The Three Amigos—the name was coined by Ray Finocchiaro, the Phillies' beat man for The News-Journal of Wilmington, Del.—worked long hours but still did their jobs with a casualness that was foreign to me. One day, after a good pitching performance by the Phillies' Ken Howell, King concluded an interview with Howell by poking his pen in the righthander's soft stomach and saying, "Good job." Hagen had long conversations with Dykstra in which he advised the centerfielder on how to lead his public life. Brown once saw Lee Thomas, the Phillies' general manager, being interviewed in the stands of Jack Russell Memorial Stadium in Clearwater by an out-of-town writer Brown did not like, and he waved his arms frantically at Thomas to indicate that the writer was not to be trusted. The Three Amigos' approach was new to me. I had always thought that some barrier between reporter and subject was a good thing.
They were a curious firm, Hagen, Brown & King. Hagen, married with two children, was an avuncular man, round in the middle, with a voice reminiscent of Mr. Magoo's. He carried a briefcase and concluded his anecdotes by rubbing his knuckles on his shirt pocket. King, married with no children, was a quiet man with short arms and legs who had the habit of twisting his neck from shoulder to shoulder while waiting silently for the clubhouse doors to open after a game. His appearance never varied: hair oiled back, a beard, dark glasses (even at night), boat shoes, and a reporter's notebook Stuffed in the back waistband of his pants.
Unlike his compatriots, Brown—divorced, no children—looked more like a ballplayer than a reporter. He often wore shorts and T-shirts, expensive sneakers and sunglasses. In summer he had a deep tan. He was tall and thin-waisted, broad at the shoulders, athletic. In high school he had played soccer. He ran, lifted weights, did exercises. He didn't eat red meat. He kept track of his beers.
I think Brown considered himself a rebel, but his acts of rebellion were modest. His spiked haircut, through which he ran his hands often, was tidy, like that of a punk rocker trying to please his mom. Sometimes he'd sit through the national anthem, chewing gum and snapping it loudly. His mood was unpredictable. He'd often complain about the pace of a game, or a decision by the official scorer, or anything, by looking out the press box window and yelling, "Mediocrity reigns!" On days he was on the warpath, nobody was safe except King and Hagen, Daulton and Dykstra, maybe a coach or two. On those days especially, his eyes were electric.
At first I thought Brown didn't hear me when I said hello to him. Then I realized he wasn't just not saying hello to me, he wasn't even riding elevators with me. Before long I knew that any effort I might make with Brown was futile. His hostility toward me was both sly and overt. He had a habit of walking out of the manager's office while I was posing a question. A mistake in the Inquirer was like a present to him. Once in a story I had Roger McDowell on the mound, struggling, when it should have been another pitcher. Brown ran the paper to McDowell. Another day I wrote that the Phils had gone through the motions in a routine loss. Brown ran that story to the manager.
You never knew what was going to set him off or what he'd find funny. Once I used the word brio in a game story, and Brown had a field day, telling his fellow Amigos, "I feel I'm writing with real brio tonight." Brown could be quite funny, unless you were the butt of his jokes. The Phillies' third baseman for a while was Dave Hollins, whom Brown called Head, after Hollins's large cranium. One Friday night in 1990, Randy Ready, a utility infielder for the Phillies and one of Brown's guys, weighed Head's head, I suspect at Brown's urging. In his Sunday column Brown dutifully reported that Hollins's head weighed 12 pounds. I thought that was funny. I doubt Hollins did.
Other times Brown's notion of humor just perplexed me. Once I wrote that the Cincinnati Reds "whomped" the home team. This tickled Brown. He found a copy of the Inquirer, marked the offending word with a pink highlighter and passed it through the press box, to high giggles. I still don't get it.
One of the significant pleasures of the HBK News Agency, naturally, was to have something in their papers that I didn't have. They were at a competitive advantage for a number of reasons. Hagen, Brown and King shared everything. Sometimes they would literally block other reporters out of interviews. They were fascinated by the day-to-day minutiae of a baseball season and would report much of it—particularly, stalled contract negotiations and rumors of trades and firings. They knew so much about the Phillies that players would seek out the triumvirate's opinion of their status. The general manager, in turn, would use the writers to help him evaluate players. He knew that writers saw stuff, heard stuff, knew stuff. They were all running on a two-way street.
One Sunday in late August 1990, at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, I showed up late for an afternoon Phillies-Padres game. (In other words, I was there only an hour or two before the first pitch.) I checked in with Thomas, the general manager, to see if there had been any roster moves or other news I needed to know about. I did that daily, checked in with either Thomas or Bill Giles, the team president. Thomas told me about a team meeting he had held that morning, in which he told the players to stop whining to umpires. I wrote it up as a note for the next day's paper. Late at night, as the first editions of the Inquirer came off the presses, the Amigos called Philadelphia to find out if I had the team meeting in the paper on a day they had marked me for tardiness. They didn't like the answer. At one in the morning, Hagen called Finocchiaro, who was the chairman of the Philadelphia-area chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. The Amigos wanted an emergency chapter meeting.
When Finocchiaro arrived in Hagen's hotel room, Brown and King were there. "You're picking Bamberger up," Brown said, beer in hand. He assumed that Finocchiaro had told me about the team meeting.