'07 pieces

The Baltimore Sun

Last hurrah

With his wild beard, love for beer and passionate gesticulations from the upper deck, Wild Bill Hagy taught a generation of Baltimoreans what it meant to be a fan.

Hagy, who died in August at 68, was the face of a rowdy Memorial Stadium crowd that helped propel the Orioles to improbable comebacks in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When he stood and began forming with his arms the letters "O-R-I-O-L-E-S," thousands knew it was time to deliver some magic.

Hagy was a cabdriver by day but rarely missed a game by night, until he stormed out to protest a new rule preventing fans from bringing beer to the park. The Dundalk native returned to Camden Yards in later years as a quieter presence. But he never stopped loving his Budweiser and his Orioles.

-- Childs Walker

Goodbye to Bluefield

He didn't hit tape-measure homers or dominate with a 100 mph fastball, but George McGonagle made the Bluefield Orioles hum as the one-man front office for Baltimore's Rookie-level team.

Sharing his office with grass seed bags, rolls of tickets, ragged uniforms and a cranky printer that spit out player bios and statistics, McGonagle helped wrangle money and material to make Bowen Field the kind of place for kids and seniors and those in between. Some nights, he pitched and caught, as both ticket seller and ticket taker.

At season's end in August, McGonagle, 65, took his name off the active roster. The Baby Birds are searching for just their third general manager in the half-century they have had a handshake deal with Baltimore.

"There are days, and there are long days," McGonagle said of the job and his pending retirement. "I know there'll be some missing, but I'll get used to it."

-- Candus Thomson

Prized journalist


With that greeting, delivered in a deep, booming voice, David Halberstam began another wide-ranging telephone call. Halberstam, who could have excelled at almost anything -- teaching, broadcasting, fishing -- thankfully settled on journalism.

He shared the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Vietnam War while at The New York Times, and his definitive account of the buildup to the conflict, The Best and the Brightest, cemented his reputation as a tireless researcher with a keen eye for politics.

Yet one-third of his 21 books were about sports, and he was an avid striped bass and bone fish angler. Many conversations, including one with The Sun in April two weeks before his death, centered on sports.

Halberstam's first sports book, The Breaks of the Game, captured the NBA of the late 1970s, delving into workplace culture, racial tensions, the fate of 1960s counterculture, the nature of modern stardom and dozens of other subjects. He followed with memorable books about the 1984 Olympic rowing team, the 1949 American League pennant race and the ever-inscrutable Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots.

Sadly, left unfinished at the time of his death in a car accident at 73 was a book on the 1958 NFL championship game between the Colts and New York Giants.

-- Childs Walker and Candus Thomson

NFL players in trouble

Against a backdrop of criminal mischief and after a series of "black eyes" for his league, new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a tougher, more punitive personal conduct policy for players and club employees in April.

Adam "Pacman" Jones, a first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2005, was the poster child of the crackdown. For a string of arrests, including a shooting at a Las Vegas strip club that injured three and paralyzed one man, Jones was suspended for the 2007 season by Goodell.

Jones was far from the only player caught in Goodell's net. The Cincinnati Bengals' Chris Henry and former Chicago Bear Tank Johnson also drew suspensions, and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick went to federal prison after a sordid dogfighting scandal.

Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid's home was described by a Philadelphia-area judge as a "drug emporium" after Reid's two sons, Garrett and Britt, were sentenced to prison terms for traffic, drug and weapon charges.

-- Ken Murray

Distractions at Duke

It was April and the sun was shining on the lacrosse practice field adjacent to Cameron Indoor Stadium on the Duke campus.

It was the day after North Carolina's attorney general had dismissed sexual assault and kidnapping charges against three former Duke players.

But the remaining team members weren't ready to move on. It was, they said, like trying to shake a recurring nightmare. They couldn't believe it was over.

After practice, they sat on the metal bleachers and talked about what a surreal experience it had been: a woman's accusation of being sexually assaulted at a team party, and the players' eventual vindication when her story was determined to be false.

"It was like watching a movie through somebody else's eyes," said Matt Danowski, the coach's son. "You're thinking, 'That's my friend in the back of a squad car.'"

The players still seemed a little dazed. So much so that the coach had ordered them off the field during practice, then summoned them back. He said their minds weren't completely on lacrosse.

-- Jeff Barker

Preakness thrills

Everyone's on his or her feet as the field reaches the final turn. Curlin and Street Sense are neck-and-neck and ahead of the pack. The stands are shaking as those in the crowd of 121,263 scream for their horse. Or is it silent? Time stands still as the two horses take stride after stride, seemingly in step with each movement.


One of the closest races in Triple Crown history unfolds, nobody willing to declare a winner until the photo from the finish is studied.

It's Curlin, the No. 4 horse, who despite stumbling out of the gate roars down the stretch to nose out Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. The 132nd Preakness is official.

For someone attending his first Triple Crown race, it's a day to remember. The mosh pit formerly known as the infield. Full beer cans thrown at Jiffy John hurdlers. Bite-sized crab cakes that melt in your mouth. A race for the ages.

-- Ron Fritz

Feeling the blow

It wasn't a great moment -- quite the opposite -- but it was memorable just the same. It was Nov. 26 and a group of reporters was encamped at Redskins Park in Virginia awaiting news on safety Sean Taylor, who had been shot inside his home.

Reporters are detached and neutral by training, but everyone wished the best for the 24-year-old who lay in critical condition in a Miami hospital.

Just after dinner came word that Redskins vice president Vinny Cerrato would deliver an update on Taylor. The media leaned in close to the tiny telephone speaker and waited for Cerrato to begin.

Taylor, Cerrato said, "was responsive to the doctor's request to squeeze his hand and show facial expressions, so the doctors were very happy about that."

But the next morning, Taylor was gone, and the media felt the blow as much as everyone else. There is no such thing as objectivity when a young man dies.

-- Jeff Barker

Honesty rules day

It has been said that true integrity is measured by what you do when no one is watching. In a year marked by performance-enhancing drugs, surreptitious filming and exam cheating, the moment of this year happened in May when Hayley Milbourn exhibited great integrity when no one was watching.

Milbourn, then a Roland Park Country School senior, was leading the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland golf tournament by five strokes with one hole to go, and was well on her way to her third straight title, when she noticed that the ball in her bag was not the one she had played.

Despite the fact that no one saw her, Milbourn turned herself in and was disqualified.

"I have a lot more golf to play," Milbourn said at the time. "This is not my last tournament in my life. It was just one tournament. It doesn't define the rest of my life. I have a pretty heavy conscience, and that's what led me to make the decision I did. It's always good to do what your conscience tells you to do."

Would that Brian Roberts, Bill Belichick and any Florida State football player have understood that lesson.

-- Milton Kent

Shared experience

History tends to focus on the winner and the loser. Candidate A wins the election, or the hometown team loses the championship. There's hardly time for context, which is too bad.

The highlight of 2007 was the week that preceded the lowlight: the buildup to the January playoff game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Ravens.

The anticipation of that game -- the citywide dialogue, the history lessons, the excitement -- made us all children again, gathered together on the sidewalk as we waited for the parade to come around the corner.

While I love a big game as much as the next guy, the week was mostly reaffirming in that it drew Baltimore together. We were all a part of the same discussion, and it was the only discussion worth having. It was a much-needed reminder that sport does have the power to unite us.

The Colts won the game, and we -- The Sun -- beat a tight deadline. I still remember sitting in a Federal Hill bar later that night. Everyone around me was in mourning -- still breathing, talking and hurting as one -- and all I could think was, "Wow, it was a hell of a fun week."

-- Rick Maese

Tiger close-up

Often, memorable sports events have personal ties for sportswriters. They do for me.

I missed my then-9-year-old son's birthday on the same afternoon that Tiger Woods won his first Masters in 1997. I also missed a chance to cover the World Cup and the British Open the next summer to watch my son win his first heat at a swim meet. (Four years later, when informed of that decision, he said, "Are you an idiot?")

This year's memory was no different, and again it involved Tiger.

My younger son has a passing interest in golf, which means he watches only if Tiger is in the hunt. When the world's best golfer decided to bring his own tournament to Congressional Country Club in the Washington suburbs near where we live, I bought a ticket for my 14-year-old and became a spectator.

It was early on a sticky summer morning and my son was half-asleep, until Tiger walked by. Though he wasn't that close, my son's reaction was interesting. "It's like HD to the max," he said. We followed the crowds, strained to get a good look and waited for a chance to see him hit a shot close-up.

It came on the ninth hole when Tiger put his second shot behind the elevated green. I grabbed my son and positioned him right behind the ropes where Tiger's ball had settled into deep rough. With the precision and creativity that has complemented his power and sheer talent, Tiger popped a chip to within a couple of feet. The par-saving putt was routine.

"That was pretty cool," my son said.

I didn't want to burst his bubble, but I've seen that kind of magic close-up for more than a decade.

It never gets old.

-- Don Markus

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