Former WBAL-TV sportscaster Vince Bagli, who became known as the “Dean of Baltimore Sports” in nearly five decades on air, died Tuesday at Lorien Assisted Living in Taneytown.
The former Finksburg resident was 93. His death was caused by complications from a pulmonary embolism, said his son Vince Bagli Jr., of Baltimore.
A former Baltimore Colts color commentator, the elder Mr. Bagli was an old-fashioned broadcaster who used handwritten notes instead of scripts on air. His inner fan — and his innate ability to connect with people from all walks of life — endeared him to generations of Baltimoreans.
“I really think I’m an extension of the fans,” he said in a 1988 Sunday Sun Magazine profile. “I started out being a fan. I say a lot of things you hear in the barber shop or drugstore or the checkout counter in the supermarket. I probably know a little more because I am closer to it and have been paying attention to it as a profession for a long time. But I started out a fan and in a lot of ways, I am still that same fan.”
Along with the professional sports scores, Mr. Bagli took pride in delivering the results of every local high school football game on Friday nights and name-dropping the players who had made big contributions, his son said.
“I had friends who would stop what they were doing on a Friday night and watch sports at 11:20 to see if their name would get mentioned,” the younger Mr. Bagli said. “He made a special effort with almost everybody he came across to make a connection in some way and make them feel comfortable and important.”
The broadcaster spent 31 of his 46 years on air at WBAL-TV before retiring in 1995.
Hall of Fame Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer said legends of Mr. Bagli’s stature tend to be taken for granted.
“When they pass away, you stop and reflect, and realize how fortunate we were to have had them in our lives,” Mr. Palmer said.
“When you think of all the people like Chuck Thompson and Vince Bagli that we had in Baltimore, you grew old with them. Vince told the truth, never dodged an issue and wasn’t controversial just to be controversial.”
John Wesley “Boog” Powell, former Orioles slugger and left fielder, said the broadcaster was “always pleasant and smiling, always had something positive to say, and was never grumpy.”
“His evaluation of me as a baseball player, I don’t know about that,” Mr. Powell said, with a laugh. “Well, he never said anything negative about me, and I always enjoyed being around him. ... Whenever he came to the park, he’d go out of his way to say hello, and I always appreciated that.”
Bill Tanton, a former Evening Sun sports editor and columnist and a longtime friend, said when it came to sports, Mr. Bagli “had an encyclopedic mind, and he was always right and everyone loved him.”
“He never saw himself as a star, but he was one," Mr. Tanton said. "There’s only one Vince, and he really was the ‘Dean of Baltimore Sports’ and such a part of the local scene.”
Mr. Bagli’s on-air delivery came across as friendly and personal, as if he were having a “simple little conversation at your kitchen table,” said Gerry Sandusky, sports director at WBAL-TV.
Mr. Sandusky remembered being visibly frustrated after “a really bad show” one day in 1989. Mr. Bagli stopped him in his tracks. It was one of the countless times he would mentor younger colleagues.
“Hey, Ace, we aren’t doctors. Nobody died. There’s another show in five hours,” Mr. Sandusky recalled Mr. Bagli saying. “He could put everything in perspective, teach you things without being pedantic and make you believe the sun would rise tomorrow.”
Vincent Thomas Bagli Sr. was born in Baltimore in 1927. His father, Francis Bagli, was an obstetrician, and his mother, the former Elizabeth O’Connor, was a nurse. He was raised in Hamilton, where he attended St. Dominic’s Parochial School.
After graduating in 1943 from Loyola Blakefield High School, he attended what is now Loyola University Maryland, where he “attempted to make the transition from spectator to outfielder with limited success," according to the Sun Magazine profile.
Mr. Bagli first appeared behind a microphone in 1949, during his senior year in college. Loyola’s basketball team had traveled to Kansas City to play in a national basketball tournament, and while there was interest in the game back home in Baltimore, there was no live radio broadcast.
Mr. Bagli and several friends combined efforts to re-create the game by using telegrams and then broadcasting the game over the college’s public-address system in the gymnasium.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree and serving as a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy, he worked at two radio stations as a disc jockey and then joined WBAL as a staff announcer. After four years, he left to host an afternoon music and sports program on WWIN Radio.
While working at WBMD Radio in the early 1950s, he became friends with Judy Tormey.
“Vince used to drive me home at night in an old jalopy,” recalled Ms. Tormey, who later became a regular singer in the early days of Baltimore television on WBAL’s "The Brent Gunts Show.”
“We were going home one night when Vince said he was thinking about giving up sports and becoming a singer. I said, ‘Vince, sing something for me,' and he had absolutely no singing voice. I said, ‘Vince, you better stick to sports.’”
By the late 1950s, Mr. Bagli was making the move away from disc jockey to sports, and in 1959, made his debut as the radio voice of the Baltimore Colts while covering high school sports for the old News American.
In 1964, he became the lead sports anchor at WBAL-TV.
“From the start, Bagli’s delivery of the sports news has been unusual. While most other sportscasters work from prepared scripts from which they rarely deviate, Bagli prefers to look directly into the camera,” observed The Sun Magazine profile. “His scripts include perhaps as much as one complete sentence on a story he will talk about.”
It was no secret that Mr. Bagli loathed teleprompters and battled with studio executives over his unhappiness with them.
“Take a look at the people who use them, and you tell me if they are as credible as somebody who just looks at you and talks,” he said in the 1988 article.
Mark Viviano recalled watching in awe how Mr. Bagli would rely only on his notes and “basically tell the director over the air when to roll a tape.”
“It was simple, direct and all Vince,” said Mr. Viviano, who became sports director at WJZ in 2002 after working at WBAL from 1994 to 1999. “It was just his style.”
Even as he gained legendary stature in the Baltimore sports world, Mr. Bagli’s approachable demeanor and sharp memory for faces and names always drew people to him, Mr. Viviano said.
“Vince represents the beginnings of this industry and laid the foundation for any and all of us who followed, not just in his work but in his manner,” Mr. Viviano said. “He was one of the most friendly, genuine people you would ever meet, and he was that way with everyone.
John Ziemann, a member of the Baltimore Colts’ Band since 1962, recalled Mr. Bagli stopping to tell the band how much he appreciated them before games at Memorial Stadium.
“There was nothing phony about Vince Bagli and he was always fair to both sides of the story," Mr. Ziemann said. "I don’t think I’ve ever met one who was so kind in broadcasting.”
Rudy Miller, a former WBAL-TV broadcaster who worked with Bagli during her 14 years at the station, called her former colleague “the nicest, kindest man that I have met in broadcasting — and maybe in the rest of my life.”
Ms. Miller, who was in her 20s when she was hired, said Mr. Bagli instilled a key lesson: “Always remember your microphone is on, even at the commercial breaks.”
Mr. Bagli was a family man who loved talking about his kids, a true Baltimore lover who was as heartbroken as anyone when the Colts departed for Indianapolis in 1984, and an example for generations of on-air broadcasters, Ms. Miller said.
“He was one of the greats,” she said. “They don’t make them like him anymore.”
Before Keith Mills became a well-known Baltimore sportscaster in his own right, he grew up watching Mr. Bagli cover Loyola vs. Calvert Hall, City vs. Poly and other local high school rivalries on a little black-and-white television.
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“He was the only guy that did high school sports at that time,” Mr. Mills said. “He made it cool to cover high schools, and he treated local high school athletes and college coaches like Johnny Unitas or Brooks Robinson.”
Most Baltimore sportscasters who followed him modeled themselves after “The Dean,” Mills said.
“Vince set the tone for everyone who came after him,” he said.
Services are private.
In addition to his son, Mr. Bagli is survived by his wife of 28 years, Jean Bagli, and his children Libby Nagle of Timonium; Tracy Hooper of Portland, Oregon; Tom Bagli of Boulder, Colorado; Meg McNamara of Sparks; and Missy Valletta of Towson. An earlier marriage to Barbara LaPorte ended in divorce.