#16 - Mike Flanagan, LHP (1975-1987, 1991-1992)
In the 60 years of the Orioles franchise, only four pitchers have won the Cy Young award. One of those men is Mike Flanagan. Though the entirety of his history with the franchise is complicated, when considering only his skill as a pitcher, there is nothing complicated about the fact that he ranks among the greats in every way that matters.
As a player, he spent 15 years in an Orioles uniform, and in that time he had an ERA+ of 100. He was exactly league average over that long O's career, spanning 2,317.2 innings. That ranks him third in the franchise history. Solid for such a long time is good. What's even better is that Flanagan's two best seasons were the years of his career that the Orioles played in the World Series.
There was 1979, when he won the Cy Young as he struck out 190 hitters and threw 265.2 innings while winning 23 games and posting the best ERA (3.08) in his career as a starter. Flanagan threw 16 complete games, five of which were shutouts. Orioles starters from 2008 through 2013 combined for 15 complete games and four shutouts. He also brought some of his best stuff in 1983, when he had a 3.30 ERA in 20 starts for that championship team.
For people my age, Flanagan is more known for his post-playing career than anything he did in the uniform. It's hard to think of him without remembering also the time he spent as a color commentator for both HTS and MASN. Proctor and Flanagan were among the sounds of my youth, and later, with Flanagan alongside of Gary Thorne or Jim Hunter, my adulthood. The depth of his knowledge and passion for baseball were apparent in any game he broadcast. It didn't hurt that he was funny, too.
That sense of humor was notorious in his playing days, as well. Peter Gammons, then a Boston Globe columnist, used to run a feature called the Mike Flanagan Nickname of the Week. The nicknames, according to Gammons, included the pitching staff being re-dubbed "Cy Old" (Jim Palmer), "Cy Present" (Flanagan), "Cy Young" (Steve Stone), and "Cy Future" (Storm Davis). He was also the originator of the nickname "Full Pack" for closer Don Stanhouse, among others he came up with during his career.
I had the pleasure of experiencing some of that humor up close when I was among those invited to attend MASN's blogger night at Camden Yards in June of 2011. We were supposed to get to meet both Thorne and Flanagan, that night's broadcast tandem, but the group was running behind schedule and by the time we made it up there, it was time for the pre-game meal. Flanagan was gracious to give up his usual routine to talk to us about what it's like to be a broadcaster for the team.
My personal memory of Flanagan is a story he told us that night about his early broadcasting days. When the O.J. Simpson trial was something current, Flanagan was on HTS for a game in Cleveland. At that time, the Indians had a pitcher named Chad Ogea, pronounced oh-jay. As the camera panned across the bullpen during the course of the game, he caught sight of Ogea leaning against a chain-link fence. "Looks like Ogea's finally in the pen," he cracked.
As he related it to us years later, he said he knew right away that might have been a bad joke, but he couldn't stop himself, and he continued to make jokes, including gems such as, "I wonder if his glove fits." He was praying for the inning to end so he wouldn't keep going and get fired, he told us. I could think of a few innings in his MASN tenure with Thorne where he must have been thinking the same thing by the time they ended. That was what made him so much fun to listen to. I never saw him pitch. I still remember the look on his face as he got to his punchline.
With an Orioles tenure that spanned so many years, it's no wonder he ranks on the franchise leaderboard in so many categories. For pitcher Wins Above Replacement, his 21.8 ranks fifth. The 141 wins he notched in an O's uniform is also fifth. He pitched in 450 games and started 328 of them, both of which put him third. In those games struck out a total of 1,297 batters, the fourth-most in O's history. For greatest mustache in franchise history, his only competition is teammate and another of our Top 40, Scott McGregor.
Mike Flanagan is an Orioles legend in every sense of the word.
He took his own life on August 24, 2011. I wish he would have lived to see the 2012 Orioles season.