(Baltimore Magazine, 1/2008)
Wild Bill Hagy defied the conventions of celebrityhood. He achieved an unlikely renown—hounded by autograph seekers, meeting Presidents Carter and Reagan, featured in The New Yorker—by leading his signature “O-R-l-O-L-E-S” cheers from Section 34 in the upper deck of Memorial Stadium during the team’s glory years of the late 1970′s and early 1980′s. Aggressively unglamorous—bowlegged, a bald spot planted in the midst of a thicket of unruly dark hair, and a scraggly beard immune to grooming—Hagy twisted his mall-Santa-in-training physique into walk-like-an-Egyptian approximations of the letters that spell “Orioles.” Doing so rallied his cabal of friends and co-conspirators, and the fans, into delirious support of the home team.
“I just remember how much control he had over the crowd,” Rick Dempsey, the Orioles catcher during Hagy’s heyday, related to The Sun this past August after Wild Bill died at age 68. “In an era when the Orioles were on fire, he turned the crowd on fire.”
A cab driver for local taxi firms Jimmy’s, North Point, and County during the day, Hagy metamorphosed into ultra-fan for night games. In a spring 1979 segment of the defunct WJZ-TV program Evening Magazine (accessible via YouTube), Hagy, after knocking off from his cabbie shift in midafternoon, assembles his Section 34 votaries at east side watering hole Ed’s In (yes, “In,” not “Inn”) for some pre-game Budweiser hoisting. The group then piles into a van and sets off for Memorial Stadium, coolers full of beer in tow. Settled into his Section 34 sanctum—chosen, Hagy explains, because of its “general admission” status and its strategic location with “a restroom right down the bottom of the ramp”—Hagy is shown periodically rising from his seat, whipping his hat over his head, bellowing “Are you ready?”, and leading cheers for then-Orioles players Lee May, Ken Singleton, and Al Bumbry (“C’mon, Al, hit a home run now!”).
Born in Sparrows Point, Hagy first saw the O’s play as a teenager in 1954. His cheerleading began in 1977 and continued unabated until 1985, when team management forbade fans from bringing alcohol into the stadium. The night before the policy became effective, Hagy chugged 10 beers and then ritualistically hurled his cooler from Section 34 onto the field in protest. He declared a boycott of the stadium, which he rigorously maintained until the place closed in 1991.
Although Hagy relented to attend the occasional game at Camden Yards, he cut a considerably more discreet figure. And in what proved to be a literal last hurrah, Hagy led an “0-R-I-O-L-E-S” cheer in Cooperstown. N.Y., during the festivities that accompanied Ripken’s Baseball Hall of Fame induction. A month later, he died.
“He was a diehard hometown guy,” Hagy’s longtime friend and roommate Wayne Kaiser told The Sun, “and he liked that he could get people excited about the team he loved.”Tags: baltimore magazine