The death of Mike Flanagan has had a profound effect on me, more than I can rationalize. Like many of us, I am at a loss to understand what happened in his life that led to this terrible tragedy.
I am a lifelong, big-time Oriole fan and, with my dad, attended the first game at Memorial Stadium in 1954 when I was nine years old. I kept a daily scrapbook with the Sun box scores and game stories and listened to most games on a boxy radio I kept near my bed. I was also at the last game at Memorial Stadium when Mike, then a reliever, fittingly threw the last pitch by an Oriole at the stadium.
I met Mike at an Oriole exhibition game in Ft. Lauderdale in 2008 while he was still in the Orioles front office the year after General Manager Andy McPhail's arrival. He was sitting behind home plate by himself. A young fan whose dad was wearing a Yankee hat had been trying to get players' autographs, and I told him to go over to Mike, he was an Oriole great, but the youngster was too shy. So I took him over, and Mike happily obliged him. Then I thought, hey, I want to talk to Mike, too, so I sat with him. He was very engaging, and after he signed my scorecard, we talked Oriole baseball past and present.
When I asked him what is was like to play for Earl Weaver, he laughed and said "That would be one long chapter in my book," and we let it go at that. I noted all the scouts looking at Brian Roberts as trade rumors swirled, and Mike told me it was 50-50 as to whether he would be traded.
When I got back to my seat, I looked at his autograph, and it read "Mike Flanagan CY '79." It's impressive, yes, that he was a Cy Young Award winner, but it was amazing that almost 30 years later, that's how he signed. Even with salaries of pitchers for the Orioles eight to 10 times higher than Mike's highest salary, I could think of not one pitcher the Orioles have had in the last 10 years anywhere near as good as Mike Flanagan, one of the great Oriole pitchers. He was a superb craftsman who was a bulldog and played the game with respect and intelligence. I saw him pitch many times at Memorial Stadium, including on October 10, 1979, when he pitched a complete game World Series win over thePirates.
But why am I feeling so down, so very, very sad? If Mike had died of a heart attack, I would not be like this. What I am feeling is regret that with all the former and current Orioles, the broadcasters, fans, and other baseball people surrounding Mike, someone could have reached out to help him resolve whatever the darkness in his life was that caused him to end his life. I think of listening to him and seeing him very recently on the Oriole TV broadcasts and sensing he was a little subdued, not as convivial with the old story telling and wry humor I loved. I would remark that he seemed a bit "off" from the Mike Flanagan we all knew.
His death should be a wake-up call to all of us to reach out to family, friends and even strangers who may be down and in need. We plod along and may never notice how folks close to us are hurting. So, it's a very sad and tragic goodbye we say to Mike Flanagan CY '79.
—Gerald W. Winegrad
The writer is a former state senator from Annapolis. His email is email@example.com.