The Baltimore Orioles sent their pitchers a confidential questionnaire a few years ago.
If you had problems, it wanted to know, to whom would you go for help?
The answer was almost unanimous.
On a team that had Jim Palmer as its star pitcher, Ray Miller as its pitching coach and Earl Weaver as its manager, not many people would have thought Mike Flanagan would have won this balloting so easily.
"He's our captain," Mike Boddicker said. "He'll always listen to your problems. He loves to talk about pitching and situations. He doesn't mind listening."
Mike Flanagan turned 34 last December, and is again jump-starting a career that has been one of the most glorious, yet disappointing, star-bound, yet starstruck, baseball has seen.
He won a Cy Young Award in 1979, and looked as if he was going to be one of the greatest left-handed pitchers ever. Then he had arm and shoulder problems in 1980 and 1981 and still went 25-19. He recovered from those problems, went 13-1 through the last part of 1982 and the early part of 1983.
A knee injury ruined that season, but he pitched in 1984 and appeared to be in the best shape of his career when he ripped an Achilles' tendon just before coming to spring training last year.
He is back again, though, and in the first 2 1/2 weeks of spring training has been the most impressive Orioles pitcher, popping his fast ball and getting his curve ball over for strikes.
"I've had my up years and down years like anyone else," Flanagan said. "I brooded a little at the time, but I had a right to. At the time, they were saying: 'We'll see you in a year, but we don't know if you'll ever be the same.' "
The Orioles say Flanagan, injuries notwithstanding, is not yet finished. "He has several premier years left," said Miller, now the Minnesota Twins manager. "If anyone can come back from all the injuries, he can."
"Look at his life," teammate Storm Davis said. "Even when he has had great success, he hasn't been able to enjoy it. The year he won the Cy Young was the year he woke up one morning and found Kathy his wife passed out and in bad shape because of a tubular pregnancy . He has gotten a great perspective on the game because he has gotten a great perspective on life."
Davis points to the problems Mike and Kathy Flanagan had conceiving a child, and the solution. On July 9, 1982, the Flanagans gave birth to Kerry Ellen, the first in-vitro-fertilization baby born in the United States by normal delivery. "I like to look at the positives," Davis said. "They're a great family. He's healthy, his arm is in great shape and Kathy is pregnant again. He's going to have good things happen to him."
For Flanagan's part, he appears frisky and ready to pitch after two injury-dominated seasons in the last three.
"I don't look at this spring as coming off an injury," he said. "I did that last July. I channeled all my energies into rehabilitation. Whatever level I was at, my goal was to get to the next one. Now, my goal is to pitch."
Another reason the Orioles believe he can pitch well for a few more years is his physical conditioning. After doing "very little" offseason work his first nine years, he became "obsessed" by conditioning after his Achilles' injury.
Far from the days when he tried to defend basketball teammate Julius Erving at the University of Massachusetts and "had to win at everything: at pool, at cards, whatever," he has channeled all his competitive energies into baseball.
"I laugh at the other stuff now," he said. "I used to pitch a game and start thinking about the next game five minutes later."
"Now, I enjoy it awhile. An hour, anyway."