Tonight I found out that one of my best friends and dearest colleagues passed away in his sleep last night. Mark “Daddy Wags” Wagner was one of the best statisticians in the country. He worked for and was friends with sports broadcaster Thom Brennaman and was a name frequently mentioned on Fox Ohio Reds broadcasts. While many probably assume the only time I ever associated with Wags was at work, few realize that Mark was an important part of my life. He and his wife were at my wedding 10 years ago, he and I worked on literally hundreds of basketball, football & baseball games together. He was the one I went too when I needed a graphic or a stat to make the show special. Where I’m the one pounding the keys, Wags was the mind behind the madness. If ever there was a person who was perfect for me to work with, it was Wags. He knew when to give me shit, he knew how to take it and he always did both with a grin on his face. Because HE knew what I’ve always known about our occupation…it’s just sports. Sure…it’s a job and we do it professionally, but in the end…it’s just sports. And he & I always had fun with it.
The best story I can tell you about Mark Wagner, and one that has been repeated several times by our friend and director, Uncle Roy Alfers, was the time during a Xavier basketball game that Wags was incessant that I sell a graphic that I had made that basically stated this: The Xavier Musketeers are 16-0 in the last 5 years on Saturday afternoon games that tipoff before 2pm. I shit you not. The graphic made air and the producer just about strangled me for selling it, but it was typical Wags and to this day I still laugh about it. It was graphics like that that set Wags apart from the common stats guy who shows up with all the same stuff that you can find in a magazine or on a website. He always had stats that were different. He LOVED that aspect of sports and was always on the lookout for something fresh and fun to put on the air.
I can’t say enough about Mark Wagner as a man. As I was telling my wife tonight as I was fighting back more tears than a man is allowed to cry, the thing about Wags was he was always sincere. In a sea of people that I work with, many who are from all over this country, Mark was one of the few who ever asked about my family, who wanted to know about my kids, how my son was doing in his football league, how I was doing. He always wanted to know about me AND my family first…THEN we could talk work. I never told him how much I appreciated that aspect of our relationship. I have plenty of friends in this business…but very few of them are actually truly interested in me and my family. But Wags was. Every year I got a Christmas card from he and his wife. Every year. I have to be honest…I don’t remember if I returned the favor every year. I’m admittedly not good about those things. But now I wish I could tell him how much I actually appreciated that he took the time and sent us one.
There are a lot of things to think about when a friend dies. All the things you could have said. All the things you wish you could have done. I last spoke with Wags just Thursday morning. He & I were supposed to be working a preseason football game in Indianapolis together. Halfway into my drive he called me and told me he wasn’t feeling well and asked if I could manage on my own. I laughed and told him “Of course Wags. It’s preseason football, for crying out loud. It ain’t the Super Bowl!” He laughed and told me he appreciated it and that he was looking for a replacement. I told him not to worry about it. I told him to get his ass home and take care of himself. A little while after that call he called me back to tell me that he had found a replacement. I told him thanks and wished him well. And that was the last time I would speak with him.
There are so many things I wish I could say to him right now. I wish I could have had one more game with him, to tell him what a great friend he was. To let him know that, of all the people who have sat by my side and who I have counted on to make me look good, he was definitely my favorite. But now I’ll never have that chance. I royally fucked that one up Wags and I’m sorry. But you are one of my best friends and one of the best co-workers I have ever had. The way you were, the way you conducted yourself, the way you cared, makes you one of the most important people I have ever known and I am going to miss you so much.
Of all the photos I have taken, the only one I have of Mark is the one above at my wedding. I never took one of him at work. I don’t know why. I think in my mind, I always just pictured him with me. Now I wish I had one. Just one to have to remind me of him and the times we spent together, working Reds or Xavier games. But I guess in a way this works out because now he will always be with me…in my mind and my heart.
God bless you, my friend. You will always be missed.
Alan – Thank you for allowing us to post notes about Mark. Never have a met a person with the passion for life, for his profession and perhaps above all, his compassion and genuine concern for everyone. We could talk hours about everything but sports, and he touched my life like few have. I will carry his message of how to live with me every day, and I will carry his message of professionalism every time I step inside a truck or in a booth. May God bless his soul and his family with peace and a knowledge that no one lived life better than Wags. You are forever with me, my dear friend, forever.
I was remembering when you and Wags and I used do the Milwaukee Brewers games. Before duet, before stats updates, before Fox Boxes. The three of us laughed and tried to stump each other with trivia and stats. I always looked forward to those games.
And who could ever forget the crazy eighties graphic and the coutdown to opening day…on the first day of basketball season?
One thing to add to Wags always asking about family first…every year Wags would get media guides for all of Barkley’s favorite teams and give them to me for him to look at. And Barkley wore them out.
I agree with you…I will never do a Xavier basketball game, high school football game, or Reds game without thinking about Wags!
I hope you find some peace…I’m sure Wags is sitting in heaven getting ready to watch the Reds now!
R.I.P. “DADDY WAGS” A positive presence whenever i saw him & truly a gentleman who i loved to work with. I can still remember the time when I, Mark Cole, and Mark Zquro and Mark Wagner decided 3 “Marks” on 1 stats line probably wasn”t a good idea. From there, the 3 Amigos were formed and we went on to work many games as “Wags,” “Z” and “Box.” Sure their nicknames were much cooler and Wags said to me, “We can call you Cole if you want.” “No thanks,” I said, “Let’s keep it simple.” Wags kept it simple and made my job much easier.
“BIG DADDY” R.I.P. I’m missing you already.
I would like to thank the author for posting this and Mark Cole for sending the link to me. I worked with Wags on the Fox Baseball Saturday Game of the week and MLB Post Seasons on FOX since 1997, Wags first year with Thom at the Network. I can still recall our first conversation on the phone,it was pretty much like every conversation(minimum 1hour long) in which we talked about everything sports and everything family. He was my dear, dear friend and I will miss him forever. If you read this and you knew Wags, you are a better person for it. God Bless Kathy and watch over her. The world is a less interesting place today.
In a business where no one likes to give anyone else any credit, Wags wanted to work with others, not just for himself. In a business where so many people complain about how long the games are and how much we’ve worked, Wags had a smile that lasted nine innings and beyond. I’m proud to say that I worked with him.
I was working on the crew for DASHBROCK doing the ‘XIX/EBN fireworks when the word swept quickly through the crew about “Big Daddy Wags.” There weren’t many who did not have a Wags story or impression.
The vision of him sitting in the last “pew” in an Lyon truck, holding court while Alan, or whoever else was lucky enough to have Mark as their partner that day, will be one that will forever be in my mind’s eye. That infectious “Hey Spark!” when he acknowleded my entrance always made me feel welcome. His positive outlook on life, sports and TV made what we do so much better.
When a friend is suddenly taken from us we always fall back on the sentiment that “they are in a better place.” Not meant to be shallow, but it is about the only positive thing that can be said. Well, Wags’ better place has to be one where XU, UC, the Reds, the Bengals and LaSalle always win, the games never go to overtime or extra innings unless it is to facillitate that win and there will always be a more exciting game to work on tomorrow.
The big man will be missed.
I’ll always remember taking a new job covering Xavier during the freakin’ A-10 Tournament and continuing on to an NCAA Elite 8 showdown with Duke. One of the first people to befriend me was Mark. He greeted me with a smile, a handshake and any stat he could think of — which was quite a few.
Over the years, every time I saw Mark, he lit up and was genuinely happy to see me. No matter what kind of mood I was in, it always gave me a boost. Every damn time I saw Mark, I felt better. If that’s not the mark of a life well-lived, I don’t know what is. Mark was a great man and my best wishes to his wife, family and many, many friends.