John J. Battaglia Sr., auto parts salesman and sports coach, dies

John J. Battaglia Sr. was a longtime assistant football coach at the Gilman School.

John Joseph "Buzz" Battaglia Sr., an auto parts sales executive and who coached high school football and had a radio sports show, died of respiratory infection June 6 at the University of Maryland St. Joseph's Medical Center. The Sparks resident was 69.

Born in Baltimore, he was the son of John Battaglia, who owned a grocery store at the corner store at Gay and Federal streets, and his wife, Mary Serio.


He attended the old Saint Katharine of Sienna School and the Mergenthaler Vocational Technical School. He later obtained a general education diploma at City College.

He was a cousin of former Baltimore Police Commissioner Frank Battaglia.


As a young man he worked in the family's East Baltimore grocery business. He also delivered prescriptions for a neighborhood pharmacist known as Doc Lutz, and spent time at a nearby auto parts business.

"As a child he had a love for anything with wheels, toy cars and trucks and bicycles," said his wife, Donna "Bunny" Danas Battaglia. "His mother said that if it ran, Buzz was attracted to it. He tinkered with anything with wheels. He was a transportation guy"

She said she met her future husband while they were high school students and lived in the same neighborhood.

Mr. Battaglia initially worked for Filco ignition systems but decided he'd rather work for himself. He told friends he started his own business with $5 in his pocket. He sold auto parts from the trunk of a green Chevrolet station wagon.

In 1972 he opened Metro Auto Parts in Rosedale across from a fire hall. He expanded the business with stores in Arbutus, Aberdeen, Elkton, Edgewood and Bel Air.

He believed in advertising his business, and met with ad creators in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., and arranged for a recording that was later made in Nashville. The radio spot was aired widely in Baltimore.

He also appeared on television in his own commercials. When naming the locations of his auto parts stores, he pronounced the Harford County seat as "Blair" — and got complaints. He then changed the audio portion of the commercial.

"He purposefully over-prounouced Bel Air and the way he said it became a hit," said a son, John J. Battaglia Jr., of Sparks. "He loved promotions and was an excellent business man. He once filled his parking lot with sand and had a beach party. He was adept with ad buys in the media. He knew his audience."


In 2000, Mr. Battaglia joined Salvo Art Parts as its director of outside sales and promotions. He worked with commercial clients, including BGE and the State of Maryland. He was given a BGE award after Hurricane Isabel in 2003 for his work supplying auto parts to utility crews that came to Maryland to assist with restoring power.

Mr. Battaglia became acquainted with local sports figures and featured Jim Palmer, Rex Barney, Stan White and Mike Curtis at his promotional sales events.

He was also an early proponent of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and lobbied for its construction. He also took part in the "Give Baltimore The Ball" campaign for a new football franchise after the departure of the Baltimore Colts.

He became involved in amateur sports and coached at the Cockeysville Recreation Council, where he served as president for 17 years. He was also the president of the Harford-Baltimore County Youth Football League, which he ran from his office in Rosedale.

"My father could not play football as a young man and he wanted to make sure that other kids had a chance to play," said another son, Joseph Anthony Battaglia of Bethany, W.Va.. "He worked for his father and there was a rule at Mervo that if you had a job, you couldn't be on the school's team."

After a year helping to coach at Calvert Hall College High School, he became an assistant to Sherm Bristow and later Biff Poggi at the Gilman School, where he remained for 24 years.

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He also championed the creation of a girls' lacrosse program at the Catholic High School.

"This year, finally, his Cinderella team at Catholic High came to the top," his wife said of their recent championship win.

About 10 years ago, Mr. Battaglia sponsored and hosted a weekly sports radio program, "The Coach's Buzz" on 1300-AM. He worked alongside son John Jr., and with Miles Goodman and other guests.

In the 1970s and 1980s Mr. Battaglia had worked on air with Art Donovan, Ordell Braase, Tom Davis and Johnny Unitas. The shows were broadcast from the old Flaming Pit in Cockeysville.

A funeral Mass will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, 101 Church Lane in Cockeysville.

In addition to his wife of 42 years and two sons, survivors include two other sons, Michael Malley of Portland, Ore. and David Malizia of San Francisco, Calif.; two daughters, Victoria Hofmann of Upperco and Maria Bieneman of Sparks; and 11 grandchildren.