Pete Gilbert: Vince Bagli ‘Was So Good Because He Was So Authentic’

Longtime WBAL sportscaster Vince Bagli passed away Oct. 6 at the age of 93, spurring scores of remembrances of the man known as the “Dean of Baltimore Sports.” Bagli, who worked at WBAL for 31 years before retiring in 1995, drew universal praise for the way he treated people and how he covered the Baltimore sports landscape.

In 1943, Bagli graduated from what was then known as Loyola High School. He served as a pharmacist’s mate in the U.S. Navy from 1943-1946. He graduated from Loyola College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1949 and was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003.

One of the many Baltimore sportscasters who felt Bagli’s impact was WBAL’s Pete Gilbert. He joined Glenn Clark Radio Oct. 7 to talk about Bagli.

PressBox: It’s a tough day, but certainly a remarkable life lived by the great Vince Bagli. What did he mean to you?

Pete Gilbert: Professionally, he was so good because he was so authentic. He was a homer in that he’s from Baltimore. He went to Loyola Blakefield. This guy was Baltimore through and through. But even when he would call the games for the Colts, he was frank. He could be blunt. People knew they were getting the real deal from him, and that’s why he was so popular and he had a great way of framing things. The genuine love for the community and his understanding of the games and his understanding of the people and what it meant to tell the stories of the people is why he connected so well. It’s why he’s called the “Dean of Baltimore Sports.” That’s him professionally and personally. It’s hard to find a kinder, more thoughtful person that I’ve ever come across. I don’t have a career without Vince Bagli, and I mean that literally. He offered me an internship in 1995. He offered me one for the summer at WBAL, and he actually retired before I ever got there before the internship. Through a friend, kind of a freak thing, and we talked for a while. He said, “Look, why don’t you come in? Let’s see what we can find out.” I owe my entire last 25 years to that. And what’s neat is how he would stay in touch with us and call and let us know what he thought of how we were doing. It was about six months ago when I got a call from him. I was out walking the dog in the morning. You could tell he was saying goodbye. It was a happy and very sad at the same time conversation because I could tell that this was goodbye even though he knew that this was coming and the fact that it was six months later, it was actually kind of surprising that it lasted this long. He was just a great Baltimorean, and I’m really, really proud to have known him.

PB: How did Vince shape who you wanted to be as a broadcaster, beyond him giving you that opportunity? But just having watched him, seen him, that relationship, how did it shape who you are as a professional?

PG: The biggest takeaway was to be yourself, to be authentic. Don’t try for shtick, don’t try to be something you’re not. Do the homework, be prepared, then be yourself, and that’ll give you the best chance to succeed. That is what he did. The amount of knowledge and understanding that he had of what was going on was awesome. I’m trying to remember what it was even for, but I went back and found a sportscast of his the night that Villanova upset Georgetown to win the NCAA basketball championship back in 1985. It was beautiful. There was never any prompter or scripts for Vince Bagli. He was like, “I’m just going to tell you what’s going on.” And he did, and he did it with a panache that was awesome. You could tell that undoubtedly he had directors and producers in his ear to wrap [up] and he’s like, “Whatever, I’m not done yet.” And then because of the respect for him, they let him keep going. That was really cool. He was just the real deal. He was authentic, and that was the biggest takeaway I had from him — to be yourself, and if you do the work, that’ll give you a chance to succeed.

PB: Even as a kid who thought more of himself — kind of feeling himself a little bit early on in my career — I would bump into Vince and I was so taken aback by how I would’ve happily listened to him tell his own stories, he preferred to ask me questions and ask me about my own career and things that I was learning in the business. Can you expand upon that, the type of person that he was and the impact that he made on you because of that?

PG: Almost every Baltimore sports fan has a Brooks Robinson story, because at some point you met him — the warmth and how that memory lasts for so long because of how powerful it is, because of how great Brooks was to you on an individual level. Vince was the same way. When you had that interaction with him, he made you feel special. He wanted to know what was going on. He wanted to listen. As you said, that was so very true. I was texting with Jamison Hensley [Oct. 7]. He covers the Ravens for ESPN and formerly of The Baltimore Sun. He relayed a short story about how he saw Vince in the press box — as a guy who grew up in the area, you’re going to revere him — and what it meant to him that Vince said, “Hey, I love your work. I love reading you. Keep up the great work.” And Jamison’s flabbergasted. And talking with Gerry Sandusky [Oct. 7], which was a hard conversation because we were both choked up. You know how many lives Vince affected — mine as an intern by giving me that opportunity. There are so many people that he touched and have a similar story, whom he gave opportunities to. That was one of the things that he really wanted to do. He wanted to reach out and help people and help the community and find a way to bring along young sportscasters. There are dozens and dozens of people who got internships and ended up with careers because of his outreach to them and then training with them throughout. He was one of those people that wanted to help. He wanted to do what he could for those that he met. When a person who has the legacy and career and stature that he does and he doesn’t make it about himself, that’s how you know someone’s really special.

PB: There’s a generation of you guys — Scott Garceau, Mark Viviano and everybody — who had to learn from Vince Bagli that this is not a stepping stone. This is not the place that you come to go get the job that you want to get somewhere else. You have to care, and you have to embed yourself in this community. Can you speak to that and how that sort of set the tone for an entire generation of sportscasters in Baltimore?

PG: What Vince made very clear was one of the things that I saw from watching him as I grew up — he gave the same level of respect and interest and care and time to the high school quarterback or the high school tight end or the mother of the high school tight end as he would to Earl Weaver. With the stories that he did, if he was going to do them, he cared about them. That came across clearly. That’s how you become beloved in a community, when they see that you’re not just about the stars. You’re about telling all the sports stories that we have in the community. That’s how you set the standard. I really enjoy and think it’s really important to go into Baltimore City schools, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel, all over the area, and tell their stories and treat them as you would going and trying to talk to Lamar Jackson or John Harbaugh. If you give the same kind of level of caring to those stories — and the stories are much better, you get to tell them — and what it means then to the communities when they see that, when they hear it on a WBAL or WJZ or whatever it is. You get that level of caring into a story, it is much more impactful. You don’t brush by something because you don’t think it’s maybe as big a deal. No, you tell the story that needs to be told. And you do it with all the resources and care and everything you’ve learned about doing it. That’s what Vince did. That was the standard he set, and I knew if I was going to have a career in this town, that’s how you had to do it. It’s important to do it that way, and it meant a lot. Again, it all comes back to the fact that he did it because he genuinely cared about these people and their stories. And that came across, and that’s why he’s the “Dean of Baltimore Sports.”

For more from Gilbert, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles

Luke Jackson

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