Photo: AP Images
Wednesday afternoon, ex-Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan — who also served the franchise as pitching coach and front-office executive, and most recently was working as a TV analyst — was found dead near his home in suburban Baltimore County. The news essentially broke while the Orioles were beating the Twins in Minneapolis. Late Wednesday night, the cause of Flanagan’s death was reportedly still being investigated.Orioles manager Buck Showalter, immediately after Wednesday night’s game:
We heard it during the game, and just hoping that something was erroneous.
He impacted so many lives, including myself. I’d sit in my office and drinking coffee with him — it’s tough.
I talked to the guys after the game, let them know what was coming their way. He made great use of his time on this earth, and we’ll miss him. We’ll miss him.
Flanagan and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer were teammates from 1973 through 1984, and both have been associated with the Orioles — Palmer as broadcaster, Flanagan in his many roles — since the early ’90s.
Palmer learned of Flanagan’s death while broadcasting the Orioles-Twins game in Minneapolis. Shortly after the game, while choking back tears, he remembered his long-time friend and teammate:
We were a family. I think anybody that played for the Orioles in the years that we played, understood how lucky we were. And it wasn’t just about what happened on the field. That was special, obviously…
He was one of a kind. I’m just sorry. I’m sorry for the people that knew him, because this is part of being my age, and having a chance to be with guys who were this special. So that’s pretty much all I have to say. I just, uh, it’s devastating…
You know, Flanny’s a great basketball player, a great athlete, smart … He had tremendous wit. He made us laugh. I sat next to him. All our flights, he and I would sit in coach, the first row of the bulkhead.
He was the guy that told me, “I don’t think Earl trusts me.”
Earl and I have a conversation, and the next day Earl says in the Boston Globe — when [Flanagan]’s two and nine, two and nine — he goes, “I think he’s gonna be a winner.”
He didn’t really think that, but he said it. And Flanny ended up being 15-10. Three years later he’s the Cy Young Award winner.
He could make light of anything. Again, he was one of us. He was one of my guys, because I mentored him… He was able to do that to so many other people. I saw him turn Doug Johns into a serviceable starter in five weeks in spring training.
He was funny. He was smart. He was tough. But the other side of him, coming from New England, there was a certain part of him that maybe you didn’t always know what was inside there…
He will be missed. I can’t tell you how much he’ll be missed.
Stan “The Fan” Charles has been writing and thinking and talking about Baltimore sports for longer than most of us have been alive, and Tuesday night he offered his personal perspective:
Perhaps my greatest memory of Flanagan was how he battled back from an early season ligament injury in his left knee in 1983. Flanagan would come back, after three months on the disabled list to stabilise a starting staff that very much needed his toughness to go along with an ageing Jim Palmer, Scott McGregor and a rookie phenom Mike Boddicker.
That World Series victory in 1983 was the Orioles fourth and at this point final World Series win.
With his first shot at free agency, Flanagan came back to Baltimore, his baseball home, to pitch in the last season of Memorial Stadium. He reinvented himself as a crafty and nearly unhittable relief specialist, pitching 98.1 innings to a 2.38 ERA.
Watching grown men cry is not easy. But, on the MASN postgame show after the O’s 6-1 win over the Twins, that’s what fans witnessed as former teammates Rick Dempsey and Jim Palmer fought through the crackling voices and watering eyes to talk about their old friend. An interview by Jim Hunter and Buck Showalter was close to inaudible, as both fought through the tears.
For my part, I am fighting the urge to want to know exactly what Flanny’s last moments were like. I’d rather remember the last time I saw Mike, at the Orioles Hall of Fame Induction luncheon as he introduced O’s trainer Richie Bancells. Flanagan was funny, light-hearted and clearly in the moment as one of the lasting consciences of the Orioles’ organisation.
John Eisenberg authored the definitive (and entertaining) history of the O’s, From 33rd Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles. And as Eisenberg wrote last night, Flanagan was indispensable:
A decade ago, I wrote a book about the Orioles, an oral history that took up more than 500 pages. Every major figure in the club’s history sat down for an interview. Flanagan was my go-to guy. He spoke with wisdom about every aspect of the team’s history from the late 1960s onward, explaining what made the Orioles great and, with tears in his eyes, what brought them down.
I sat for hours with Earl Weaver and Elrod Hendricks and Jim Palmer and Cal Ripken – tall company — but it was Flanagan who connected the dots most eloquently.
“It’s a really sad day. I think he was so close to so many people in this organisation and he has touched the lives of countless, thousands of people in the Baltimore community and in the baseball world. So the news of him passing is a big blow to this team, to this family, to this organisation, to this city and to Major League Baseball. …
I have a strong connection with him. I think since the day I was given the number 46 I had thousands of people tell me that was the number of their favourite pitcher for the Orioles when they were growing up. So from Day One I think I have been reminded of the legacy and the work Mike did, not only as a player, but as a member of the community in Baltimore. It has always been special and now it takes on even a new level. He is not going to be forgotten soon, that’s for sure…
I heard it I think somewhere in the third or fourth inning. It is one of those things our hearts were in another place but … we tried to stay focused on the game. But certainly those who heard during the game, part of their thoughts were taken away from what we were doing out there on the field. … Once you are on the mound you realise the task at hand and you try to focus on that. I wouldn’t say it was so much a distraction from pitch to pitch, as much as kind of a heaviness inside during the game.”
Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice has obviously spent a lot of time around Flanagan, because Justice — like everyone else who spent a lot of time around Flanagan — can recite a list of funny stories. Everybody remembers how funny Flanagan was. But as Justice writes, Flanagan could pitch some, too:
Flanagan won 167 games in 18 seasons, including 23 in 1979 when he won the American League Cy Young Award. My enduring memory — and I promise you Gammons has the same one — was Flanny going 11 innings and allowing one earned run for Toronto on the next-to-last day of the 1987 season.
Injuries had robbed him of some of his stuff by then, but God, did he have grit and brains. On a sunny afternoon, he kept throwing his breaking pitch out of a sea of white shirts in the stands, and he was stunningly good in a game the Jays eventually lost.
I’m guessing Flanagan’s greatest honour in baseball was being chosen to get the final out at Memorial Stadium. When he strolled in from the bullpen that afternoon in 1991, a packed house of 50,700 alternately wept and cheered. Flanagan represented what they hoped their Orioles would always be. To know him was to see the Orioles at their best.
“I tend to be an optimist,” he frequently said.
He said it in good times and bad, even after a knee blew out and then an Achilles’ tendon, as he took more determination to the mound. He was much more than just an optimist. He was the best in all of us.
These are just the beginnings of what is certain to be a flood of tributes to one of the more beloved athletes in Baltimore sports history.
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