'Yuppie-ville' doesn't spell fun to Hagy

August 02, 1991|By John Steadman

No longer does "Wild Bill" Hagy hear the cheers. Or lead them. He was a one-of-a-kind personality who became an instant folk hero. The role wasn't contrived. Hagy became identified with the Baltimore Orioles and had a presence that took on celebrity status -- which, unfortunately, was resented by some of the media and the team's front office.

There was no game plan to any of this. The beauty of Hagy is he's a genuine character who would have been impossible to create. He sat in the upper deck as the leader of a cult that trumpeted what became known as the "roar from Section 34," in the 1970s and early '80s.

Now Hagy rarely goes to Orioles games and is content pursuing what he has been doing for 18 years, driving a cab. "It's an honest livelihood," he says. "It's an independent way of life. I'm not exactly what you would call an ambitious person and this keeps me from having to work for a living, much like yourself."

Hagy has a substance and intelligence that belies what some might consider his tattered appearance. He doesn't speak in cliches or platitudes. The disarming honesty of the man, even when a situation doesn't put him in a favorable position, is refreshing.

To the casual question of what are you doing now, he answered, "Just laying low to keep out of trouble. I never sought attention. I became a celebrity. I'm not that anymore. Next you become a legend. I'm more comfortable with that. I'm 52, trying to stay young even if my beard shows some gray and my stomach is larger."

The nickname "Wild Bill" was affixed when as a teen-ager he playedsandlot baseball and couldn't tell where his next pitch was going. His favorite Oriole of all-time? "I kind of lean to Boog Powell. He wasn't a phony and was similar to me. He likes his crabs and beer. Include Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr., too, because they never hassle."

Hagy didn't turn against the Orioles. It was the other way around, which is why he's rarely seen at Memorial Stadium anymore. Always a ticket-buying fan who refused to come in on a pass, he was usually accompanied by a cooler of beer. Then the Orioles made a management decision that wouldn't allow Hagy or anyone else to continue the practice.

But Hagy had been used as a cheerleader, even invited to stand on the dugout roof to rally the crowd with his inimitable display of emotional exhortation, spelling out O-R-I-O-L-E-S. He was never profane or discourteous -- except the night he threw his beer cooler on the field.

The offense usually meant banishment from the stadium, nothing more. With Hagy, it was different. He believes an Orioles official ordered his arrest. "It was July 3, 1985 and I drank my last beer that night. I had no use for the cooler so I tossed it over the rail, something I shouldn't

have done.

"I was taken to Eastern Police Station and put in the pokey. I could hear the turn-key's television blaring all night long, as I tried to sleep on that wooden plank in the cell. Every commercial I heard playing was about owning a comfortable mattress. We lost the game, 4-3. I told the judge it was dumbness doing what I did. I got fined $100 and $20 in court costs."

Hagy believes the ownership of Edward Bennett Williams startedthe decline of the Orioles. "No one will ever convince me he didn't intend to move the team to Washington. But there was too much fan support and he couldn't get away with it. I also believe the new stadium will draw 3 million fans the first year . . . even if they don't win a game."

He says on the few occasions he has been to Memorial Stadium since 1985, it appears it has turned into what he describes as "yuppie-ville." In what ways? "I watched people arrive in the third inning, watch three innings and leave. That's not being a fan. For me, I watch a lot of baseball on TV. I play a little golf at Forest Park or Carroll Park for relaxation. Beer is my only vice.

"We thought of having an 'old-timers day' for the original crowd NTC in Section 34, but I doubt it. I think if our group accomplished anything, as I mentioned to my buddy, Skip Dorer, it was to show people how you could go to a game and have a good time."

Being around "Wild Bill" Hagy became an exciting experience. He never intended harm or craved attention. When it came to fun, he was the Pied Piper of baseball in Baltimore.

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