going to go.’ I just wanted to kind of be reassured I was making the right decision,” Wagner said.
And that’s when the 38-year-old found himself hearing things he didn’t expect.
“She’s the shrink of the house and she started saying, ‘Well, let’s look at the doctors who told you you weren’t going to pitch, aren’t they the same ones who are saying something could go wrong? What if it doesn’t? What if you go out there and you do well and don’t get hurt? Isn’t that worth a chance? You can go to a playoff team and go to the World Series. You can retire and be content.
“It’s so funny because she’s been counting the days down [to retirement]. You can tell, we’ve got four kids and she’s got a lot on her plate. But now she was saying, ‘You should go and play.’ She was the one who was saying, ‘You should do this, go to Boston, take a chance. So what? What if you blow out? But what if you don’t and they go to the World Series or win the World Series, you’d be kicking yourself.’ She was playing devil’s advocate, saying ‘What if?’ The whole time I’m thinking, ‘You’re right.’ It was long enough of a conversation that during it I’m thinking, ‘I have to call Bean.’ She was making sense. But still, the whole time we’re talking she is still saying, ‘Whatever decision you want to make, we’re behind you.’ ”
It was time to make one last call.
“I get off the phone with my wife and I call my agent, saying, ‘I think I’ve changed my mind,’ ” Wagner said. “He’s like, ‘No, no, no!’ But I’m just like, ‘That’s it, Bean, I’m going to Boston and that’s it. What if nothing happens? What if I do make it through and everything is fine?’ He said, ‘I’m not going to change your mind, am I?’ I said, ‘No.’ So he said, ‘All right, but you know what the doctors are saying. You heard your career’s over.’ I just said, ‘So be it.’ ”
And so it was.
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