While driving home one night last week, Bill Brown, Home Team Sports' director of programming and executive producer, heard something on a local talk show that made him chuckle.
The host, a guest and a caller were speculating on the future of former Orioles pitching coach Mike Flanagan and tossing out a ** few scenarios, all of which Brown knew to be untrue, because he had just hired Flanagan back as an analyst in the HTS booth for Orioles games next season.
"I'm rolling my eyes, saying, 'You guys are going to be surprised when you hear this one,' " said Brown yesterday.
Flanagan will become HTS' lead analyst next season, working 112 of the 151 games the channel will produce between telecasts on its air and channels 13 and 54. In addition, Jim Palmer will do 50 games, up from the 30 he worked last season.
The odd man out of the equation is John Lowenstein, who is being supplanted after 12 years in the HTS booth alongside play-by-play man Mel Proctor.
More on the Lowenstein change later.
Brown said the courtship of Flanagan, who worked 20 games as an analyst two seasons ago, began just after the last game of the 1995 regular season.
Brown said he was passing through the Orioles clubhouse and saying goodbye to players and to the coaching staff when he ran into Flanagan and informally asked what his 1996 plans were.
Flanagan, who won 141 games with the club -- the fourth-highest total in franchise history -- told Brown he wanted to work with HTS again, which came as a pleasant surprise to Brown.
"We knew there was a chance that Mike wouldn't be back [as pitching coach], but none of us thought Flanagan would be in the mix," said Brown.
The two parties continued to talk and reached an agreement, so that now, with Palmer's additional workload, Brown says HTS, whose Orioles coverage is lauded in television circles, had an analyst duo that can't be beat.
"We've got the two best pitchers in the history of the franchise," said Brown. "Flanagan has pitched or coached against 99 percent of the current American League. He's close to the players and the game. He's too good to pass up."
Brown said HTS officials felt they "had to work fast and get this done or else we'd be scratching our heads wondering what went wrong," perhaps referring to Fox's search for analysts for its 1996 telecasts.
Though Flanagan is just a few months removed from working with Orioles pitchers, Brown said he's not worried about the prospect of the former left-hander, who was the last Orioles pitcher to record an out at Memorial Stadium, being too close to those he coached and played with.
"I don't expect Mike to be a cheerleader or Mr. Critical," said Brown.
"He's going to have to feel that out, but I hope 40 or 50 games into the season, he's walking that fine line between the two sides."
Brown said Flanagan, though more low-key, would probably be seen as funnier and more analytical than Lowenstein, who brought a wacky, iconoclastic style to the booth.
Brown said he and the HTS production staff felt three analysts would be "disjointed" and decided to replace Lowenstein, who could not be reached for comment.
The former Orioles left fielder, affectionately known to many as "Brother Lo," took the news of his replacement "like a pro" and was "very gracious," though surprised, said Brown.
"He thought his run was longer than it would have been," said Brown.
"Over the 12 years, he did everything he was asked to do. He was a star, somebody who became bigger than life. That's why this is so much like Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times."
Brown said HTS will add an additional camera for a total of 11 for certain games for next season's coverage, but there will be no other personnel moves, meaning Proctor and pre-game host and reporter Tom Davis will return.