Flanagan remembered on difficult night for O's players, fans

August 26, 2011|By Kevin Cowherd

They honored Mike Flanagan at Camden Yards Friday night, and for a few moments at the start of the game, the emotion was as thick as the humidity that enveloped the great ballpark.

There was a moment of silence before the start of the game against the Yankees as a photo of Flanagan, achingly young and handsome, with a thick mustache and long hair and his whole life ahead of him, flashed on the scoreboard.

Then at the end of the first inning, there was video tribute to the long-time player, front-office executive and broadcaster, mainly centering on his playing career: Flanny in his windup with that classic high-leg kick; Flanny, in the familiar 46 jersey, clowning around with teammates in warm-ups; Flanny shaking off his old catcher, Rick Dempsey; Flanny throwing the last pitch at old Memorial Stadium in 1991, eyes misting, as the sellout crowd gave the O's a standing ovation.

But two days after Flanagan's body was found near his Sparks home — and one day after we learned he'd died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound — the Orioles were still somber last night, their sense of loss still profound.

"No, the shock hasn't worn off at all," said an emotional Buck Showalter, who had formed such a close bond with Flanagan in the short time Showalter has been in this town. "It's pretty appropriate that Friday night is when we wear our black jerseys."

"He loved this game and loved being around it," Matt Wieters, the Orioles catcher, said. "And it's hard anytime you lose such a big part of the Orioles family."

Of course, the sense of loss among Orioles fans — at least Orioles fans of a certain age — was just as acute.

If you're looking for a reason why, here it is: Flanagan was a link to the glory years of Orioles Magic in the late 70's and early 80's.

He was the embodiment of the Orioles Way, dating back to when a banty rooster of a manager named Earl Weaver preached pitching, defense and three-run homers and you learned to play the game the right way if you played for this organization.

"You knew what was expected of you every day and how to do things in a professional manner," said Henry Ziegler, 62, from Columbia, a season-ticket holder who has followed the Orioles forever. "… (Flanagan) was part of that last great Orioles period, the last time they were consistent winners."

And Flanagan, the gritty lefty from New Hampshire, was the consummate pro on those great Orioles teams. He won 141 games for the Orioles over 15 seasons and pitched in two World Series and won 23 games and the Cy Young Award in 1979.

He was a steadying presence in the clubhouse, too, laid back and analytical, but with a sardonic humor that kept his teammates loose and focused.

Who else but Flanagan could watch the Oriole Bird tumble off the dugout on Opening Day, 1986, and quip: "I told him to take two worms and call me in the morning."

Who else but Flanagan could be lifted after a terrible outing on the 1984 trip to Japan and tell the manager, Joe Altobelli: "That's the problem with being on this side of the word. My pitches break the other way."

And when the Orioles were late taking the field for a game in the 1979 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates and speculation was rampant that they were having a serious team meeting, who else but Flanagan could tell reporters with a straight face: "We were in the clubhouse waiting for Judge Wapner (from the TV show "The People's Court") to hand down a verdict."

So it was a touching night at Camden Yard, because the Orioles do these kind of tributes well, way better than they play baseball these days.

The Orioles took the field with no. 46 patches that said "Flanny" sewn on their jerseys, which they'll wear for the rest of the season.

And there were other touches, too: the huge orange 46 glowing on the out-of-town scoreboard, the no. 46 banner hanging above the press box and below the booth where Flanagan sat as a member of the MASN broadcast team, the Orioles flag in the right field flag court that flew at half-mast.

But one thing about the evening I'll remember for a long time is seeing Flanny's old teammates, Jim Palmer and Rick Dempsey and Kenny Singleton, now a Yankees broadcaster, huddling with each other, all three looking drawn and shaken, talking about the life — and shocking death — of their old friend.

Singleton, eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, recalled giving Flanagan a lift from Yankee Stadium to Penn Station in mid-town Manhattan after a game July 31st.

"We had a nice discussion about the Yankees and the Orioles," Singleton recalled. " … Maybe he wasn't as jovial as in the past, but I really didn't notice anything.

"He jumped out, I shook his hand and said: 'I'll see you when the Yankees get to Baltimore," Singleton continued, his voice breaking.

For those who knew and loved Mike Flanagan, it was that kind of night.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show.")

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