Wild Bill Hagy, too long AWOL, rekindles love affair with O's

DOES HE HAVE TO SPELL IT OUT FOR YOU?

May 04, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Staff Writer GR COLOR PHOTO 1

If you want to talk to Wild Bill Hagy, who was once the most famous baseball fan in America and then dropped out of sight like D. B. Cooper, only without the parachute and all that loot, this is how you go about things:

First you call the Orioles. After all, the man showed up in their nice, new stadium the other night and rocked the joint with his trademark O-R-I-O-L-E-S! cheer, just like the old days. So maybe they have a phone number.

Only the problem here is, the Orioles have no clue as to how to get in touch with this guy. He walked out of their lives nine years ago after launching a picnic cooler from the upper deck at Memorial Stadium, and the truth is, at the time the Orioles were happy to see him go.

So now you go to his last-known place of employment, County Cab in Catonsville, a shabby building tucked behind a guitar shop on the main drag. The woman behind the counter looks at you like you're a fly walking across her baked potato, which sets up the following snappy repartee:

"Bill Hagy around?"

"Nope."

"Doesn't he work here?"

"Not anymore."

"Any idea where I can reach him?"

"Nope."

"Nice talking to you."

So now, this being the '90s and all, you go to the computer. A bright guy in your office punches up Wild Bill Hagy's MVA file and you get an address, which turns out to be in a quiet neighborhood near Loudon Park, hard by the cemetery, which will be convenient since getting this story might very well kill you anyway.

So you find his apartment, the one with the Grateful Dead stickers plastered all over the door. You lean on the doorbell, taking pains to stand off to one side, like they do in the movies, in case it's a shotgun blast that comes through that door and not the man who once symbolized Oriole Magic, the spiritual head of Section 34 in the old ballpark.

But there is no answer. So you leave a sniveling little note, which basically says you're a reporter and would love to talk and will not libel him too badly if he'll only call you at 332-blah, blah, blah, blah.

And here's the kicker: He actually gets back to you. What he does is, he leaves a voice mail message that sounds like someone talking with a mouthful of 10-penny nails: "This is Wild Bill Hagy. I'll be at the game tomorrow. Section 386, row N."

So the next day you go to Camden Yards and take the escalator about 27 stories above left field, which is where Section 386 is located, practically in a bank of cumulus clouds.

And a half-hour before game time you stand there gnawing on a lousy hot dog that costs about 17 bucks and staring at your empty notebook and thinking: This guy is playing games with me.

And then you see him, striding majestically through the crowd. He's built along the lines of a stand-up freezer, 6-foot-2 and wide across. You spot the familiar straw hat first, then the full, Brillo-pad beard.

He's wearing an Orioles All-Star Game T-shirt and khaki shorts. Yeah, he's a little thicker around the waist, maybe, with a little more gray hair, but, heck, aren't we all? Besides, Wild Bill is 55 now.

But, Lord, he can still work a crowd. A young woman rushes up and asks breathlessly: "Mr. Hagy, can my mother-in-law have her picture taken with you? Oh, please?" An older man slaps him on the shoulder and yells: "Wild Bill Hagy, you're a sight for sore eyes!"

And then you sit down with Wild Bill Hagy, who is cordial and contemplative and sipping a beer, the way God intended him to on a gorgeous spring afternoon with the Orioles about to take the field.

And the two of you talk.

The crowd goes wild

This is what happened two weeks ago in Section 12 at Camden Yards, on a Tuesday night, Orioles vs. Angels, as best as can be recalled by the major participants:

Howard the Beer Man was pouring them. Wild Bill Hagy was drinking them. He comes to the ballpark quite a bit these days, just keeps a low profile. That night he drank one beer, and then another and another and, well, you know how these things go.

Pretty soon, the fans around him were saying: "Wild Bill, you oughta lead a few cheers, like the old days." And Wild Bill, pleasantly anesthetized, with half the contents of a brewery sloshing around in his gut, began thinking that was not a bad idea.

"See how easy I am?" he says.

So along about the sixth inning, with Chris Sabo at the plate, Wild Bill lumbered to his feet. He waved his hat and the crowd recognized him instantly and began to cheer.

It started out as a low rumble and grew quickly into an unearthly chorus of 47,000 voices, and maybe it was the most noise the new ballpark had ever heard. Suddenly, if you were of a certain frame of mind, anyway, it was 1979 all over again.

Contorting his beefy, 55-year-old body, Wild Bill raised both arms and encircled them over his head.

"O!" the crowd roared.

Now he lifted his right leg with surprising grace -- you try doing this with half a load on -- and hooked his arm until his fist touched his forehead, like a body-builder striking a pose.

"R!" screamed the crowd.

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