Flanny made his best pitch, on field and off

August 24, 2011|By Peter Schmuck

I

t's impossible to make sense of the things we will never understand, so let's just remember Mike Flanagan 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 called 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 played a few years for the Toronto Blue Jays, 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 former 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," said friend and former teammate Terry Crowley. "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 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."

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 sneaky fast — just like some of his pitches.

"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 and helpmate.

"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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