It's a second chance for Flanagan, too

November 12, 1997|By KEN ROSENTHAL

As Elrod Hendricks recalled, the Orioles were in Boston, plodding along in August 1995. Manager Phil Regan was on his way to getting fired. And pitching coach Mike Flanagan wanted to quit, right there and then.

"He told Regan he was through, he wasn't needed," Hendricks said yesterday after the Orioles rehired Flanagan to be Ray Miller's pitching coach. "He had to be talked out of it.

"It was tough. Regan tried to do his job, too. I don't think that will happen with Raymond. He's been through it before. I don't think he will interfere as much as Regan did."

No, this will be a different relationship, a better relationship, maybe even a winning relationship. Flanagan was Miller's favorite pitcher. Miller was Flanagan's favorite coach. And their bond only strengthened over the years.

Miller said it himself yesterday -- Flanagan got "screwed" in his first tenure as pitching coach, not just by Regan, but the bizarre circumstances that resulted from the players' strike and shortened spring training in '95.

This time, Flanagan will get a fairer shot, and the chemistry he shares with Miller is enough to produce the first ray of light for an organization trying to emerge from a dark period.

It's highly doubtful that two men so inexperienced at their new jobs can lead the Orioles beyond where they went under Davey Johnson. It's equally doubtful they can perpetuate the Oriole Way in today's me-first environment.

Still, there's something appealing about the Miller-Flanagan union, and not merely because it represents stability and continuity and all those other ideals the Orioles claim to hold dear when they're not running their manager out of town.

Miller holds Flanagan in such esteem that he gave him 50 percent of the credit for the pitching staff's success last season. And Flanagan holds Miller in such esteem that he said he probably would not have left his broadcasting career for another manager.

He served as an informal assistant to Miller last season, familiarizing him with the Orioles' pitchers, helping him in spring training, pulling double duty while on assignment for Home Team Sports.

Miller said there "couldn't be a better person in the world to replace Ray Miller as pitching coach." Flanagan quoted singer Dan Fogelberg in explaining his return, referring to the "chance of a lifetime, a lifetime of chance."

We'll see if Flanny feels as poetic if the Orioles struggle next season, but suffice it to say that he has a longer history with Miller than he did with Regan -- "20 years as opposed to 20 minutes," he quipped yesterday.

The first time Flanagan met Regan was at his job interview. Still, they got off to a better start than Miller and Johnson -- owner Peter Angelos fired Johnson's first pitching coach, Pat Dobson, to arrange that marriage.

Johnson and Miller got along fine -- Miller called it "one of the great working arrangements I've ever had." But Flanagan won his 1979 Cy Young Award with Miller as his pitching coach. They share droll wits, affable demeanors, positive outlooks.

"You're not supposed to have favorites, but Flanagan was mine," Miller said in 1988. "He was everything I would want in a pitcher. A winner, but quiet. Determined, but such a witty person. He said so little, but when he did, you'd stop and think about it, and you'd just be crying, it was so funny and wise."

But under Regan, Flanagan grew tense and reserved. Hendricks later told him it was the worst possible year to become a coach. Flanagan had three weeks to prepare after the strike ended. At the end of the season, Regan, general manager Roland Hemond and assistant GM Frank Robinson would be fired.

"It was extremely tough, extremely difficult," Flanagan said.

And his strained relationship with Regan made it tougher.

"You are who you are," Flanagan said. "If you come from one organization, you're used to doing things that way. We talk about the Oriole Way a lot. The reason is, we know it works, we know it wins. It has passed the test of time."

Regan came from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He had differences of opinion with Flanagan and others that never were resolved.

"It was Phil's very first [major-league managing] experience," Flanagan said. "He wanted to come in and try some things. With 10 days of spring training, it was difficult.

"I felt Phil put more pressure on himself to win that season than there is this season. That team was trying to figure out if it was good. This team knows it is good."

Miller helped reduce the Orioles' team ERA last season from 5.14 to 3.91, second in the league. The turnaround began in spring training, when Miller asked Flanagan to stay back when the Orioles traveled and oversee the pitchers' workouts.

Flanagan said returning to uniform invigorated him, and Miller said he made a significant impact. One day, Randy Myers overheard Flanagan giving another pitcher advice. He incorporated it, crediting Flanagan.

So now here they are, teacher and student, coach and player, manager and pitching coach, beginning another stage of their unique friendship.

Miller was the Orioles' fourth pitching coach in four years, and he promised to break that pattern when he took the job last season.

"I haven't lied," he cracked. "I'm bringing back one of the four."

Flanagan, meanwhile, said he wasn't sure how the Orioles would have reacted if he had chosen to remain with HTS.

"That's a difficult question to answer," he said. "I don't think there would have been any sort of backlash. I wasn't strong-armed into the job."

It's a weird deal, returning to a job two years after getting fired from it, but this is how the Orioles operate under Angelos.

At least something positive is coming out of this.

At least Mike Flanagan is getting a second chance.

Pub Date: 11/12/97

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