Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mike Flanagan dies...

I woke up this morning and got on-line to see how the Orioles did in their game against the Twins and was shocked to find out that Mike Flanagan, former Cy Young pitcher for the Orioles (and Blue Jays), had been discovered dead near his home in Sparks, MD.

No reports are official, but word on the street is that Flanagan committed suicide and WBAL reporter Gerry Sandusky had linked Flanagan's apparent suicide to Flanagan's "despondent" feelings about the current state of the Orioles. Flanagan was the team's GM from 2003-2007, and his contract was not renewed after the 2008 season. One has to wonder if Flanagan never recovered after being let go or felt guilt over his perceived failings as a GM.

While those reports are still forthcoming, no one can deny Flanagan's love for the Baltimore Orioles. Reading some of the recollections of Flanagan from several writers this morning has reminded me how great a guy he was and how much he meant to this team and the city. One story recalled how Flanagan, 39 at the time and at the end of his career, begged not to be traded from the Orioles during the 1991 season, the final season in Memorial Stadium. He wanted to pitch in the final game, and he did, recording the game's final two outs in a loss to the Detroit Tigers. That's awesome. Had he been traded, Flanagan likely would have been dealt to a playoff team. He was having a good year that year. But no, he wanted to be a part of the stadium's farewell ceremony. That meant more to him.

I have some hazy memories of Mike Flanagan the player, and that last game at Memorial Stadium. And Flanagan, along with Cal Ripken, are some of the earliest memories I have as an Orioles fan. That makes it that much sad to learn that Flanagan is gone.

As a broadcaster, he wasn't the best. His monotone voice (combined with the quality of most Orioles teams) lent to uninspired TV, but his humor was always there. It was dry, and always lighthearted. He never made fun of someone in a mean-spirited way and was never afraid to make fun of himself. And no one can deny Flanagan's baseball smarts in the booth and in the clubhouse, where he was a pitching coach with the Orioles, two different times. His mantra: work fast and throw strikes. That was it.

His tenure as a GM was not great by any means, but you could not deny the desire to make the Orioles better. Following the dark ages of the Syd Thrift era, Flanagan and co-GM Jim Beattie attempted to breathe life back into the Orioles by signing Miguel Tejada, Javy Loopez and Rafael Palmeiro in the offseason before 2004. They missed on signing Vlad Guerrero that year, despite having the best offer on the table. They hired rookie manager, Lee Mazzilli, a former Yankee, in a brave move that suggested at a new era of Orioles baseball. The following year, they traded for slugger Sammy Sosa. And even though that trade bombed, it was a decent move at the time. No one could have predicted Sosa's rapid decline from 35 home runs in 2004, to the 14 he hit as an Oriole in 2005.

The 2004 Orioles came close to breaking the .500 mark, but fell short. The next year saw the Orioles in first place for the first two months of the season before injuries and off-the-field problems took their toll and the Orioles collapsed during the second half. But it can be said that Flanagan was the only GM to have put together a winning team over 162 games, when you combine the second half of 2004 and the first half of 2005.

As more and more answers come into the light as to why Flanagan died, nothing will lessen the tragedy of a life cut short. Either way, Flanagan, who was 59, leaves behind a family. One has to wonder why, if the suicide reports are true, a man would do this...especially a man who according to former players and friends, was always cracking jokes and having a good time.

If it is true that Flanagan's death was somehow linked to his feelings about the current state of the Orioles -- and his perceived failings at making them better, the best thing the Orioles can do to honor his death is to put together a competitive team.

Rest in peace, Flanny. You will be missed.


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