Game lost amid ending for the ages


October 07, 1991|By Jim Henneman

It was the perfect ending. The game did nothing to detract from the real reason 50,700 were at Memorial Stadium yesterday.

They were there to say goodbye to a grand old park that had served its purpose -- and to say thanks to heroes, past and present. And it was a marvelous, starry-eyed and tear-filled farewell that will be remembered as a public relations coup by an organization that has earned a reputation for doing it the right way.


That's the way the Orioles said "so long" to Memorial Stadium. The final gesture in the game was provided by Mike Flanagan, who struck out the final two batters in a performance as emotional as any in his career.

For the record, the Detroit Tigers beat the Orioles, 7-1. And, basically, nobody cared. Given the circumstances, that's the way it should have been.

This was a day for memories. As Bob Brown, who shall always be the Orioles' public relations director emeritus, said so eloquently in a press box toast after the third inning: "Nostalgia is being able to remember the joy and forget the pain."

That's what the Orioles did yesterday -- remembered the joy and forgot the pain.

It was driven home in the clubhouse, after the Orioles left the field with their 95th loss of the season. "When they told us we were staying in here [the clubhouse] at the beginning, my first thought was that I wanted to be in the dugout to watch," said manager John Oates, referring to the touching post-game ceremonies. "But, as it turned out, we were better off in here."

In the runway outside the Orioles' dressing room there were 78 players, of all sizes and reputations, waiting to participate in a Baltimore re-enactment of "The Field of Dreams."

Brooks Robinson was the first player to take the field, then Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Jim Palmer and a parade of stars that can only be labeled as spectacular. No introductions, just background music and spontaneous reaction. Inside, the current Orioles watched the TV monitors.

"They showed Brooks going to third base and a shot of a lady in the stands who looked like she was ready to cry," said Oates. "A few guys were laughing, then Frank, Boog and Palmer went out. They showed a close-up of Palmer standing on the mound and he looked like he was on the verge of tears.

"And the clubhouse went deadly silent," said Oates.

It was at that point that the "modern" Orioles got a grasp of what Flanagan felt as he walked in from the bullpen, summoned one batter early -- not by Oates, but by reliever Gregg Olson.

The plan had been for Olson to get two outs, or face two hitters, whichever came first. After getting one out, Olson called Oates from the dugout. "I wanted to pitch in the game," he said, "but I had faced enough lefthanders. Why not get [Flanagan] in there and let him enjoy it?"

The call went to Flanagan, as everyone knew it would. His dream was to record the last out. In this season, one-out-of-two ain't bad.

"A lot of relievers run in, but I was going to walk in and get myself together," said Flanagan. It took him a long, long time to get there. For good reason.

"I was carrying a lot of baggage out there," said Flanagan, whose memories of this season are far more special than any of his teammates. That includes Cal Ripken Jr., who concluded one of the best seasons ever in an Orioles uniform.

"It wasn't just for me, but for all the guys I'd played with," said Flanagan, recalling his thoughts as he walked to the pitching mound. "It was sort of getting to me.

"I have to go back to Opening Day. Just prior to that I pulled a hamstring in one of the exhibition games in Washington, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. My biggest fear then was not being able to run out when they introduced us [on Opening Day].

"Then, I came in to a tremendous ovation, got the side out and got another standing ovation. At that time, I felt whatever happens this year, they'll never take that away from me."

Flanagan, who was completing certainly the best 2-7 year in club history, walked into yesterday's game while the club announced, via the Diamond Vision board, he had been signed for 1992, with an option for 1993. It was news to Flanagan.

"I knew we were close," he said. "I figured we'd get it done, but actually I didn't know it had happened." General manager

Roland Hemond and Flanagan's agent, Bob Teague, had ironed out the details via telephone just before the game. The last person to find out was Flanagan, the one who appreciates being back "home" so much.

You don't think it can be emotional pitching in the ninth inning of a 7-1 game? "To me, it was like pitching the seventh game of the World Series," said Flanagan.

"It hasn't been much of a year for the club, but for me personally it's gone so well. I've been enriched just to be a member of the Orioles' staff. When I first got here I didn't know if those guys would accept me. They went out of their way to help me. That really has to be mentioned.

"All weekend I've looked around and there's no part of the park that I can look to and not see things people had done here," Flanagan said. "And there were sad times, like seeing Palmer ending his career, knowing that it would happen to me someday. Out there today I thought of all the players who never got to come back for that one last ovation."

For Flanagan, that last ovation in Memorial Stadium won't be his last in Baltimore.


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