Whither Flanny?

With MacPhail in charge, Flanagan's role unclear

On the Orioles

December 12, 2007|By RICK MAESE

As a tradition of sorts in the Peter Angelos era, the titles on the Orioles' front office business cards have been excessively long and especially particular. The exact roles and responsibilities of these front office members, though, have been particularly vague and unnecessarily ambiguous.

These past few weeks and months, the clouds have been slowly dissipating around the Warehouse, and for the first time in five years, it's finally clear that there's just one man charged with running the Orioles - the president of baseball operations, Andy MacPhail.

But if we all agree MacPhail is undoubtedly the one pulling all strings and making all decisions (and undoubtedly, he is), it's reasonable to wonder about his predecessor, Mike Flanagan - current title, executive vice president of baseball operations; current role, unknown.

Bucking conventional wisdom, Angelos divided the general manager's job in two after canning Syd Thrift in December 2002. Paired with Jim Beattie first and later Jim Duquette, Flanagan has somehow managed to outlast both, even though the Orioles are mired in a 10-year slump.

MacPhail is captaining the ship on a new course, and a couple of months into the offseason's choppy waters, Flanagan is still apparently along for the ride, not unlike a water-skier trailing behind the boat.

Flanagan was at last week's winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., but no one is exactly certain why. Unlike the five previous years, it was MacPhail who negotiated with other teams and it was MacPhail alone who debriefed reporters each day. Flanagan's attendance at the meetings might not be drawn into question had he not skipped out on the Orioles' organizational meetings in October.

At the time, that decision created few ripples and seemed like it was simply foreshadowing an imminent parting of ways. But when Flanagan didn't walk away, and when neither MacPhail nor Angelos rushed to push him out the door, many in the organization started to grumble about Flanagan's role as the team moves forward and weren't sure what to make of his absence at the club meetings.

If he planned on staying, why didn't he feel the information shared by scouts and team officials might be worth hearing? And if he didn't plan on staying, what exactly is he doing right now? There aren't clear-cut answers to these questions (and Flanagan didn't return a message seeking comment), but as it is, Flanagan still has residency in the Warehouse, and his position with the Orioles will apparently outlast his influence.

He can't even be considered the No. 2 guy right now. That job is vacant, and MacPhail will likely fill it with an outside candidate. So does that mean Flanagan is No. 3? Does he have any power? Does he merely keep the office furniture from floating away each day?

This isn't to imply the Orioles are incapable of moving forward if Flanagan retains a seat in the front office. For starters, whether he was paired with Beattie or Duquette, his specific contributions have always been unclear. When Angelos first drafted up this two-person leadership position, it was popularly assumed Flanagan, affable and people-oriented, would serve as the face of the front office and his partner would work behind the scenes. But for five years, Flanagan mostly operated in the background - and to many in the Warehouse and in league circles, he was the head of the team in title only.

His tenure holding the reins is mostly unremarkable, noted as much by the dearth of good news as the bevy of bad. There were certainly poor decisions - from managerial choices that didn't pan out to all of the contracts the team is now trying to dump - but nothing catastrophic. Flanagan didn't set the Orioles back the way his predecessor did; he was just ineffective in ever moving them forward.

Flanagan's continued presence doesn't necessarily affect the Orioles' fortunes in one way or the other. For the first time since Thrift, only one man seems positioned to determine this team's fortunes - and his name isn't Flanagan.

Orioles manager Dave Trembley was asked by reporters last week in Nashville whether he has had a chance to reflect on what has gone right and what has gone wrong. His response was telling.

"I think what went right for us is that, you know, we have someone in charge now in Andy MacPhail," Trembley said. "I think Mr. MacPhail has given us, you know, a sense of direction. There's a purpose and a plan important to what we're going to do, and I believe we established some principles and foundations of how we're going to play the game and what our expectations are."

Flanagan has been one of the most loyal men ever to wear black and orange. The magic in his left arm means he'll forever be associated with the team and always deserving of some role within the organization. He has had several already - pitching coach, broadcaster, consultant, general manager - and only time will tell what his next one will be.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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