Flanny made his best pitch, on field and off

As pitcher, announcer and team executive, the man who always considered himself an Oriole always wanted to be the best

August 24, 2011|By Peter Schmuck

It's impossible to make sense of the things we will never understand, so let's just remember Mike Flanagan — who was found dead at his home on Wednesday — for all the things he did during a very eventful life and a very impressive athletic career that played out on several stages.

Flanny, as pretty much everyone knew him, played college basketball alongside Julius Erving and pitched for the Orioles in the days when they still smelled of champagne. He went on to become a respected major league pitching coach and a pretty good broadcaster before rising to become the executive vice president of the team that inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 1994.

He may have spent a few seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays near the end of his playing career, but he always considered himself an Oriole, and he wanted badly to help the team climb back to prominence when he replaced Syd Thrift as vice president of baseball operations in 2002.

It was a tough assignment. Maybe — in retrospect — it was an impossible one, and it didn't end well, but Flanagan's dedication to the Orioles organization eventually led him back again to join the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and resume his role as a color commentator on the team's television broadcasts.

His approach to his post-playing career was similar to the way he went about becoming one of toughest competitors to ever climb a pitcher's mound.

"He just kept going out there," friend and former teammate Terry Crowley said. "He never wanted to come out of a game. No matter how good or how bad the situation, Mike always tried to make the best pitch every time the ball came out of his hand."

That's how he got to the majors, and that's how he won the 1979 American League Cy Young Award and that's how he helped lead the Orioles into a pair of World Series. That's what everyone who played alongside him will remember, but it will take a while to come to grips with his passing.

"It's just shock right now," former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey said. "I know everybody that played with him loved him to death. He was the backbone of that pitching staff. He never quit — this guy never quit. He was there for the duration. We had so many great games and so many great times; I just can't believe it."

Reports of Flanagan's death remained unconfirmed for several hours, but the sad news finally broke late Wednesday night. Both Cal Ripken Jr. and Orioles owner Peter Angelos released statements of condolence.

"I am so sorry to hear about Mike's passing," Ripken said. "He was a good friend and teammate, and our thoughts are with [his wife] Alex and his family. Mike was an Oriole through and through, and he will be sorely missed by family, friends and fans. This is a sad day."

Angelos remembered Flanagan as a good friend and loyal member of the organization.

"In over a quarter-century with the organization, Flanny became an integral part of the Orioles family, for his accomplishments both on and off the field," Angelos said. His loss will be felt deeply and profoundly by all of us with the ballclub and by Orioles fans everywhere who admired him."

When his teammates get together to remember him, they'll remember all of that, but they'll also remember a guy who loved to have a good time and had a sense of humor that was as sneaky fast as his heater.

"He could make you laugh when you didn't want to laugh," Crowley said.

He wasn't a gregarious guy. How many native New Englanders are? But he could level you with his dry wit or drop a line that might end up on all the Internet lists of the best sports quotes. Like the time he was asked if he'd like to play for the Yankees.

"I could never play in New York," Flanagan replied. "The first time I came into a game there, I got into the bullpen car and they told me to lock the doors."

Or the time a Toronto Blue Jays reporter asked Flanagan what he did during the Vietnam War.

"I was stationed up here."

When he was on the mound, he was all business. When he was in the dugout or the clubhouse, he was everybody's best friend — providing a little coaching or comic relief depending on the circumstance.

"He was just a magnificent person and magnificent teammate," Dempsey said.

Godspeed.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" on Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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