FOUR AUTUMNS ago, two sports writers were weaving through a sea of people in a crowded South Philly sports complex.
At the same time the Phillies were hosting the Yankees in the 2009 World Series at Citizens Bank Park, one of the world's most popular rock bands, Pearl Jam, was playing for 4 straight nights across the street at the Wachovia Spectrum.
"I was staying out by the airport and Paul [Hagen] said he'd give me a ride out there . . . but it was a hike to get to the car," said longtime Toronto Sun sports writer Bob Elliott. "And everywhere, it was, 'Hey Paul, how you doing?'
"First it was from the baseball fans. Then onto the rockers. And it was the same thing: 'Hey Paul, how are you?' or, 'Hey Paul, saw you on TV today,' and, 'Hey Paul, I liked your story today.'
"We get into the car and I say, 'Wow.' And he said, 'Shut your mouth, don't tell anyone that.' But all bets are off now."
Elliott laughed like a kid telling tales out of school just before the first pitch of the 2013 All-Star Game. A year ago, Elliott was recognized by baseball when he received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, an honor bestowed by the Baseball Writers Association of America annually since 1962 to a writer "for meritorious contributions to baseball writing."
This year, it's his famous Philly buddy's turn.
Paul Hagen, the longtime baseball writer for the Daily News, will receive the Spink Award in Cooperstown, N.Y., tomorrow as the National Baseball Hall of Fame gets its annual induction weekend under way. Hagen is the 64th recipient of the Spink Award, which is displayed in the Hall's "Scribes and Mikemen" exhibit.
"That's the highest honor you can get," Phillies second baseman Chase Utley said. "I'm happy for him - he deserves it."
Hagen, who worked at the Daily News from 1987 to 2011, will receive the award at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow at Doubleday Field. Then, his name and picture will be in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown forever.
"Forever is a hard concept to grasp," Hagen said. "But I'm 62 years old. I'm not going to be around forever. I've never thought too much about leaving a mark or anything like that, because, you're a baseball writer. I don't know if you think about things in that vein. But to have a little something there in Cooperstown, which I think is a very special place - that's nice. It's nice for future generations."
Hagen, who graduated from Ohio University, the same school that produced Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, began his writing career shortly after college in San Bernardino, Calif. He then spent a decade covering baseball in Dallas before joining the Daily News in 1987.
He was the Phillies beat writer from 1987 to 2001 and would establish himself as the authoritative voice of Philadelphia baseball.
"I always knew Paul to be the most plugged-in guy on the Philly beat," said Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, who was the 2010 recipient of the Spink Award. "If I ever wanted to know what was going on with the Phillies, I'd give Paul a call because he was always so plugged in. All the time. On all aspects of the team."
"I think obviously you have to hustle to get the story and he was always at the forefront," Phils shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "And he was always professional - he took pride in that."
Hagen graduated from the beat to the Daily News' national baseball writer and columnist in 2002. After 15 years as the beat writer, Hagen spent a decade in that role before leaving the paper in 2011.
Hagen's work - he offers the perfect marriage of baseball knowledge with vivid storytelling - continues at MLB.com, where he is still a regular at Citizens Bank Park while also handling the beat of covering any and all news involving baseball commissioner Bud Selig.
"I've known Paul for a long time - a first-class guy," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's been covering baseball for a long time. It's quite an honor for him. He's put his time in. He's been a good writer and a good example for baseball."
Hagen will share his weekend with more than 100 friends and family in Cooperstown this weekend, including his wife, Karen, and his two children, Emily and Dan.
"I'm elated [for him], absolutely elated," said Phillies broadcaster and former pitcher Larry Andersen. "He's a Hall of Fame guy. He should be in the Hall of Fame, for me. The countless hours we've had discussing moves, non-moves, organizational stuff. We've had great conversations over the years. I'm really excited for him."
"It's certainly the greatest honor anybody could have in this profession," Madden said, "because what makes it great is it's your peers that vote for you - this is not some popularity contest. It's the same body of people that vote players into the Hall of Fame that vote on us . . . that makes it special."
Hagen received 269 votes from eligible BBWAA voters. The next closest candidate received 87 votes.
"That might be a bigger honor - his peers voted him in," Manuel said. "That means a lot, means how much they feel about him and respect him. That's really good."