Brown spun around and screamed, "You better watch what the f—- you're saying!"
That's when Dias asked the $64,000 question: "What the f—- is your problem?"
That year the Inquirer had a new beat writer. Frank Fitzpatrick, the fourth guy to cover the Phils for the paper in four years. Fitzpatrick had the occasional problem with Brown, but nothing like what Polman and I had had. For one thing, he was a more traditional choice. He came from the paper's sports department, not the newsroom. For another thing, he had lived in Delaware County all his life. Brown's territory was his, too. They had friends in common. Fitzpatrick knew the customs of the game. He was capable, unflappable. He didn't use the word brio. He didn't wear blue jeans on consecutive days. One time Brown even invited Fitzpatrick to join the Three Amigos for dinner.
In 1992, as Brown settled into a new marriage, the triumvirate showed signs of weakening. The first crack came when Brown and King, to show their lack of respect for the Phillies, failed to show up for the traditional dinner the team threw for the beat writers during spring training. Hagen was irritated. The following year at spring training, Hagen had a story that he didn't share with his old pals. The pact had been broken.
Later in 1993 Hagen signed a deal to write a book with John Kruk, the Phillies' first baseman. Fregosi's team, with a motley collection of players, made it to the sixth game of the World Series. Brown and King tried to find a book deal to write the story of the Phillies' implausible success, but they received no offers. These forays into publishing—one consummated, the other not—didn't help the trio's relations.
Then relations became worse. Kruk missed spring training in 1994 after learning he had testicular cancer and undergoing surgery. He joined the Phillies in April, just as his book was coming out. On the day he returned to Philadelphia, there were fans and television cameras and reporters at the airport to meet him. King and Brown didn't go, but Hagen did. While Kruk's luggage was riding around the baggage carousel, he was busy with the gathered throng. So Hagen removed Kruk's bags, an act of subservience witnessed by spies for Brown and King. For weeks afterward Hagen, while on the road, would show up in press boxes and find his seat marked with the customary placard with his name on it and, next to it, the word Skycap.
In time Hagen and King stopped talking altogether, while King and Brown became tighter than ever. As for Hagen and Brown, their relationship was reduced to making observations about each other. When Brown saw Hagen drinking beer and eating pink hot dogs, he would say, "If I die before you, I'm gonna be really pissed."
Then it happened. Sometime in 1994, I heard that Brown was sick—that he had, of all things, breast cancer. I guessed, in my ignorance, that it was not too serious, that it was treatable, that Brown, so health-conscious, would be fine. I didn't pay much attention. I had lost interest in him.
One day in September 1995 a friend asked, "Did you hear about Bill Brown?"
"What about him?"