Pitcher Mike Flanagan was released by the Toronto Blue Jays in May.

Five or six teams, including the Red Sox, started bidding for his services. In today's market, a veteran lefthanded starter who can go five innings is worth the gross national product of Cameroon. There was talk of a two-year deal. The Cubs, Dodgers and at least two other teams were in it with the Red Sox.

Flanagan said "no thanks." His shoulder wasn't strong. He went back to his Maryland home for the summer to be with his wife and two daughters.

"Money really wasn't a motivating factor," he says. "I probably could have signed and pitched reasonably well. But I didn't want expectations to be there and me not to be able to live up to them."

Flanagan was raised in a baseball family. His dad played in the Red Sox organization and his grandfather was an ambidextrous hurler who pitched doubleheaders, one game with each arm. As a young boy, Mike Flanagan learned control by pitching to his grandfather, who couldn't move much, therefore requiring all Mike's throws to be on target.

Dare we guess what many would have done this spring when the ballclubs came calling with checkbooks in hand? Flanagan could have filed a grievance against Toronto because releasing an injured player is a violation of the Basic Agreement. Failing to do that, he probably could have signed for guaranteed money through 1991, then come up with a sore shoulder two weeks after joining his new team.

He did none of the above and now he plays with his children and watches the American League East pennant race on television, following the Red Sox and Blue Jays lately. Boston's Mike Boddicker was one of Flanagan's best pals when he played for the Orioles, and Jimmy Key was a southpaw soulmate in Toronto.

"I think it's going to be a two-team race, Flanagan says. "To me, what it comes down to is pitching. There's not a lot of it around. I follow Boston a lot because of Bee {Al Bumbry} and Bod {Boddicker} but try not to get too emotionally involved."

He doesn't want to get too involved because you never know which team he might be working for later this year, or next season. Flanagan is 38 years old and plans to pitch again. His recovery is under the supervision of Red Sox physician-owner Arthur Pappas. He's waiting for the shoulder to get stronger, then plans extensive therapy in July, and possibly some work in the minors in August.

If he can't pitch this year, he'll go for a tryout next spring.

The Red Sox' flirtation with Flanagan goes way back. He was a two-sport star at Memorial High School in Manchester and went 12-1 in two years at the University of Massachusetts. The Orioles drafted him in the seventh round in 1973, and the Red Sox didn't have a chance to get him until after the 1988 season when his contract was up with the Jays. Red Sox General Manager Lou Gorman backed off and Flanagan signed on to stay in Toronto.

When Flanagan was released this spring, Gorman and Red Sox manager Joe Morgan claimed great interest, but soon it was learned that Flanagan's shoulder wasn't right and everything went on the shelf.

"I wanted to be 100 percent when I went somewhere," says Flanagan. "I didn't want to go into any situation where I was not able to perform. I didn't want to sign for '90-91, and not feel good about it."

He says it's important to pitch again. Ask him about coming home to pitch for the Red Sox and he says, "That's way down the road. If the therapy's done and it responds, you never know."

He plans to be in New Hampshire next month, where his dad will have something to say about the Red Sox.

"I'm sure we'll go out on a fishing pier and talk about it all," says Flanagan. "But right now, my kids are happy to have Dad home. I haven't been bored one minute. This is the first summer I've had off in 30 years, since Little League."

He might be done, or there might be baseball memories to come. In either case, his conscience is clear, his television reception is good and his reputation is secure.