Flannery’s Farewell : A Month’s Worth of Thoughts on Day of His Final Game

Times Staff Writer

The telephone keeps ringing. Reporters keep asking. Agents keep persuading.

It is no use. Tim Flannery’s mind is made up. Tonight is the last time he’ll come into the Padre clubhouse, put on the white uniform with the brown pinstripes and play in a major league game.

On the day of his 32nd birthday, 10 years and 26 days since making his major-league debut against the San Francisco Giants, Timothy Earl Flannery is retiring from baseball.

Flannery is the only player still wearing the same uniform from his debut that night. Ed Whitson and Jack Clark were at the game that night at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, but they were playing for the Giants. Whitson started; Clark sat on the bench with a broken hand.


“It felt like yesterday,” Flannery said. “Gaylord Perry bunted a runner over and came back and told me, ‘Get him in.’ I lined Whitson’s first pitcher into center field and kept flying into second base. The crowd was cheering. It sounded like 600,000 people.

“I looked in the paper the next day and couldn’t believe there was only 6,000.”

Flannery since has played for seven managers and with 182 different players. He has been to the playoffs. He has been to the World Series.

Although two games still remain on the schedule, Flannery is retiring early in order to forever remain a Padre. It will cost him about $400 in licensing fees from the Major League Players’ Assn. It could cost him two days of pay from the Padres. Flannery couldn’t care less.

He will not be eligible for free agency. No major-league club can contact him. The only team he’s eligible to play for until 1992 is the Padres.

His agent thinks he’s crazy. The Players Assn. says he’s stupid. The owner of the Italian baseball team who offered him a lucrative contract can’t understand him.

Just moments after the Padres’ 2-1, 13-inning defeat eliminated them from the pennant race Wednesday, Flannery decided to go through with his plans and retire two days early.

Flannery addressed the team, walked into Padre Manager Jack McKeon’s office and told him that tonight is the last time he’ll put on the uniform. McKeon told him that he’ll be in the starting lineup.

It will be the final game of a career that will not be remembered for the numbers he put up year after year, but for the heart and emotion Flannery displayed every time he set foot on the field.

When Flannery steps in front of the microphone Saturday for Fan Appreciation Night, with his wife, two children and parents, he’ll be in street clothes. When the ceremony is over, he’ll drive away with a smile on his face, tears in his eyes and memories that will last a lifetime.

This is a chronicle of Tim Flannery’s thoughts and feelings during the final month:

Sept. 1-3, Montreal: “I still tear up when I think about it. I’ve talked to friends and family for over six months talking about this, but I actually did it. Not just teammates, but other guys have come over and offered congratulations, expressing their feelings of playing against me for 10 years. I fight off emotions daily, but when they gave me a standing ovation (Aug. 29) when I came to bat, it was very hard not to start crying right there.”

Sept. 4-5, at Atlanta: “I’ve had a lot of fun in this city, but you can’t help but think of the fight here in 1984. The older I get, the more disappointed I become because of the fight. The reason there was a fight in the first place was because we thought they were trying to intimidate us, trying to get the edge on us. I’m not happy it happened, but it happened. I remember the next day I got fined $300. Three hundred dollars. For getting beat up by Gerald Perry. He was trying to blind-side Craig Lefferts. I stepped in front of Lefferts, just trying to protect him. Well, the next two times the benches cleared, he came looking for me. Now, we’re friends and joke about it. But he sure let me have it that night. Imagine, I get beat up, and I’m the one paying $300.

“It started the first pitch of the game, when Pasqual Perez drills Alan Wiggins. Donnie Moore hit Nettles at the end. You think about that. Donnie Moore. I thought about it today. You see the tragic loss of someone like Donnie and realize how lucky I am to have something else to fall back on.”

Sept. 6-7, at Houston: “Man, I’m really getting to hate the hotel rooms. I’ve had enough. It’s gotten so I can’t stand it. I just want to get it over with. I used to love the road. Of course, I cringe when I think about what I put my body through. But it got real old once I had children in 1985. That’s when it got tough. First, I started getting tired of it in September. Then it got to me in August. Then July. Then June. This year, it came in spring training. Even coming out of spring training, I didn’t want to go on any road trips. My wife, Donna, will come with me to Los Angeles and San Francisco, but that’s it. Once she came with me to New York, Montreal and Philadelphia. But after that, she said, ‘I’ll never, ever question you again.’ We’ve got a great relationship. She would never call me unless there’s an emergency. I call her every night, anyway. It’s all about trust. It’s the only way you can have any type of relationship in this game. I know there’s a lot of divorces and breakups in this game, but to say it’s because of baseball, I always thought that was a cop-out. You have the whole off-season at home to make it up, but some just don’t put forth the effort.”

Sept. 8-10, vs. Los Angeles: “I’ve been planning this retirement speech for two months. Even before they said they’d have me give a speech on Fan Appreciation Night, I was going to talk on this night no matter what. I was going to crash the mike if I had to, like Mr. Kroc did that one day.

“They had a roast for charity today, and they got me pretty good. It was like, ‘This is your life.’ While I was there, I kept thinking about how special my teammates are to me. They’re with you on a daily basis for eight months. They know your family. They know your emotions. They know your feelings. They know your values. They probably know you better than a lot of your family members do.

“There was an underground tape that wound up at the banquet from a pilot friend of mine, Doug Avazian. It was from when we went camping with Smitty (Astro reliever Dave Smith). They talked me into getting on an old, dead horse. Well, it wasn’t a dead horse, but I’m sure it is now. It was an old glue horse that was on its last days. Smitty challenges me, like he always does, to ride this thing bareback. When I got on it, it wouldn’t even move. I said to put a quarter in it. Instead, he threw three rocks and hit it in the butt. The thing takes off, and I do an ‘El Rollo.’ I busted my glasses and tore my forehead up. I didn’t realize until later that Doug had filmed the whole thing.”

Sept. 11-12, vs. Houston: “Dave Smith is my best friend in the world. We met in 1980 while playing in Puerto Rico, but we really became friends when his wife gave us an invitation to a party at their home here. Donna and I were excited, came over early with a bottle and were ready to rock and roll. We knocked on the door, and there was nobody home. We kept knocking. Finally, we just went on home, looked again at our invitation and saw that the party was a week later. They knew then that we were their type of people. I call him about three times a week. We’re like soul mates because we’re so much alike. Our wives can’t believe how much we’re alike, they think we must be brothers that were separated at the hospital or something. I’ve been discussing this retirement thing for a year with Dave. He kept trying to talk me out of it but finally quit trying to change my mind because he knew I was ready.

“I’ve never had a closer friend, but I’ve never competed against anyone any harder. Every time I get a hit off him, the phone in the clubhouse will ring. He’ll be calling from the other clubhouse, and say, ‘That ball should have been caught. Hey, I could have even caught that ball.’ ”

Sept. 13-14, vs. Atlanta: “This is great, because the way we’re playing right now, you can’t wait to get to the ballpark. I got to ballpark today and just yelled out, ‘I can’t wait to see how we win today.’ If you’re not in the pennant race, the the season is too long. It’s just miserable.

“The worst year ever was 1981. That was the year they got Juan Bonilla. I was the starting second baseman most of the year and then they picked up Bonilla and sent me to Hawaii. For the first time, I had to accept I wouldn’t be a star in the major leagues. I ended up with 60 at-bats that year and didn’t know if I’d ever play again after that. If not for Doug Rader, my manager (in Hawaii), I don’t think I would have.

“When I got sent down to triple-A, I thought about quitting. I was so frustrated. I was as low and down as I could get in this profession. Doug Rader, I don’t know why, saw something in me he liked. He got into me and changed my whole outlook. Not just baseball stuff, but life.

“Not everybody likes him or cares for his tactics. But when he tried those tactics in Texas, and it didn’t work, he made an adjustment. Now look at him. (Angel General Manager) Mike Port knew what he was getting. It wasn’t a gamble. He knew exactly what he was getting. I would have bet everything I had that he would have been successful. Mike Port looks like a genius now.

“The day I announced my retirement, (Rader) gave me a great telegram: ‘Congratulations for the memories. You helped me just like I helped you. P.S.: I want my glove back.’

“It was the last game of (last) spring training, and I was playing third and I didn’t have a third base glove. He said, ‘Wait a minute, I’ll go get mine.’ He gave it to be, and it had these ‘TBH’ initials all over the glove. I said, ‘What does that mean?’ He said, ‘The ball stops here.’ You know, I played with the glove all season.

“One of the reasons I wanted to retire early is because I didn’t want Doug to call me. I didn’t want him to make an offer. It would have been tough for me to turn down Doug Rader. That would have been very tough. He’s the one who saved my career, and if he had called, I think I might have had to play for him.”

Sept. 13-14, vs. Atlanta: “I hear people say all the time that my ankle injury in 1987 hurt my career. Well, to tell you the truth, it helped my career. I started thinking about things like life after baseball, and it saved me. I started making contacts, and it’s got me to where I am today.

“It was the last pitch of batting practice, and I was drag-bunting. I stepped on a ball underneath the tarp and just flipped over. I went on the DL, and when I came off, it was apparent that Joey Cora wasn’t quite ready. So they said, ‘Can you play every day?’ It was killing me, but I said, ‘Of course I could play every day. I played 106 games on it.

“The end of the year, the doctors looked at it and said, ‘What happened?’ I can’t walk barefoot anymore. I haven’t been able to play tennis since. I take anti-inflammatory pills every day, and it’s about this time of year that you turn the lights off and you glow . . .

“Dale Murphy came running down the hallway. He was 100 yards away, still had a towel around him and yelled for me. He shook my hand and told me how it was a pleasure to play against me, someone who worked as hard and had as much fun as I did in this game. I must have talked to him more last night than I talked to him in last 10 years.”

Sept. 15-17, at San Francisco: “I got a call Sunday morning from an owner of an Italian baseball team. He was calling long distance. I could hardly hear him, in fact, we lose connection, and he calls back again. He wants me to come play for his team in Italy. He says, ‘We play only three days a week. There’s no travel. You’re home every night. We’ll give you a condominium. We’ll give you a European sports car.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to play any more baseball.’ He said, ‘You don’t have to say yes or no, now.’ I said, ‘I’m telling you, I don’t want to play any more baseball. I’m not going to go to Anaheim, so why would I go to Italy. I’m flattered that you called, but the reason I’m not doing this and getting out is because I want to stay in San Diego.’ So you know what he says? ‘I’ll call you in a month.’

“There’s not enough money in the world to send me to Italy to play baseball. My decision is not based on my own. If I were single, I’d keep playing. I’d go to Italy. If I were single, I’d try the free-agent market. This decision is not my decision, it’s a decision I made for my family. Money cannot replace the things we miss in this game, and that’s something that people don’t understand. You miss precious time with your children that can never be replaced, you just have to make a decision, when it comes time, on how much you’ve sacrificed for the money. I think if I keep playing, I’ll miss those special times. I’m just to a point in my life now where my children need me home. Every time I start packing for trips, my little boy sits on the suitcase and cries. That’s very hard to take.”

Sept. 19-21, at Cincinnati: “We had a team party last night that was just a blast. Unfortunately, I’ve got a headache that won’t quit. They had team awards, and the guys voted me ‘Gamer of the Year’ and gave me a plaque for it.’

“Of all the cities, this is probably the one I’ll most miss. It’s proably the only city I’ll even miss, when I think about it. I have a lot of family over in Hamilton, Ohio, across the river, and (Cincinnati’s) just a real traditional city. It’s a lot like San Diego and its people. It’s a great ballpark. It’s a great place to play. The weather here always is decent. I always kind of joked and said if they had an ocean here, I might consider living here.

“But it sure feels strange being here and not seeing Pete Rose. On the way in, I always stop in and eat at Gold Star Chili and have one of those coney dogs with chili and onions on them. They took his picture down off the wall there, too. Here’s a guy who sacrificed every single thing he had for this game. I mean, he sacrificed everything. Well, I’ve sacrificed as much as I want to sacrifice.”

Sept. 22-24, at Los Angeles: “This is a good place to play, growing up in Anaheim and everything, but the city has changed so much that I just don’t care for it anymore. I never cared for the hype, the Dodger Blue, all that garbage. You hear a lot of guys say that they want to play in the Dodger organization. Not me. I never wanted to play for them,. You don’t need all that motivation garbage, you should play because you love the game of baseball.

“San Diego is a great place to play. But if you’re looking for endorsements; if you’re looking for commercials; if you’re looking to be recognized wherever you go, San Diego is not the place. And there are guys that have left the organization because of it.

“I’ve seen guys that have come from the Chicagos, the New Yorks, that had a hard time playing in San Diego because you’re not larger than life here. There’s no pressure from the fans because we’re not larger than life, and that’s the way it should be. But a lot of guys have a hard time dealing with that because they’re not worshipped. Keith Moreland had a problem with it. Dave Winfield wanted the attention and the hype. I think Ozzie Smith wanted it.”

Sept. 25-28, Cincinnati: “I had an argument with Mark Belanger of the players’ union. I told him how I was going to retire two days early, and I called up just to see how much licensing revenue I’ll lose and whether two days will affect my pension. He says, ‘Why are you doing that?’ I said, ‘I’m retiring.’ He said, ‘Why, you may get offers from other clubs?’ I said, ‘No, you don’t understand me. I’m retiring. I’m taking a job and staying here in San Diego.’ He said, ‘Why, though? You might get offers from other clubs, and if you leave early, there’s a two-year reservation period where you can’t work or play with any other organization.’ I said, ‘That’s exactly why I’m doing this, so I don’t have to hear from people like you that say I should do these things.’ I’ve made a decision that I’m sticking with; I am retiring as a San Diego Padre. It’s hard for me to imagine a man who’s living in downtown Manhattan is telling me that I need to think about where I want to live, how I want to live my life.’

“Then my agent and I got into it about the same thing. He says, ‘Well, why can’t you just retire at the end of the year. There’s a two-year reservation clause.’ I said, ‘That’s great. I’m taking a job here in San Diego. I’m staying in San Diego.’ I said, ‘Look, if in a year if I stink so bad, KFMB fires me, Channel 8 fires me and the Padres won’t let me work in their organization, I’ll go to Fiji for a year and surf and then I’ll come back and get a job. This is not even open for discussion.’

“I don’t know, it just goes to show me, people don’t know how I feel about this and how I feel about San Diego. By doing this, I’m showing these people from San Diego that I’m retiring a San Diego Padre. I’m not even going to give these people a chance to even talk to me about it. Another reason I want to go out like this is because I’ve played by the rules. I’ve done everything they’ve asked me. I’ve never been late one time for the bus. I’ve never been late one time for a meeting. I never been late one day for a practice or a game. So I’m going out this way.

“People that don’t understand it, I learned a long time ago, they’re not my friends anyway. People that are close to me have known that for a year and a half, two years ago, I had some questions that were tough to answer. And I had some feelings and thoughts that never were there before. After a two-year period of them talking about it, when I told Dave Smith this time of my plans, he looked right at me and said, ‘You’re ready. I know you’re ready. I’m not going to fight you on it this time.’ ”

Thursday, Sept. 28: “People keep asking me if it’s important that I play one last time. It doesn’t matter. I don’t need another at-bat. I don’t need another game. I don’t need a last request. I’m not dying, you know. I don’t need one more experience to make up for the experiences I’ve cheated myself on. Every at-bat has been my last. Every game has been my last because it could have been.’

“I’ve rewritten my speech 25 times, and the more I re-write it, the more I might just wad it up, and throw it away and just go for the heart. It just all depends. It’s sort of a backup in case I get so emotional I can’t talk. Smitty offered me 10 grand if I don’t cry. That shows you how he knows me, how emotional I get.

“This has been a great way to go out. People were still into it. We weren’t playing young guys. We weren’t looking for 1990. There weren’t just 5,000 people in the stands. This pennant race was a lot of fun.

“You know, I never expected anything from baseball. I played baseball from Day 1 because of my love for the game. I never played for money. I never played for fans to cheer me. I never played for any of those reasons.

“But ever since I announced my retirement, I look back, and I realize that all of my memories aren’t going to be the ones on the field. They won’t be personal memories. They’re going to be memories of how the fans and my teammates treated me. The letters I’ve gotten in the last month, the affection from my peers and teammates, the way people from this city have reacted. I’m completely overwhelmed.

“All these things just make me realize how right I was never to leave this city.

“I’m going to be forever indebted.”