I don’t know that Vince Bagli, who died Tuesday night at the age of 93, ever read a book by the late psychotherapist Robert Moore, but he certainly embraced one of Moore’s profound instructions: That men have a responsibility to admire and encourage younger men.
“How many of you have admired a younger man in the last two weeks, and told him so?” Moore, based in Chicago, asked the audience at one of his lectures. “How many of you were admired by older men when you were young? . . . If you are a young man and you’re not being admired by an older man, you’re being hurt.”
I first heard those words some 30 years ago, and I have been pondering them, it seems, ever since. Moore’s context was male initiation, and the importance of young men finding their way to honorable manhood with the approval of older males who are not their fathers. He and the poet Robert Bly devoted a good part of their lives to that discussion.
You can probably think of a man or woman who gave an encouraging word at a time when you really weren’t sure you were on the right path in life, when you had doubts about your skills, your beliefs, or the career you had chosen. I was lucky. Starting with public school teachers and continuing through college and into the city rooms of three newspapers, several men and women encouraged me.
And then, in Baltimore, there was Vince Bagli. He did not need a book to understand the importance of speaking encouraging words. It came to him naturally. He was gifted in the art of encouragement.
The first time I met him, probably 40 years ago, in the lobby of WBAL, he was a star of TV Hill, already the dean of Baltimore sportscasters, and he shocked me by referencing columns I had written in The Evening Sun. I was maybe 26, convinced that no one reading the newspaper — certainly no native Baltimorean 30 years my senior — cared what I had to say about anything. But Vince was all over me, with kind words and “Keep up the good work.”
And for years after that, when I was producing weekly features for the 5 o’clock show in the 1980s and 1990s, Vince always had a positive word. I don’t know that I ever complimented his nightly sportscast; he was so interested in my work, there didn’t seem to be time. Here was a man, accomplished and beloved in Baltimore, who went out of his way to encourage the younger people around him, to take a real interest in their lives, mentoring some.
Vince wasn’t a schmoozer. He was totally sincere, genuine to the bone, funny, wise and endlessly affable. “As good a man as has ever walked on Earth,” was how Will Schwarz put it. He was Vince’s producer in the 1980s.
I think his role as an encourager stemmed from Vince’s career as a chronicler of Baltimore sports, a longtime observer of athletes in the arena. He appreciated the speed and agility of a Colts running back; the discipline it took for an Oriole outfielder to bat .300 or a pitcher to win 20 games; the strength and endurance required of a three-year-old to win the Preakness. Vince admired those who tried. He wasn’t naive, by any means. In fact, his off-screen humor could be quite sardonic. He just wasn’t going to make a career of being a nasty sports commentator. He was sometimes called a homer for being this way. But such criticism missed the point: Baltimore is not New York, not Boston, not Chicago. Nasty, hot-breathed sports commentators had no place here. In Vince’s time, Baltimoreans knew when the Orioles stunk or the Colts were sputtering; they didn’t need the sports guy on TV to rub it in.
“The reservoir of decency in this world has been diminished,” Will Schwarz said after learning of the death of this amiable man who always had an encouraging word.
I’m going to think hard again about Vince’s example, and Robert Moore’s question. If there’s a young man or young woman in your orbit who deserves admiration, or who needs encouragement, say so now, say it more often, say it in memory of Vince.