Former Oriole pitcher, coach, team executive and broadcaster Mike Flanagan was found dead yesterday afternoon on his property in Sparks, Maryland. He was 59 years old.
Police are investigating the cause of death, meanwhile, WBAL-TV’s sports director Gerry Sandusky is reporting, based on sources, that Flanagan took his own life “despondent over what he considered a false perception from a community he loved of his role in the team’s prolonged failure.” (Other media are now confirming that police are saying this was an apparent suicide.)
As rumors swirl, fans and teammates are mourning “Flanny’s” passing and trying to put into words what he meant to the team.
“Mike Flanagan gave almost his entire professional life to the Baltimore Orioles,” said OriolesHangout founder and publisher Tony Pente.
“As a pitcher, pitching coach, broadcaster and executive, Flanagan lived and breathed Orioles baseball and he truly wanted to see the organization be successful,” Pente said, in an email.
In the late 1970s and 80s, Flanagan teamed with veteran Jim Palmer, Scott McGregor, Mike Boddicker and Storm Davis to form one of the best pitching staffs in Oriole history.
With a sweeping curveball that often inspired the superlatives of Orioles announcer Chuck Thompson, Flanagan won 167 games for the Orioles and the Blue Jays. He was an All-Star in 1978 and won the Cy Young in 1979 with a record of 23-9.
In a memorable performance on a June night in the old Comiskey park in 1984, Flanagan out-dueled Hall of Famer Tom Seaver in a game that saw both hurlers carrying shutouts and one-hitters into the ninth.
As an announcer, his insightful commentary and dry humor made for an entertaining combination to counteract the team’s recent dismal showing on the field. When his death was confirmed last night, the Orioles were on their way to a third straight victory over the Twins.
“It’s a tremendous loss,” said announcer Rick Dempsey, choking back tears on the Orioles MASN post-game telecast. “He pitched so many great ballgames to me. He was always there, a guy you could always rely on.”
A native of Manchester, New Hampshire, Flanagan played basketball and baseball at the University of Massachusetts, and baseball for the Falmouth Commodores in the Cape Cod Baseball League. He often joked that playing against Julius “Dr. J” Irving in college made baseball an easy decision. He was drafted by the Orioles in 1973.
“I’m not very good at this,” said a deeply shaken Jim Palmer after the Orioles win over the Twins.
“He was one of a kind. It wasn’t just about what happened on the field. He made us laugh. He could make light of anything,” Palmer said. “He will be missed more than you will ever know.”
“With his quick wit and ability to tell a story, Flanagan will be missed by all in the Orioles nation,” said Pente.
Taking on the Team’s Troubles?
As the media sort out the possible connection between the Orioles’ long-running descent and Flanagan’s death, it’s safe to say the elements of such a tragedy are there.
On the verge of their 14th consecutive losing season, it’s hard to imagine what else could go wrong for the Orioles franchise short of a tsunami crashing into Camden Yards. Young pitching hasn’t panned out, general manager Andy MacPhail is almost certainly gone after the season, and all-star second baseman Brian Roberts has been sidelined indefinitely with a concussion.
Fans’ mounting criticism of the team has been heaped mostly on MacPhail over the last two years, and even more appropriately on team owner Peter Angelos.
Flanagan entered the front office in 2002 in the wake of Syd Thrift’s departure to embark on what many consider now to have been an impossible task, to rebuild the Orioles.
But some may have blamed the former pitching ace, perhaps unfairly since he was he was paired up with executive vice president Jim Duquette in a kind of co-general manager position and so he was never quite on his own.
No one would dispute that Flanagan worked as tirelessly to improve the franchise as he did to be one of the game’s dominating left-handers.