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Friends spell out their love for Hagy

They showed up in waves, some wearing ragged orange softball jerseys and faded gray jeans, others dressed in expensive suits with silk blue ties. A few sported bushy gray beards, unkempt mustaches and Grateful Dead T-shirts.

The sang, they laughed, they told stories that many of the hundred or so in attendance had already heard, and shouted and applauded during their favorite parts. When it was over, there were few tears but plenty of promises to head to the bar and down a few drinks.

It was the kind of memorial service that William "Wild Bill" Hagy, the most famous Orioles fan in franchise history, probably would have loved.

"He wouldn't have approved, though, that we didn't have any beer here," said Skip Dorer, Hagy's friend of nearly 30 years. "He liked his Budweiser."

Still, the celebration of Hagy's life, held yesterday at the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards nearly two months after his death at age 68, felt like a fitting tribute to the man often referred to during the service as the "Pied Piper of Section 34 in Memorial Stadium."

A cabdriver from Dundalk, Hagy became a baseball cult hero in the late 1970s and early 1980s, thanks in part to his wild facial hair, his large belly and his rousing cheers from the upper deck. For a while, the franchise even asked him to fire up the crowd from the top of the Orioles' dugout, spelling out the name of the franchise, contorting his pear-shaped body to thunderous applause.

He became such a well-known figure that he met President Jimmy Carter and appeared on the cover of Baltimore magazine in 1980 in a white tuxedo and white Orioles cowboy hat. Baseball fans recognized him in ballparks as far away as San Francisco.

"He will never be replaced, because his kind no longer exists," said Howie Meyers, Hagy's friend and president of the Oldtimers' Baseball Association. "He was like Ernest Hemingway to me. I know they were cut from the same cloth. I can just imagine he and Hemingway attending bullfights somewhere in Spain, and Bill standing up and shouting, 'Ole! Ole! Ole!'"

Hagy, as many of his mourners pointed out, embodied the blue-collar spirit of true fans everywhere, the ones who thought the cheapest tickets were the best tickets and loved to razz the opposing team.

Mostly, though, Hagy made friends. Next to energizing the crowd, it was what he did best. Dozens of people stood up yesterday and spoke about how he touched their lives. Some read poetry, others shared drinking stories.

Frank Zarti, Hagy's friend and fellow Grateful Dead enthusiast, gave a speech and snapped his cell phone shut as he left the podium, an ode to Hagy's disdain for Orioles fans who gabbed while watching the game.

"Bill, you even introduced me to my first wife," Zarti said, glancing up at the ceiling. "I promise I don't hold that against you."

A few in attendance, such as former Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan, told tales of evenings at Memorial Stadium when Hagy and the crowd from Section 34 were so loud, they seemed to will the team to victory.

"I know they won games for us, because we would hear the noise in the dugout and get fired up," said Flanagan, now Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations. "My two most cherished possessions from Memorial Stadium are my locker and the sign from Section 34."

While friends recalled Hagy's uncanny ability to dominate at Scrabble and his fondness for bluegrass music, road trips and golf, he was remembered above all as a baseball fan.

"One year, Bill had had three or four too many and was really taunting Reggie Jackson," said Neil Barber, Hagy's friend and softball teammate. "After the game, we were hanging around, and one of the clubhouse guys said, 'Bill, Reggie wants to talk to you.'

"Reggie came out of the clubhouse in just his stirrups and socks. Reggie was glaring at him. And Bill, who is actually bigger than Reggie, just looked at him and said, 'I have nothing to say to you.' That was Bill. A real original."

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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