With a reach into their history, the Baltimore Orioles set up a family reunion of sorts when they conduct spring training in Sarasota, Fla., beginning Thursday.
Yesterday, they invited two old friends, pitcher Mike Flanagan and outfielder-designated hitter Larry Sheets, to join them in camp.
"What the heck, once an Oriole, always an Oriole," said general manager Roland Hemond. "We feel great that players like these want to return."
Flanagan is the club's fourth all-time leading winner, with 139 victories, and captured the Cy Young Award in 1979, when he had a 23-9 record and the Orioles went to the World Series.
The left-hander was released by the Toronto Blue Jays last May after going 2-2 in five games last season, then was courted by the Boston Red Sox. But he told the Red Sox that his arm wasn't healthy, and he has been rehabilitating from a muscular problem since.
"He's been impressive in workouts at the stadium," said Hemond. "Both Elrod [Hendricks] and Cal [Ripken Sr.] recommended we extend this invitation. Dr. [Charles] Silberstein also very pleased with his recovery."
Flanagan, 39, did not have to undergo surgery and has been on an extensive exercise program. He has a reputation as an extremely hard worker who will pitch through minor ailments.
"Things have worked out OK," said Flanagan. "I would say I'm more than satisfied with how I'm throwing. There never really was any injury."
That he is left-handed does not hurt his chances to make a club that has only two left-handers returning from last year, Jeff Ballard and Kevin Hickey.
"There was interest from other teams," he said, "but the geography of it all was appealing. And even when I was with Toronto, the Orioles allowed me to use their facilities. This is home."
The Orioles traded Flanagan to the Blue Jays for pitchers Jose Mesa and Oswald Peraza Aug. 31, 1987, when they were out of the race and Toronto was contending.
Sheets' invitation was more of a surprise.
A free agent, he has a chance to make the club after a season in Detroit, where he was traded for Mike Brumley (who never made the roster) after 11 seasons in the Orioles organization.
"Larry expressed a desire to come back with us, and we certainly welcome him," said Hemond.
In 1987, Sheets led the Orioles in batting (.316) and home runs (31) and knocked in 94 runs. But his declining offensive numbers and the team's turn toward speedy outfielders made him expendable.
If he can regain his stroke, he appears a good fit on a team that is a left-handed power hitter short with the departure of Mickey Tettleton.
"I enjoyed it here. This is my home," said Sheets. "I feel like I still have a lot I can give. I know if I go down there and swing the bat the way I'm capable, I can make the team as a pinch hitter, fill-in, whatever."
Last year in 131 games, he hit .261 with 10 homers and 52 RBI and improved defensively in the outfield, committing two errors in 107 chances.
"I was hitting behind two guys who drove in 220 runs [Alan Trammell and Cecil Fielder], so, under the circumstances, I don't think my production was bad," he said. "There weren't many guys left on base."
He said: "There are no guarantees" going to camp as a non-roster player, "but I'm happy with the way things are on Feb. 14. I hope I can fit here and be productive again."
The additions mean 30 players will report to the camp opening, 17 pitchers and three catchers on the roster and seven pitchers and three catchers who are not.