COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – If there was a cornfield beyond the fence at Doubleday Field in downtown Cooperstown, you could have let your imagination run wild.
Since the idyllic small town is home to the place where most baseball dreams begin and end, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, such daydreaming isn’t just allowed. It’s encouraged.
So you could imagine Paul Hagen walking off the podium set along the massive stage at second base on Saturday afternoon and venturing out into the ether. You watched as he disappeared from the spectators’ view and found a who’s who of Hall of Famers on the other side of the fence.
“How we lookin?” Hagen said, dropping his famous line to nobody in particular as he entered the rarified air.
This weekend in Cooperstown, a little bit of Hollywood fantasy came to life for Hagen, the long-time Philadelphia baseball writer.
On Saturday afternoon, Hagen was on the stage at Doubleday Field receiving the highest honor for a baseball writer. Hagen, who worked at the Daily News for a quarter century, covering three Phillies World Series, was celebrated in Cooperstown as the 2013 recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.
The award is bestowed anually by the Baseball Writers Association of America “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.” Hagen’s name and photo made its debut in the Hall of Fame’s “Scribes and Mikeman” exhibit on Saturday with the 63 others who have received the Spink Award.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” Hagen told the crowd of 2,500 at Doubleday Field. “And I sure hope it’s not over yet.”
With the attention of all of Cooperstown, Hagen did not disappoint, delivering a heartfelt speech that covered the birth of his interest in baseball and writing, the people who helped him throughout his career, and the current state of beat writing in a competitive, challenging and ever-changing profession.
“When I was in third grade my teacher, Miss Fisher, walked over to my desk one day and asked a question: ‘Who are you rooting for in the World Series?’” Hagen began. ‘What’s the World Series?’ She explained that it was the championship of baseball between the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. She added that she was hoping the White Sox would win. So, of course, I said I was for the Dodgers. That’s how it started.”
A young Paul grabbed “The Pee Wee Reese Story” at his local library and began a love affair with reading about baseball. Eventually it gave way to a passion for writing about baseball.
Since he knew his playing career wouldn’t advance beyond high school, Hagen majored in journalism at Ohio University, where he watched future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt play for two seasons. Not long after Schmidt began his professional playing career, Hagen followed, beginning his baseball writing career at the San Bernardino Sun-Telegram.
Hagen would eventually follow Schmidt to Philadelphia, too.
“I’d like to thank Brian Toolan and Mike Rathet for bringing me to the Philadelphia Daily News in 1987 and granting me the freedom to do the job the way I thought it should be done,” Hagen said in his speech. “I spent 25 years there, the bulk of my working life. The Daily News may have been the last great writer’s newspaper and every day I felt like I had to be at the top of my game just to keep up.”
The 62-year-old Hagen continues to cover baseball for MLB.com. On the most celebrated day of his career, Hagen was supported by both his overjoyed family and by his baseball family, too.
His sister, Cheryl, flew in from California. Hagen’s wife, Karen and children, Emily and Dan, helped celebrate the weekend with a reception at the Cooperstown Art Association on Saturday night.
It was the second party of the day.
Before the ceremony, the Phillies hosted a luncheon in Hagen’s honor at the luxurious Otesaga Resort Hotel. Team president David Montgomery, front office executive and Hall of Famer Pat Gillick, and current team Vice President and alumni relations coordinator Larry Shenk all donned “Paul Hagen, 2013 Spink Award” hats on Saturday afternoon.
Montgomery said he made the trip up from Cooperstown on Saturday morning to celebrate one of Philadelphia baseball’s “five-tool talents.”
“Number one, he’s got the God-given ability to write,” Montgomery said. “Two, he’s got an extraordinary work ethic, something we’ve observed through the years. He gets to the bottom of everything. He doesn’t just go off the top of his head. The third tool is his knowledge of the game – he’s never asking the question that has everyone turning their head wondering, ‘Doesn’t he understand the game?’
“And then I thought what’s served him well is his passion and love for the game. And then the fifth is his personality. I teased him a little bit – a pleasant personality, maybe not everyday. … We’ve been blessed enough for have Paul to cover us, were thrilled for him.”
Montgomery wasn’t alone. In addition to the members of both the Phillies’ and Hagen families were fellow Philadelphia media members, too.
“I told Paul this a few minutes ago: when one of our players has charity events, I’m always interested to see what other plays come to support that cause,” Montgomery said. “It gives you a good sense of their popularity among (the team). Well, the number of colleagues that are here for (Hagen), that speaks volumes to me. You look around and you see people that worked for him at the Daily News, his new friends at MLB.com, national guys. To me, that’s a statement about how successful he’s been. He’s obviously been a good teammate with everyone he’s worked with.”
Hagen found a new set of teammates on Saturday. As he received the prestigious Spink Award and delivered his speech, Hagen stood in front of a an impressive Cooperstown contingent that included Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson.
How we lookin’, Paul? As Whitey might say, Hall Famer-ish.