By Stan "The Fan" Charles
One of the best of his generation is dead at the age of 59. Mike Flanagan, the affable left-hander from New Hampshire who served the Orioles in nearly every capacity imaginable, was found dead on his property in Monkton, Md.
Police are still investigating the cause of death, but what really matters is the way Flanagan lived, loved and competed.
Drafted by the Orioles in 1973, Flanagan made it to the bigs by 1975, although it was not until 1977 that he became an established member of the Birds' rotation, going 15-10. His highlight season was 1979, when he went 23-9 en route to winning the Cy Young award.
Perhaps my greatest memory of Flanagan is 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 stabilize a starting staff that very much needed his toughness to go along with an aging Jim Palmer, Scott McGregor and a rookie phenom Mike Boddicker.
That World Series victory in 1983 was the Orioles' third, and at this point final, World Series win.
Flanagan was traded to an up-and-coming Blue Jays club in 1987 for two pitchers who would do very little for the O's -- Oswaldo Peraza and Jose Mesa. (Mesa went on to star as a big-time closer a few years down the road with the Cleveland Indians.) Flanagan went 26-27 in parts of four seasons north of the border.
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.
Flanagan was the last Orioles pitcher to record an out in Memorial Stadium. But 1992, the club's first season at Camden Yards, was not kind to Flanagan, as all of the magic of the previous season gave way to the reality that his pitching career was over.
But "Flanny" was hardly finished with his career in Baltimore. That would only come after two stints as pitching coach, two stints in the O's television booth and close to five years running the Birds' baseball operations, sharing the job first with Jim Beattie and then Jim Duquette.
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 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' organization.
Posted Aug. 24, 2011