NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Find an empty seat in the press box next to his in the summer or an empty bar stool at Frenchy's in Clearwater in March and he'll tell you stories. They'll be the most engaging baseball stories you're ever likely to hear and you'll be entertained for hours on end.
That's what Paul Hagen is at heart: a storyteller.
On Tuesday at the Opryland Hotel, Hagen briefly told the stories about the two times he stood at the podium at Cooperstown at the National Baseball Hall of Fame to introduce honorees. Those experiences should help Hagen this summer, when he's on the other end of one of those speeches.
Hagen, a former longtime Daily News baseball writer, was announced as the 2013 recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, an honor bestowed by the Baseball Writers' Association of America annually since 1962 to a writer "for meritorious contributions to baseball writing."
Hagen will be honored at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown in July, joining the 63 other Spink winners at the Hall's "Scribes and Mikemen" exhibit. The award is the highest honor a baseball writer can receive.
"I don't think you ever really know how you're being perceived," Hagen said. "So when something like this happens, that your peers thought enough of you to vote you an award like this, it's overwhelming, it really is."
Hagen, who has been writing about baseball for 40 years, including more than a quarter century in Philadelphia, received 269 votes from eligible BBWAA voters. The next closest candidate received 87 votes.
Hagen got a standing ovation when he was announced as this year's recipient before the BBWAA's Tuesday morning meeting in Nashville, where Major League Baseball's winter meetings are being held this week.
"A consummate pro," said St. Louis Post-Dispatch baseball writer Rick Hummel, who received the Spink Award in 2006. "He always seems to have a smile on his face . . . And he has the neatest notes - you can actually read them. I don't think many of us can say that."
"I've never gone to a Hall of Fame induction when I wasn't covering one," Hummel said. "But I'll be going this year [to see Hagen]."
But it wasn't just the writers who appreciated Hagen's contributions to his profession and the game.
Two Phillies employees briefly sneaked into the BBWAA meeting to offer Hagen a congratulatory handshake. Former Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino, who agreed to a 3-year deal with the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday, took time out of his negotiations to deliver Hagen a message via Twitter.
"Congrats Paul Hagen, Bound for Cooperstown as the BBWAA's Spink Award winner," Victorino wrote. "Truly a pleasure my friend talking baseball all these years!"
While at the Daily News, Hagen covered the end of Mike Schmidt's Hall of Fame career and three Phillies World Series, in 1993, 2008 and 2009. A native of upstate New York, Hagen graduated from Ohio University, the same school Schmidt attended.
Hagen's ascension as a sports journalist began in college, when he took the job as sports editor at the Athens (Ohio) Messenger while he was a senior.
After a stint in San Bernadino, Calif., and then a decade of covering baseball in Dallas, Hagen joined the Daily News in 1987. He was the paper's Phillies beat writer for 15 years and continued on as a national baseball writer and columnist until 2011.
Hagen's baseball acumen and outgoing personality breathed through his writing and into the Daily News pages. Whether it was mid-July or mid-January, Hagen gave a sports-crazed city what it demanded: a knowledgeable voice in its baseball coverage.
As a baseball writer, however, Hagen regularly racked up the Marriott points on the road.
"As excited as I am for me, I'm probably more excited for [my wife] Karen and my daughter [Emily] and my son [Dan]," Hagen said. "Because when you think about it, I was always out there working. They were the ones sacrificing at home while I was always on the road, or in spring training for 6 weeks, or in the playoffs for 3 weeks. Just talking to my wife this morning, texting my kids, that might be the best part of it."