This is the Mike Flanagan I remember.
He had the ubiquitous mustache necessary for all baseball players worth their salt, at the time. He was crafty. He had seemingly played forever.
As a little kid getting into baseball, there was a pretty even hierarchy of players. There were All-Stars, and then everyone else, and they were almost as good. Barry Bonds and Andy Van Slyke were the best Pirates, but Bob Walk and Mike LaValliere were right there with them. George Brett led the Royals, who couldn’t have done it without Kevin Seitzer. It’s how they all sized up for me — some players were great, but they were all important. They had to be. They were Major Leaguers.
I understood roles, of course. On the Orioles, for example, Cal Ripken was the star, the best shortstop in the American League. His brother Billy was a solid second baseman, the guy (I thought) who would get on base for the big hitters. Mike Mussina was the young ace. And Mike Flanagan was the sneaky lefty out of the bullpen.
Of course, in retrospect, Flanagan was much more than just the lefty specialist, waiting for his turn to face Don Mattingly or Dave Parker. Unlike so many relief lifers, Flanagan had spent the majority of his career as a starter, winning the 1979 Cy Young award, two American League pennants and a World Series along the way.
And, by most accounts, he was a good guy. Tim Kurkjian has a piece recalling that Flanagan was easily the funniest man he’s ever encountered. The baseball coach and athletic director at my high school once recalled what it was like to catch for him when Flanagan was a pitcher at the University of Massachusetts. Orioles fans loved him, enough that he was the last pitcher to stand on the mound at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium in 1991.
Of course, everything here is in the past tense. On Wednesday, Flanagan used a gun to take his own life in his Sparks, Md., home. He was 59 years old, and he’s left behind a wake, in the most literal sense. There’s been a tremendous amount of sadness in the baseball community for the past few days, the kind that can only come from a senseless act.
I didn’t know the man, personally. I remember the pitcher being called in to face my Red Sox when I was a kid, and I remember the baseball card I pulled from a pack when I was 10 years old. It’s sad and confusing, but there’s only so far it can reach.
But for the people who remember the man, the person that endeared himself to so many, this is a tremendous loss. What a waste.