Flanagan's return makes tough loss easier to swallow

The Inside Stuff

April 09, 1991|By Bill Tanton

As the crowd of 50,213 filed out of Memorial Stadium after the Orioles' Opening Day loss to the White Sox, Rowland King, a one-time amateur pitcher who now is a board member of the Babe Ruth Museum, made an interesting observation about Baltimore fans.

"In what other city can the team be losing 9-1 in the ninth inning and bring in a semi-over-the-hill pitcher who gets the side out in order and gets 30,000 people to cheer like mad?" King said.

Baltimore did that yesterday for Mike Flanagan, who made his return to the Orioles this spring after being traded to Toronto late in the '87 season.

Maybe Baltimore is the only place it would be done, but then how many places get a chance to welcome home a 39-year-old former Cy Young Award winner who has won 139 games for the Orioles?

And how often does a pitcher in that circumstance come on in the opener to strike out one hitter (Lance Johnson) and get the other two to ground out?

On a day when little went right for the home team, the fans didn't have much to cheer about after Chicago forged ahead, 3-1, in the second inning.

As everyone knows, Flanny is one of the most popular players the Orioles have had over the years. Yesterday he received no fewer than three big hands from the crowd -- at the pre-game introductions, when he entered the game and when he walked off the mound to leave it.

"I was a little embarrassed by it all," Flanagan said afterward. "I felt nothing but comfortable, though, being back with the Orioles with the Ripkens and Elrod Hendricks and some other old friends."

Now that Flanagan has made the club after coming here as a free agent, is his next goal to make the starting rotation?

"My next goal," he said, "is to get the next person I face out. My goals are very short-range at this stage. But I can tell you I'm proud to be one of the nine pitchers on this club."

* One spectator at the farewell opener on 33rd Street who would have been allowed some sentiment but showed none was Jerry Hoffberger.

Hoffberger, who turned 72 Sunday, owned the Orioles from 1966 through 1979. In that span the club played in five World Series and won two of them.

"We'll be here at this stadium all summer," Hoffberger said. "The last game will be time to be sentimental."

Hoffberger's friend and seatmate, Louis Wright, disagreed.

"No," said Wright. "I shed a tear today going down 33rd Street. But then I cry at anything."

* Larry King, the TV and radio talk show host, is moved every year by the start of a new baseball season.

"There's nothing like Opening Day," King said. "It's more exciting than the World Series. At an opener, you haven't had baseball for a while."

* Joe Orsulak seems to be overlooked perennially by Orioles brass, but never by the fans, who gave him one of the biggest ovations.

Orsulak was the O's leading hitter in '88 (.288) and '89 (.285) and was leading the club at .305 last year on July 23. A strained back bothered him the rest of the season and he finished at .269.

Naturally, Orsulak was on the bench as the O's began the new season with an all righthanded-hitting outfield of Randy Milligan (left), Mike Devereaux (center) and Dwight Evans (right) against White Sox righthander Jack McDowell.

* And then there's pitcher Jeff Robinson, obtained over the winter from Detroit for Mickey Tettleton.

Robinson has yet to throw a pitch for the Orioles in a regular season, but he drew some boos at the introductions. In spring training he was 0-3 with a 7.59 earned run average. We really know how to make a guy feel welcome.

* Chicago's 9-1 pounding of the Orioles sent the fans home with their spirits down. What the people here have to do is consider the long haul. During the past 31 years the Orioles have been the winningest team in the majors.

The O's have a winning percentage of .552. Next come the Yankees (.549) and then the Dodgers (.546). The defending world champion Reds are fourth at .543.

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