It's official: Flanagan, 39, is on Orioles' Opening Day roster

April 02, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Mike Flanagan today received official word that the first stage of his come back has been successful. For another veteran lefthander, however, the news wasn't good.

Flanagan was added to the Orioles' roster after signing a one-year contract calling for a base salary of $250,000 plus incentives.

At the same time, the club announced it had asked waivers for the purpose of granting unconditional releases to lefthanded reliever Kevin Hickey and righthander John Mitchell. In addition, Larry Sheets, a non-roster invitee to spring training, was told there would not be a spot for him on the roster.

The series of moves leaves the Orioles with 31 players left in camp, including three who are not on the roster -- catcher Ernie Whitt, lefthanded pitcher Paul Kilgus and righthander Roy Smith.

The deadline for asking waivers was 2 p.m. today -- after which all contracts become guaranteed. Unless they are claimed, in which their contracts would be assumed by their new teams, Hickey and Mitchell will be compensated for only 45 days and then become free agents.

The release of Hickey undoubtedly means that Flanagan will be used out of the bullpen. It also increases the chances of Kilgus making the team, although the pitching staff is full at the moment.

Mitchell, who split last year between Baltimore and Rochester, was not effective this spring.

Sheets, who was battling long odds from the start, couldn't beat out either Sam Horn or Whitt, who will be added to the roster before the week is over. Sheets swatted 31 homers and hit .316 for the Orioles in 1987. Last year he had 52 RBIs in a DH role for Detroit, but was given free agency in November.

General manager Roland Hemond finalized negotiations with Bob Teaf, Flanagan's agent, late last night. "His performance has been one of the highlights of the spring, and we're delighted that he's coming back with us," Hemond said of Flanagan.

The signing is the best of all possible homecomings for the fourth leading winner in club history. Flanagan never really left, even after his trade to Toronto late in the 1987 season, maintaining his permanent residence in Baltimore County. And he dreamed of some day walking onto the field at Memorial Stadium to relive a few memories.

"It's going to be an honor to play there during the last year at Memorial Stadium," said Flanagan. "I saw the last years of a lot of good players in that park, and my best years were on that field.

"So many things flow back through my mind when I think about playing there. I've always had a vision of coming back, maybe in an old-timers game, something like that, and being able to walk out onto the field and having those feelings again. I'm sure the new park is going to be beautiful and a great place to play, but it will never replace the memories I have [of Memorial Stadium]."

Instead of an old-timers game, Flanagan is coming back merely as an old-timer -- a young old-timer, at that.

He sits in the clubhouse now, looks around and sees only a few familiar faces. "I don't feel old," says the 39-year old Flanagan. "I really don't. It's just that they all seem so young to me."

While the faces have changed, there is still a great deal of similarity for Flanagan, even though it has been four years since he was in spring training with the Orioles.

"The difference in the club really depends on how you look at it," said Flanagan, a non-participant in the Orioles' 7-6 exhibition loss to Montreal yesterday. "If you're talking about the players, there's quite a bit of difference. But in other ways there's no difference at all.

"Before I got traded there were a lot of guys finishing up -- at the end of an era that lasted a decade, maybe even 12 years. By 1987 there weren't many of them left.

"Now, you look out on the field and you can picture guys being here for the next 10 years. It's like the start of another era. As far as the philosophy of the club, how they go about doing things, it's exactly the same. And that is exactly what I expected."

As the Orioles move into a different phase of their history and prepare for a new era in a new park, Flangan realizes he's moving into the final phase of his career. He came to spring training uncertain how he would fit on this club, or even if he would fit.

But it didn't take long to convince doubters that last year, when he was released by Toronto after pitching only two innings in spring training and 20 during the season, was not a completely valid test.

"He's throwing the same as he did five years ago," Detroit manager Sparky Anderson said after Flanagan's third appearance of the spring.

That, however, doesn't mean Flanagan's role will be the same as it was five years ago, and he understands that. Manager Frank Robinson said that he isn't considering Flanagan as a starter -- at least in the early part of the season.

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