His late parents, Dan and Elynor, were school teachers and supportive in any of his endeavors, giving him a lab set when he showed an interest in science and a violin when he wanted to learn a musical instrument.
"Science and music fell by the wayside, but the love of baseball endured," Hagen told a crowd on Saturday at Doubleday Field after accepting the Spink Award during an awards ceremony. "I was a second baseman and pitcher in high school, but realized pretty quickly that I wasn't good enough to get beyond that.
"So I decided to major in journalism in college. And unbelievably, 40 years later, here we are. It's been an amazing journey. And I sure hope it's not over yet."
Hagen is the first member of MLB.com's editorial staff voted the winner of the Spink by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. On Saturday, late Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Tom Cheek was also honored for winning the Ford C. Frick Award and special recognition was offered to Dr. Frank Jobe and film producer Thomas Tull.
The trio of Jacob Ruppert, Deacon White and Hank O'Day, elected to the Hall of Fame late last year by the 16-person Pre-Integration Veterans Committee, will be represented by their heirs at Sunday's induction ceremony, beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET. Hall of Fame coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. on MLB Network and can also be seen with a live stream on MLB.com.
Hagen joined MLB.com in 2011 after spending 25 years with the Philadelphia Daily News as a national baseball correspondent and Phillies beat writer.
Hagen's honor comes to him with MLB.com inscribed on his notepad, and he thanked the MLB.com family "for taking a chance on a 60-something when the state of the newspaper industry nudged me to look for a late-in-life career change."
A graduate in journalism from Ohio University, Hagen told his story on Saturday, his voice cracking when mentioning the absence of his parents at the ceremony, and the sacrifices made by his wife, Karen, and their two children because of the constraints of decades on the beat.
"Covering baseball is more a lifestyle than a job," Hagen said, as he began to again choke up. "It's different for your family. Even when you're home, you're not really there, because there's a game almost every night. And they're the ones who have to deal with your absence. ... Thanks for sticking with me through all of my adventures and my misadventures. I literally couldn't have done it without you."
Hagen was one of three candidates for the award that recognizes a lifetime of excellence in baseball writing. He was nominated along with retirees Jim Hawkins of the Detroit Free Press and Russell Schneider of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Hagen and Schneider were also on the 2011 ballot.
The entire membership of the BBWAA is eligible to vote for the Spink Award and does so every fall.
The group has voted for the Spink Award annually since 1962. Hagen is its 64th winner. Spink, the former editor of The Sporting News, was voted the first winner.
Hagen joins such other luminaries as Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon, Grantland Rice, Red Smith and Dick Young as winners of the most prestigious award a baseball writer can earn. Contemporaries include Rick Hummel, Bill Madden, MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby and last year's winner, Bob Elliott.
"Covering the baseball beat may not be as important or crucial in the big picture as uncovering corruption in politics or wrongdoing in business," Hagen said in his speech. "But I strongly believe that anybody who can cover baseball and cover it well can handle any job in journalism."
Aside from his 25 years in Philadelphia covering the Phillies and the national baseball scene, Hagen spent 10 years in the Dallas area covering the Rangers for the Times-Herald and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. His career began in San Bernardino, Calif., with three years of covering the Dodgers, among other beats.
Hagen, now a national reporter at MLB.com, covering Commissioner Bud Selig, the Phillies and Major League Baseball news, said he was thrilled by the support from his peers. He said his fellow beat writers were part and parcel of winning the award.
"I covered the Dodgers, Rangers and Phillies beats for almost 30 years," Hagen said. "I'm proud of that. But the degree of difficulty has been raised tremendously just since I became a national baseball writer for the Daily News in 1972. And still, the best beat writers do an amazing job. They instinctively understand that doing good work is its own reward.
"That louder isn't always better. That as much as they know, there's still much more to learn. That diligence and pride and integrity matter. They all share in this award."