Eleven years ago, in the ninth inning on the day they closed Memorial Stadium for good, with all its memories of Orioles excellence, craftsmanship, selflessness and zany camaraderie, the crowd of 50,700 chanted, "We want Flanagan."
Mike Flanagan was never the best Baltimore player, except the year he won the Cy Young Award in 1979, but he was always emblematic of that best of breeds, the true Oriole. He pitched in the Word Series with a four-pound brace on his knee. He was old-school tough and new-school smart, sarcastic and funny.
Yesterday, the chant went up again, "We want Flanagan." But this time it was Orioles owner Peter Angelos who saw the light and, finally, put an actual Oriole in charge of the Orioles. After key front office leaders such as Syd Thrift, Frank Wren, Kevin Malone, Doug Melvin, Pat Gillick and Roland Hemond, the Orioles picked someone who had lived and grasped the Oriole Way.
Flanagan and former Expos general manager Jim Beattie will replace Thrift at the top of the Orioles' front office, dividing duties equally, though, they claim, somewhat haphazardly.
"The phone will ring and one of us will answer it," said Flanagan, who says he wouldn't have wanted a solo shot at being a general manager because he needs a collaborator with long front-office experience. "We felt very comfortable with a partnership from before we met [to discuss the Orioles' top jobs]. We've known each other since the late '70s, when we were both trying to give up Carl Yastrzemski's 3,000th hit."
"I beat him to it," Beattie said.
Baseball front-office work has become so complex -- with trades, free agent signings, world-wide scouting, a farm system, contract negotiations and the player draft -- that Angelos has concluded that it's a two-man job. "Peter wants to make a statement that the GM title is outdated," said Orioles COO Joe Foss. "One person can't possibly do it."
"In Memorial Stadium, we had two people in the front office and two guys in the parking lot," said Flanagan. "Now, there's a whole [warehouse] floor of people."
Nevertheless, it is unique to have two top men, both former pitchers, who accepted their positions with only the most vague notions of how they will break down their responsibilities -- beyond a six-hour discussion on Tuesday in which they decided that friendly improvisation would suffice.
How will they know which man should evaluate a Japanese prospect, negotiate with a troublesome agent, restructure an utterly dysfunctional farm system, hire new scouts or arrange insurance for a $20 million contract? They say they'll just pick each other brains, see who is suited to the task and let common sense rule.
"Get the right-hander or the left-hander up," said Flanagan, mimicking a call to the bullpen.
Actually, the dynamic between the two is more likely to be that Beattie is strong on organization -- "The devil is in the details," he said -- while Flanagan is more of a big-picture thinker.
"Jim might be the microscope," said Flanagan, "and I might be the telescope."
Perhaps the most important issue is not whether the Orioles are run by one general manager or two, but whether Angelos -- who has overruled, frustrated or dawdled-to-distraction a succession of competent GMs -- will let his new men function.
The Orioles procrastinated on this decision three weeks longer than an efficient team would. Major trades and free agent signings have already been made by other teams. The winter meetings are next week. "We'll hit the ground running," said Beattie.
But well behind schedule.
When you have two New Hampshire-sized egos, maybe that kind of modest, free-form "partnership" is possible. Flanagan grew up in Manchester and set the state basketball scoring record. Beattie went to Dartmouth and lives in Hanover.
"Maybe Mike and I keep saying over and over that we're excited about this challenge because we are New Englanders and this is as excited as we ever look," said Beattie.
The best-case view is that the combination of Beattie and Flanagan will really replace Angelos and Thrift. That could hardly avoid being an improvement. The worst case is that the Orioles now have two GMs, which is two more than they need if Angelos still decides everything that really matters.
The key to Angelos will have to be Flanagan. The owner, with his lawyer's mind, is so quick in argument, so firm in opinion and so confident by nature that few people can stand up to him. But, for the last seven years, Flanagan consistently has. He has a knack for telling hard truths in soft words and presenting contrary views in a non-threatening way.
"Maybe I bring something to the relationship with ownership that hasn't been there before," said Flanagan. "That doesn't mean it won't get adversarial. But maybe I know when to push and when not."
Why do such opposites attract?
"Because we've earned the right from each other to disagree," said Flanagan. "A lot of [my] credibility was [built up] on advice that was not followed at the time. Many, but not all of those things, I said came true. . . . It's been important [as a consultant to Angelos] to be brutally honest. We're able to agree to disagree."
Whatever the future holds, Flanagan brings a genuine freshness to his new job. He has reached -- by happenstance, passion for the sport and hard work -- what other men often achieve by backroom politics and systematic ambition.
In the last seven years, Flanagan has (twice) been the Orioles' pitching coach and been their TV broadcaster the past four seasons. He coaches pitchers in spring training, given tips at winter instruction camps and, generally, has simply tried to be helpful to the team he has always loved in any way that was asked. He certainly never set out to run the whole ship. Or even half of it.
In recent weeks, many in baseball have been perplexed that Flanagan would give up what seemed the ideal, not-too-hard, not-too-easy, post-career life he had carved out. With a wife and three children, who needs the hassle at 50? "People have asked me, 'Why would you want to do this?' " said Flanagan. "My [reaction] has been, 'Why wouldn't you want to do it?' I just care [about the Orioles]. They have great people, a great franchise, a great history. To bring it back would be a wonderful journey.
"One year," he said, looking at his 1983 championship ring, "it would be great to pass out rings."