Nearly two weeks ago in the wake of the tragic and untimely death of actor/comedian Robin Williams, it dawned on me that we were approaching August 24th. Three years ago today, we learned of the death of the now late Mike Flanagan. At the time I vowed that as long as I wrote on the Baltimore Orioles beat for Fansided, I’d mark August 24th.
Mike Flanagan is concretely cemented into the history of the franchise as one of it’s greatest pitchers. Perhaps the “second greatest,” after Jim Palmer. His ranking is debatable, however the fact that he meant a lot to the franchise and to the fans from the mid-to-late 70’s and through the late 80’s is not in question. Flanagan was the definition of a crafty lefty who always seemed to have a trick up his sleeve – especially in his Cy Young year of 1979.
Flanagan was also very active in the community, and when he came up with the Orioles he moved to Baltimore and lived here until his death in 2011. Granted at that time it was much more common for players to do that, however Flanagan was one of the more visible Orioles throughout the area during his tenure with the Birds.
The details of Flanagan’s death are still somewhat nebulous, however that’s not important. Orioles’ fans should be celebrating his life, and what he meant to them as opposed to anything else. For the record, Flanagan’s death seemed to somehow rally the team that year, and they completed perhaps the greatest closing act of all time just over a month after that by beating Boston to knock them out of the playoff race. A season later, the O’s made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. And here they are again now, poised to go into the post season.
Mike Flanagan loved this franchise. I think he would be proud to see how things have turned out in the span between three years ago today
At that time Flanagan had returned to the O’s after having been traded to Toronto in 1987. He re-signed with the O’s as a free agent prior to the 1991 season, and was largely used as a reliever. Manager Johnny Oates summoned Flanagan from the bullpen to pitch to Detroit in the top of the ninth inning with the Orioles trailing – thus making him the final Oriole to pitch on the hallowed ground of 33rd St.
As Flanagan walked in from the bullpen that day (in the aforementioned slow manner), you could almost see the old “ghosts” of the franchise’s storied past rooting him on. He was very much a piece of the franchise’s history (as a World Series championship and the Cy Young award), but also at that moment a piece of it’s present. He was thus the perfect person to have the honor of being the last man standing on the mound. And it’s an honor that we all know he took very seriously.
But the real tragedy is that he’s no longer with us. Again, the manner in which he died isn’t important. We mourn his death, but we always keep his memory in our hearts. The Orioles organization was shaken to it’s core by Flanagan’s passing, however if results are any indication it acted as a flash point for it’s return to glory. And there’s nothing in this world that would make Mike Flanagan more proud than to see that the process completed – this October. Rest in eternal peace Mike, we miss you.