Flanagan may pitch 'chance of lifetime'

November 11, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

It was a year ago today that Mike Flanagan was named Orioles pitching coach for the second time. But rather than celebrate his anniversary, he might resign.

No one can blame Flanagan if he leaves manager Ray Miller's staff to return to the Home Team Sports broadcast team. The former pitcher has sacrificed enough for his old team. Now it's time for him to protect his future.

Perhaps Flanagan will stay out of loyalty to Miller and the organization -- that's why he agreed to return to coaching in the first place. But surely, he would find greater security with HTS than on Miller's staff.

Flanagan would be the third coach to depart since the end of the season. Terry Crowley replaced Rick Down as hitting coach. First-base coach Carlos Bernhardt was reassigned to his native Dominican Republic.

But Miller remains the real issue.

A year ago, Flanagan said he wouldn't have become pitching coach for any manager but Miller, and Miller said he wouldn't have become manager without Flanagan.

What happened to their perfect union?

Maybe it's just that Flanagan doesn't enjoy being a pitching coach, especially since injuries depleted his staffs in both '95 and '98, and Doug Jones and Armando Benitez were his closers.

Or maybe it's just that he doesn't enjoy working for former pitching coaches who fail as managers, especially when his job security is tied to theirs.

Flanagan didn't appear as unhappy under Miller as he was under Phil Regan. But remember a year ago when he quoted singer Dan Fogelberg in explaining his decision to join Miller?

"The chance of a lifetime," he called it, "a lifetime of chance."

It was a day for guarded optimism, with Miller replacing Davey Johnson as manager, Flanagan replacing Miller as pitching coach, the Oriole Way renewed, continuity preserved.

But evidently, Flanagan no longer views the job as the "chance of a lifetime." And evidently, he is uncertain enough about Miller to reconsider "a lifetime of chance."

Thus, the Orioles might be on the verge of changing pitching coaches for the fifth straight season. And if they fire Miller next season, they'll be looking at their fifth manager in six years.

Has any team in major-league history been that unstable at its top two field positions? Has any team lost this much playing, coaching and front-office talent while clinging so stubbornly to a doomed manager?

Down interviewed for Miller's job before becoming this year's scapegoat. General manager Pat Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone are gone. The free-agent defections are expected to commence shortly.

Miller has said the loss of Flanagan might be a detriment to the club's pursuit of free-agent pitchers, as if a pitching-coach vacancy would be the reason that the Orioles didn't sign Kevin Brown.


If free agents back off, it will be because A) they don't like the money that the Orioles are offering or B) they don't think the Orioles are close to reaching the World Series.

Why would they render such a judgment?

Because the players are in decline. Because the manager is overmatched. Because the GM is unproven, and might operate with even less authority than Gillick.

Not because of Mike Flanagan rejoining HTS.

Miller criticized his players, criticized his front office and apparently feuded with at least one of his coaches last season -- Down asked to be fired during the season, according to industry sources.

Flanagan went down this path with Regan, and had to be talked out of quitting in August of '95. He was fired along with Regan and the rest of the staff at the end of that season. The upshot was that he landed with HTS.

He was happy as an analyst, and good at it. But he abandoned a promising broadcast career to join Miller, the pitching coach who helped him win the 1979 Cy Young Award. That's Flanny, forever loyal to an old friend, and to his former team.

Orioles pitchers don't grant respect easily, but they respect Flanagan. He helped Scott Erickson shorten his stride. He convinced the inexperienced Sidney Ponson that he could win in the majors. He remains a favorite of Mike Mussina.

But where will it get him?

The analyst's job probably won't be open a year from now, though Rick Cerone apparently has lasted only one season. HTS is offering Flanagan a multi-year deal for approximately the same $200,000 salary. His choice seems obvious.

Everyone else with the Orioles looks out for No. 1.

Why, for once, shouldn't Mike Flanagan?

Pub Date: 11/11/98

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