When he was a kid pitcher who allowed too many steals, Flanny threw a sideline session as Weaver watched. Suddenly Earl began running, yelling, “I just stole second on you.”
“How’d you ever get on base?” Flanagan replied.
That is the best-known version of Flanagan: the droll New Hampshire stoic, watching bemused, waiting with a needle that he never dug too deep. But there were several other Flannys, all worth valuing now in the wake of his death Wednesday at age 59.
Once, when no Oriole would say a good word for smart, angry, drug-plagued teammate Alan Wiggins, Flanagan analyzed, rather than judged.
“I always tend to give people two or three more chances than they deserve. That might help you in the long run because they give you more chances, too,” he said. “Maybe Alan gave everybody two or three less chances than they deserved. So they gave him no chances at all.”
That was Flanagan, too.
In 1983, Flanny pitched with a four-pound brace on his knee. The league knew he was, once again, sacrificing another notch off the power arm that won him the 1979 Cy Young Award. But as he had in several seasons, he wanted to help the O’s while other, slower-healing pitchers waited until they could stand the pain. Flanagan’s tough-it-out code, the product of being a third-generation pro pitcher, probably turned a potentially stellar career into a merely very good one: 167-143. But it brought vast dividends of respect.
That year on the O’s beat, I waited for somebody to bunt for a hit against Flanagan while he was wearing that brace. Nobody did, not even with a pennant at stake. It was beneath the dignity of the game to exploit him — because he wouldn’t throw at hitters, because he never took his spitball out of the bullpen and because, in his prime, he loved the challenge of attacking the strengths of the greatest hitters, such as Jim Rice.
That, also, was Flanagan.
During the bleakest years of Peter Angelos’s tenure as Orioles owner, few respected baseball executives would come to Baltimore. But Flanagan was always an Oriole first, all else a distant second. He befriended Angelos, tried to understand him, influence him for the best and explain him to others. As executive vice president of baseball operations from 2005 to ’08, he was the public face of the franchise.
It didn’t work. Just as he abused his arm for Weaver and the team, Flanagan sacrificed some of his reputation as an exec by being identified with Angelos. After Andy MacPhail became general manager, there was no logical place for Flanagan. He called friends throughout baseball to pick brains about jobs in other front offices. None apparently materialized.
After serving in more Orioles roles than any Baltimore player, including two stints as pitching coach, Flanagan went back to the TV broadcast booth to explain the latest 95-loss year — insightfully, generously and sardonically.