by Clark Groome
Since no eligible players were selected this year, Philadelphia baseball writer Paul Hagen will be the only living person honored at the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s celebration this weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Ever since Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner became the first class inducted into the Hall in 1936, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) has set the rules and chosen the members.
It took them 26 years to realize that the Hall should recognize their own. The result was the establishment of the J. G. Taylor Spink Award in 1962. Spink, the editor of The Sporting News, was the first recipient of an award that recognizes writers “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.”
Winner of the 2013 Spink Award, Paul Hagen began his career in 1974 in San Bernardino, Calif. From 1977 to 1987 he covered the Texas Rangers for The Dallas Times-Herald and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
In 1987 he joined the Philadelphia Daily News. He was the Phillies beat writer for 15 years followed by a stint as the paper’s national baseball writer. He left the Daily News in 2011 and now writes for MLB.com and does some writing and appears regularly on TV’s “Behind the Pinstripes” for the Phillies.
Hagen, 62, will be honored (not “inducted,” that’s reserved for players, managers, executives and umpires) and become part of the Hall’s “Scribes and Mikemen” exhibit, an exhibit that includes Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, Damon Runyan, Heywood Broun, Shirley Povich, Red Smith, Dick Young, Jim Murray and Peter Gammons.
Hagen, who received 269 votes on the 421 ballots (the next highest candidate got 87), is a very popular choice among his colleagues and those he covers in Philadelphia.
Phillies president David Montgomery said Hagen deserves the honor.
“What really makes [Paul] stand apart is he’s someone who covers our sport who has a real love for the game of baseball. His affinity for our game is what really helped him, ” he said. ” He respects the people who are doing the jobs in the game he’s covering. In return he gets [their] respect.”
“I hope that over the years I’ve earned a reputation for being a guy who tried to be very professional, works really hard, and does it right,” Hagen said. “I never thought I was the best writer. I never thought I was the best reporter. I never thought I was the best anything. I hoped that I could be pretty good at all of them.
“It kind of goes along with the baseball player,” he said. “You don’t want a guy who’s gonna go 4 for 4 two days in a row then go 0 for the next two weeks. You strive for consistency. You know you’re not going to have an all-star performance every day. You just go out and try to the best you can.
“I always thought of it as putting a brick on a wall. Every day is just another brick. Hopefully you look back some day and you say, ‘Hey, it’s not a bad-looking wall.’”
Hagen, whom I’ve been fortunate to know and learn from for almost a decade, also has the respect of other writers, many of whom have been competitors. CSN’s Jim Salisbury, for many years the Inquirer’s beat writer, says, “One of my favorite things about Paul is his willingness to help the next generation of baseball writers. He helped me a lot. He’s always willing to teach others if they wanted to listen.”
Salisbury noted that even though he and Hagen were competitors for many years, Hagen was always a mentor.
“[Paul’s] a professional,” said Longtime Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler. “I don’t think he ever cared that anybody knew who wrote the story. If they liked the story, OK. If they knew that Paul Hagen wrote it, that was second. He’s not a big ego guy. Paul’s a good person.”
Hagen realizes that he’s been very blessed. He said he has a very supportive family. He met his wife, Karen, in a press box in Arlington, Texas. She loves baseball, he says, but also has her own interests.
The Spink Award is, he said, “Some validation for all those nights spent in press boxes; 5:30 a.m. wake-up calls so you can get the 8 o’clock flight to the next city; and the birthdays and family holidays you missed.
“The thing that really makes me happiest is how much my wife and kids seen to be enjoying it. They’re the ones who had to deal with it when I wasn’t there. The fact that they seem so happy and proud means [the most] to me.”
Paul Hagen’s award is a reminder that Leo Durocher was wrong. Nice guys can finish first. And Paul’s not finished. His presence in any group of baseball writers makes the group wiser, smarter and richer. For me, and all the others who are honored to know him and/or have read his work, it’s great to see someone who has taught all of his readers and his colleagues so much about the National Pastime get the honor he so richly deserves.