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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Flanny

I never got to meet Mike Flanagan.  I have no stories about Flanagan, no interesting anecdotes about him, just the lingering emotional attachment that comes with rooting for a sports team when you’re a little kid.  I was born in 1978, so I was too young to remember Mike Flanagan at his best as a pitcher.  But he was a part of the first sports team I was old enough to follow over the course of an entire season, the 1983 Orioles.  It was a pretty good year to become a fan, this being the last time the O’s won the World Series.  But when you’re 5 and fascinated by something new and exciting, it doesn’t matter if that thing is the best around.  I have fond memories of the Dukes of Hazzard, too, but nobody would think the adventures of the Duke boys stemmed from the pen of Virgil.  Though Rosco P. Coltrane’s character had some complexities that weren’t fully explored…

I’m not noted for being an emotional sports fan, but it’s hard for me to be objective when it comes to the 1983 or 1989 Orioles.  Mike Boddicker and Mickey Tettleton hold a certain attachment to me that no Nobel Peace Prize winner could ever replace.  It’s curious how we root for laundry, but I’m no philosopher - the psychology of fandom is pretty darn complex.

I was lucky and got to see the final game at Memorial Stadium.  I was a little older and more cynical (13 by this point) and while I remember the day being mild, pleasant, and with a nice breeze, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out if it was actually 85 degrees and muggy, a typical Baltimore June-to-October day.  Or that there was a snowstorm.  We tend to get details of our fondest memories bass-ackwards, the emotional charge of the moment probably overwhelms the logical collection of facts.  Probably some brain thing - I took physics as my science in college and the extent of my biological knowledge consists of don’t drink poison and generally how babies are made.

Mike Flanagan was brought out to finish that game, and the crowd figuratively went apeshit about the whole thing.  Eddie Murray was already long gone at this point and Flanagan, along with Cal Ripken, was one of the last connections to my first season as a baseball fan that was still around in Baltimore.  Flanagan finished up the game, but I have no recollection of how he actually pitched.  It was irrelevant to the moment.

I didn’t know Mike Flanagan.  He wasn’t a family member or a co-worker or an acquaintance or even someone I’ve ever interviewed or written an article about.  So while I’m bummed from hearing about Flanagan’s death, my feelings of sadness aren’t just for him, they’re also for myself.  As someone who followed baseball intensely as a kid (and still do, both as hobby and vocation), seeing Flanagan go, before he was “supposed to” is like having yet another piece of my childhood die.  Selfish as that feeling may be, raw feelings don’t tend to display the most altruistic tendencies.  Rest in peace, Flanny, and thank you for making my life a little bit better while you were here.

Dan Szymborski Posted: August 25, 2011 at 02:59 AM | 27 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Zoppity Zoop Posted: August 25, 2011 at 04:18 AM (#3908452)
You Balmer guys must have loved Flanagan. Even Szym takes the saccharine route! At most, I expected Billy to write an angry letter to God.
   2. Bourbon Samurai Posted: August 25, 2011 at 04:54 AM (#3908462)
Thanks Dan. Appreciate this.
   3. DFA Posted: August 25, 2011 at 05:55 AM (#3908484)
Thanks Dan.
   4. Forsch 10 From Navarone (Dayn) Posted: August 25, 2011 at 06:05 AM (#3908485)
Well, well said, Dan. I started following baseball in '79, and Flanagan is in that first class of players that I remember. For those reasons--and reasons you expressed so well--this one hit me.

Here's to one fine Irishman.
   5. birdlives is one crazy ninja Posted: August 25, 2011 at 07:13 AM (#3908493)
I vaguely remember watching Flanny as a kid. I followed the O's then but I wasn't an avid follower. I just remember he was part of a great Orioles team along with Cal, Eddie, and others. Seeing anyone die before their time is sad, but his suicide makes it especially sad.
   6. Joe Kehoskie Posted: August 25, 2011 at 07:26 AM (#3908496)
Met Flanny a few times when I worked for the Rochester Red Wings back in the '90s. Very good guy. Very sad for him to be gone at such a young age.
   7. Athletic Supporter can feel the slow rot Posted: August 25, 2011 at 07:30 AM (#3908497)
Seeing anyone die before their time is sad, but his suicide makes it especially sad.


Not trying to start a flame war (this is the only comment I'll make) or troll, but it has always seemed to me that the fact that it was a suicide makes it a little less sad. At least he got to make the choice about whether to live or die, as opposed to an accident or random cancer that ripped his life from him without his having any control over it.

As a society, we should probably feel worse about his death because it's more of a reflection on society than, say, colon cancer, but I think it's less tragic than a random death.

Didn't know the man, but these touching stories make me wish I had (Kurkjian has some nice ones up at ESPN). RIP.
   8. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 25, 2011 at 10:09 AM (#3908507)
Nice tribute, Dan. For the record, I was at that last game in Memorial Stadium, and I'm pretty sure that it was a cool and cloudy day, and that Cal bounced into a double play to put a lid on the Orioles' 38 year tenure. IIRC the only ovation that topped Flanagan's final appearance was when the Colts marching band made a surprise visit and played the Colts' marching song. It was just a beautiful if melancholy day all around.

My favorite Flanagan memory was a cold and drizzly October night 12 years earlier, in game 1 of the World Series, when he hung on for a complete game 5-4 win over the Pirates after the Orioles had staked him to a 5-0 lead in the first inning. He struggled the whole game and made it a nailbiter all the way to the last out, and I'll bet he must have thrown 150 pitches. He pitched hundreds of better games, but to me that game was the essence of Mike Flanagan.
   9. Rafael Bellylard: Built like a Panda. Posted: August 25, 2011 at 10:12 AM (#3908509)
With equally no intention of fanning a flame war, I respectfully disagree with #7. Perhaps the death itself may be less tragic, but whatever set of circumstances occured that makes someone choose that route is indeed tragic.
   10. Martin Hemner Posted: August 25, 2011 at 10:30 AM (#3908510)
At least he got to make the choice about whether to live or die, as opposed to an accident or random cancer that ripped his life from him without his having any control over it.

All of the research points to depression being every bit the disease that cancer is. Taking out end of life situations, suicide is never a rational decision, but an emotional one. And I feel sadder that Flanagan wasn't able to get the treatment that he needed to save his life. Hopefully, it was not because of the stigma associated with mental illness.
   11. Dan Szymborski Posted: August 25, 2011 at 02:03 PM (#3908597)
Nice tribute, Dan. For the record, I was at that last game in Memorial Stadium, and I'm pretty sure that it was a cool and cloudy day, and that Cal bounced into a double play to put a lid on the Orioles' 38 year tenure.

I remember the Cal part - O's got their butts kicked, which I do remember, so would've bat last.

Seriously don't recall it as cool and cloudy now. If you asked me, I'd swear it was upper 50s/low 60s that day. I should probably go check BR - didn't want the facts to interfere with my memories last night (yeah, that's odd coming from me).
   12. Dan Szymborski Posted: August 25, 2011 at 02:08 PM (#3908601)
I still can't visualize Dwight Evans in an O's uniform, even though I probably saw it dozens of times that year. I had completely forgotten this was even the year that the O's had him.
   13. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: August 25, 2011 at 02:14 PM (#3908610)
Thanks. Well said.
   14. Belfry Bob Posted: August 25, 2011 at 02:15 PM (#3908614)
The roar when Flanny struck out Fryman and whoever the other batter was (I don't want to look it up right now, either) was one of the largest of the day on a day of many. It's like Flanny put the period on the life of the old ballpark with that moment, it was perfect.

I recall the day as somewhat sunny. Sitting down the left field line, I remember it getting darn chilly as the shadows grew long.

I knew Mike better than any Oriole because of a connection through some fantasy campers that helped me helm our old Orioles website, 'Birds in the Belfry', from 2001-2010. Mike would graciously invite the group for a chat once during the week everyone was together to do a week of games and spend a couple of hours with us talking O's, baseball, sports, New England, dads, media, and life. I got to meet him alone a couple of times after getting to know him. His lovely and amazing wife supported him in everything he did.

This is just inexplicable, and extremely sad.

The weird thing is, I had just thrown up my hands this summer and said goodbye to the Orioles after 14 years of frustration - and now I feel totally pulled back in. You just can't walk away on what is a part of you.
   15. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: August 25, 2011 at 02:24 PM (#3908625)
The weird thing is, I had just thrown up my hands this summer and said goodbye to the Orioles after 14 years of frustration - and now I feel totally pulled back in. You just can't walk away on what is a part of you.

Ditto. In June, I stopped following them closely for the first time since I was 12 or 13. But now I've been sucked back in.
   16. Dan Szymborski Posted: August 25, 2011 at 03:14 PM (#3908681)
Ditto. In June, I stopped following them closely for the first time since I was 12 or 13. But now I've been sucked back in.

We haven't yet developed the fatalism of Cubs fans, that keeps them watching terrible baseball.
   17. Don Geovany Soto (chris h.) Posted: August 25, 2011 at 03:26 PM (#3908688)
We haven't yet developed the fatalism of Cubs fans, that keeps them watching terrible baseball.

As someone who's developed that fatalism, I cannot explain it. It's just there.

Condolences to the family.

Also, I do respectfully disagree with #7, because he must've been severely depressed, and had he gotten treatment, he might well still be alive today. I find that unbelievably tragic.
   18. Fresh Prince of Belisle Posted: August 26, 2011 at 02:38 AM (#3909250)
Surprisingly awesome piece, considering the source.
   19. Dan Szymborski Posted: August 26, 2011 at 02:46 AM (#3909255)
Uh, thanks?
   20. The Long Arm of Rudy Law Posted: August 26, 2011 at 03:14 AM (#3909267)
I just looked up the video of the Earl Weaver/Bill Haller argument (because it was mentioned in As They See Him, which somebody recommended here a few days ago) and that started with a balk call against Flanagan. He has a brief appearance in the video.
   21. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 26, 2011 at 03:29 AM (#3909273)
I just looked up the video of the Earl Weaver/Bill Haller argument

My favorite sequence:

"You just wait 5 or 10 years, I'll be in the Hall of Fame"

"You gonna get in the Hall of Fame for ####### up the World Series?"

"I've won more than I've lost!"

"No you haven't"

"Games! I'm talking about GAMES!"
   22. Joe Kehoskie Posted: August 26, 2011 at 06:08 AM (#3909338)
I just looked up the video of the Earl Weaver/Bill Haller argument (because it was mentioned in As They See Him, which somebody recommended here a few days ago) and that started with a balk call against Flanagan. He has a brief appearance in the video.

This video is one of my all-time favorites. One of the best parts is that the argument happened roughly 3 minutes into the game.

Anyway, legend has it that just after the video ends, Weaver asked Flanagan if he balked, to which he replied, "I think so, Earl." No idea if it's true, but it makes the video even funnier.
   23. The Long Arm of Rudy Law Posted: August 26, 2011 at 04:37 PM (#3909656)
As They See Him


That was caused by some combination of vodka and posting from a phone. Everybody here probably already knows it's "As They See 'Em." "As They See Him" would only be good if it was about Earl Weaver and written by Jim Palmer about people who feel differently about Earl.
   24. Dingbat_Charlie Posted: August 26, 2011 at 05:01 PM (#3909671)
I'm still a little upset about this. I find myself thinking about him, what he must have been going through leading up to the end, and how much I enjoyed watching him pitch and hearing him talk on O's broadcasts. He's been a little part of my life, in one way or another, for as long as I can remember, and all of my memories and impressions of him are resoundingly positive. At my age that's a rare combination. Grieving sucks.

RIP Mike, I'll miss ya.
   25. Magnum RA Posted: August 26, 2011 at 05:43 PM (#3909720)
I'm pretty close to Dan in age (I was born in 77) and Flanny has always just been there in one way or another. I remember the last game at Memorial Stadium well. My mom was watching Eastenders on PBS on the big tv so my dad and I hung out in the kitchen and watched the game. I remember being surprised when they dug out home plate and it went a foot into the ground. MASN replayed the game last night which actually has some commentary from Flanny on it ( so I've heard) and I DVR'd it but I don't know if I'm ready to watch it. My dad's dead and whenever something like this happens I get all upset about my dad dying again and, man, I really liked Flanny.
   26. Dan Evensen Posted: August 29, 2011 at 11:12 PM (#3911857)
Excellent tribute, Dan, and good discussion.
   27. HowardMegdal Posted: September 02, 2011 at 06:16 PM (#3915644)
This was great, Dan. Just got to it now.

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