Speaking for myself, I’ll never forget the events of exactly one year ago today. I was covering the Orioles for another outlet at that time, and with the team on the road in Minnesota I was doing so from my living room (as I often do now). At approximately 4:30 PM I saw a story come across my twitter feed of a dead body having been found on the property of former Oriole Mike Flanagan in Baltimore County. I didn’t think much of it at the time, other than the fact that it was somewhat odd. Just as the game that night was starting, the news began to break that the body was in fact that of Flanagan himself, a victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The game became irrelevant, and few that watched MASN’s O’s Xtra postgame that night with Amber Theoharis, Rick Dempsey, and Jim Palmer will ever forget it. (This video of Jim Palmer was later voted the #1 spontaneous moment in sports broadcasting for 2011.) Speaking for myself, that was tougher than any of the many losses that the Orioles had suffered over the years from 1998 onward. I think that there are few franchises in sports that truly have a familial relationship with fans. The Orioles have always been one of them. We often see the players in and around the city doing various charity works, and making various appearances for fans. So when the news of an Oriole legend passing away, especially one in Mike Flanagan that was still so actively involved with the team (as a MASN commentator) broke, the Baltimore community and the Oriole fans took it hard.
I’m 31 years old, so growing up in the 1980′s I do have some memories of Mike Flanagan on the mound at Memorial Stadium. I certainly don’t remember the 1983 World Series (I was two) or Flanagan’s Cy Young award before my birth, however growing up I could very easily see that Flanagan was beloved by the Oriole fans. In his various stints in the booth after his career, I think that Baltimore had the opportunity to fall in love with his dry sense of humor and quick wit that was legendary to all who played with him. I suppose that my favorite memory of Flanagan will always be him walking in from the bullpen to pitch in the 9th inning of the final game at Memorial Stadium in 1991. Flanny had been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1987, but was re-acquired in 1991 by the O’s. So in a tip-of-the-cap of sorts to the past of a storied franchise, the late Johnny Oates called Mike Flanagan to pitch the final inning of Orioles baseball on 33rd St. Before sending the Detroit Tigers down 1-2-3, Flanagan gingerly walked to the mound from the Orioles’ bullpen in left center. When asked why he walked so slowly to the mound that day, Flanagan’s answer was something to the effect of, “…if I had gone any faster I quite simply would have fallen over.”
Mike Flanagan was a great Oriole, and by all accounts a great teammate and friend. However more importantly he was a family man. My thoughts and prayers are most certainly with the likes of his wife Alex, and their daughters today. When I was in my mid-20′s I was faced with the prospect of my own father having cancer, and while he made it through his treatments and is now in full remission, I’m not sure what I would have done had he not been around any longer. I certainly can’t say that I know what the Flanagan family is going through in the sense that I haven’t lost a spouse or a father, however I most certainly do sympathize. The real Mike Flanagan was not the guy that we often saw standing on the Memorial Stadium mound, or sharing his quick wit during Oriole telecasts on MASN and previously on Home Team Sports (HTS). The real Mike Flanagan was their husband and father, and only they know the full extent of that loss. As I said, my thoughts and prayers are most certainly with the Flanagan family today, as I hope are those of the Orioles’ fan base.
For what it’s worth, the current Orioles are in fact putting an uplifting twist on a somber anniversary for the Orioles’ family: they’re in contention. The Mike Flanagan that Orioles fans know and love came from the days of Orioles Magic in the 1970′s and 80′s. Mike Flanagan loved the Orioles, and the people that surrounded the team such as Jim Palmer and Rick Dempsey. They are all part of the “old guard” so to speak in Orioles lore, and of course the “new guard” today consists of the likes of Jones, Markakis, Wieters, and others. All of them are paying Flanagan a tribute by doing their part in resurrecting a long-forgotten franchise.
However for today, we should put aside the thoughts of the postseason for just one moment as we remember the life of a man who’s nearly entire adult life was dedicated to the Baltimore Orioles in some fashion. If you have a spare moment, say a prayer for his wife and kids today, because I’m quite sure they could use it. Furthermore, if you or anyone you know and love is experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call the Baltimore Suicide Prevention/Crisis Response Hotline: 410-752-2272. Rest in peace Mike; I never had the honor of meeting you or knowing you, but know that you’re still missed.