Catching Up With a Former Brewer

Paul Wagner is a former major league pitcher, appearing in the bigs throughout the 1990’s. He possessed a fastball that went up to 95 or 96 mph and a slider around 89 or 90. Career accomplishments include flirting with a no hitter, pitching for manager Jim Leyland on the last Pittsburgh Pirates team to actually do something, Pitching for his hometown Milwaukee Brewers and playing with guys over his career such as Barry Bonds, Jim Thome, David Justice, Kenny Lofton, Richie Sexson, Geoff Jenkins, Roberto Alomar, Dale Sveum, Manny Ramirez, and Marquis Grissom.

Today he resides in Oconomowoc WI with his wife and two daughters, ages 7 and 9. He is a mortgage consultant for Guaranteed Rate in Brookfield. He has covered MLB as an analyst for both ESPN 540 and Sportsradio 1250 WSSP. Recently I had a chance to sit down with Paul and gain some insight about the big leagues today.

Q: Ryan Braun and the 50 game suspension he faces. Big story. Have you ever played with or against someone, or maybe someone you were close to that had such a swirl going around him like Braun does right now?

A: Everything that was a big story surrounding players I played with was post career. There were drugs, money allegations, arrests… but nothing while our playing days were still going on. This possible 50 game suspension for the reigning league MVP is a big story.

In fact, a lot of people contacted me when the Barry Bonds BALCO info came out after my playing career. I told them I didn’t see anything and then it was a quick “click” on the phone and they moved to the next guy on their list to talk to. (chuckles)

Q: What do you think happens? Does Brauny get out of this?

A: I can’t see it. They go over so much in spring training. You put anything in your body, gum, Red Bull, Amp; you gotta talk to Roger (Caplinger, longtime Brewers trainer) and clear it with him.

If you have a medical condition such as what is rumored with Braun, you have to have your doctor submit it to MLB. If it wasn’t a Brewer doctor and it wasn’t submitted to MLB, then overturning this is not likely.

What bothers me most is the confidentiality. Why do we know about this? He hasn’t been proven guilty yet. All this stuff is leaking out about what it could be and what caused his testosterone level to be so high…

When union officials got together and “ok”ed the testing for players, it became apparent to me that nothing should be getting out. It doesn’t seem like some sources are being very quiet about this process.

I hope it gets abolished, I have my fingers crossed and I hope it gets overturned. We can’t afford this on the field. This city won’t be able to handle it if this suspension happens. It will be devastating to the organization.

Q: So who were you close to when you played?

In Pittsburgh I hung out with Steve Cooke and Denny Neagle. I roomed with Chad Fox and Steve Woodard in an apartment complex in Scottsdale when we were on the Brewers. Chad Fox was a class act and great individual. Woodard was a good player, more of a follower than a leader. In Cleveland, they had a veteran like Dave Burba on the staff and they were looking to trade Doc Gooden. I started the season at AAA Buffalo and I got to know guys like Dave Telgheder, Chris Haney, Pat Borders, and Pete Walker. I got called up when Paul Schuey got hurt.

Q: Let’s go back to the current Brewers for a minute. Call me crazy, but I think the bench is a key part of a team. The Crew has said goodbye to Jerry Hairston and Craig Counsell. While everyone talked about Prince all off season, I want to know who can come in and play some solid d in the infield and come up with good hits when we need them. I think the backups all the way across the infield are a big story. We have a hole to fill there. Does Edwin Maysonet become the next dark horse no name to do it? I truly believe Cesar Isturis makes this team. Others in the mix include Zelous Wheeler, Taylor Green, Jeff Bianchi and Eric Farris. Your thoughts…

A: Unless one of the minor league names you mentioned has a great breakout spring then they make the team, but otherwise the Brewers need veteran leadership off the bench. How the team reacts after the Prince and Braun situations will be the key factor. Do they count the season as a loss and let the kids play and see what they can do, or do they bring in another established veteran off the bench and try to go for it this year?

Q: You ever get the itch to coach in organized baseball? There are so many opportunities in WI not far from family such as the Beloit Snappers, Madison Mallards, WI Woodchucks, the WI Timber Rattlers and of course the Brewers.

A: I understand the dues you have to pay in this business. You have to work your way up the coaching ranks through the minors too just as you do as a player and I probably should have done it a long time ago. I respect the ladder or chain. If someone wants me on the Snappers or Rattlers staff and I have to ride buses, no I am not interested. If someone I played with who is familiar with my career wants to invite me on the big league staff as a pitching coach or bullpen coach, I will listen.

Q: If you could take back or change some things about your career, what would they be?

A: I would have been a reliever, at least in the very beginning. Part of maturing or progressing in the majors is understanding you are not invincible. You realize what was important then when you are young and dumb isn’t so important now. I wouldn’t have changed necessarily the fitness or the maintenance of my body, just the decisions I made. I figured as a starter I could have 4 days off to do whatever in between games. As a reliever, you gotta be ready at anytime to go in the game. That teaches you responsibility.

Q: There have been big name players who you knew in your career. As you got to know them, I am sure you knew how hard a decision it must have been for them when it came to free agency and contracts. What are your thoughts on the ultimate result that happened with the Prince Fielder situation?

A: I like a lot of loyal Brewer fans stood hoping and praying with my fingers crossed that something would get worked out, even a deal for less years, but ultimately we lost another home grown talent. It’s tough to compete in this very high priced free agent market. I wish Prince all the best and I hope the fans understand the situation Prince was in. There should be no burning of jerseys or ill feelings. He put his time in the major leagues that ultimately results in being awarded.

Think about it this way. If you were a plumber and there is a chance to take a job somewhere else, say California, you wouldn’t have to go through a year to year “arbitration process” or be under “team control” for a period of time like a baseball player does. You could just go take the position when you wanted to. He had to go somewhere. It’s a tough pill to swallow for Brewer fans.

One thing we can all look back on is that Prince really helped establish a winning tradition in Milwaukee. It wasn’t all that long ago that free agents really didn’t want to come to Milwaukee. I got claimed off of waivers by the Twins by Terry Ryan but I chose Milwaukee instead because it was my hometown team. We as a ballclub had to overpay to get people like Jeffrey Hammonds because it was such a hard sell to get people to join the team. Looking at Prince, I believe he doesn’t have a bad thing to say about Milwaukee. He seemed to love his time here, the people, and the organization.

Q: How does having Prince on Jim Leyland’s team help and affect that ballclub?

A: It is definitely a huge sign for the Tigers and of course a huge loss for the Brewers. You put Prince and Cabrera together they could be the best 1-2 punch out there. It is a different league, and pitchers will be throwing breaking balls, and it will take an adjustment period for him to be successful but I think the Tigers win the AL Central by a good 5-10 games. They will be meeting the Rangers in the playoffs and they have one of the best managers in the game with Jim Leyland to guide them along the way. In addition to Leyland, I played with guys on Leyland’s staff such as Lloyd McClendon and Rafael Belliard. I was coached by Gene Lamont, also on Leyland’s staff. This is a good group of guys who knows what it takes to be competitive.

Also remember, teams in baseball usually have insurance policies on players. The Tigers most likely will not rush Victor Martinez to come back because they would be responsible for paying more of the contract. Look for Prince to have a good year. I am sure the team had to pay a percent of Prince’s contract for an insurance premium on him too, and he is a big investment for that franchise.

Q: That leads us to the uncertainty of the replacements on the Brewers team. Some have said Aramis Ramirez just can’t replace what we had in the lineup with Prince’s bat. Your thoughts?

A: There is not a left handed guy in baseball that can replace Prince Fielder’s bat. And that includes Joey Votto and Josh Hamilton.

Q: And the other replacement aspect is first base. Do you think this is the year Gamel finally breaks through, or is it possible someone else emerges at first?

A: Although the Brewers could have maybe got a guy like Carlos Pena, I really think Gamel will be fine as long as he stays up here the whole year. The key is to let him adjust, I mean this kid is clenching his bat and getting all nervous up there. He has had a lot of pressure. He knows he has been brought up here for just interleague play and then he goes right back down to the minors. If you need to, let him split some time and be a left handed bat off the bench. And I am not saying I don’t like Taylor Green. He is a solid player who has played some first in the minors and he will see some time too.

Q: New Shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Do you like the move?

A: I like the Gonzalez move. The thing is Yuni B. went back to KC, and stuff takes time, whether you’re going to the Navy, or a high school kid adjusting to college, a college kid adjusting to the pros, you have to let him feel his way out, get used to his surroundings and find the comfort zone. There is always a time of adjustment just as there will be with Prince’s new surroundings, and I think Yuni B would have been fine if he was here a second year, but out of the guys available Gonzalez was a good move. He can play 150-160 games. Other names out there like Edgar Renteria and Omar Vizquel, who just signed with the Jays, solid older veteran players, they would have only got you 100-110 games.


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