Mike Flanagan was a Baltimore Oriole through and through. After playing 15 of his 18 seasons in Baltimore, he served as their pitching coach, molded the club as a front office executive, and broadcast their games. There have not been many people as affiliated with the Orioles for as long or as intricately as Flanagan.
But Flanagan’s on-field performance alone makes him one of the top Orioles of all time. In 450 games (328 starts) spanning 2,317.2 innings, he pitched to an ERA of 3.89 and a WHIP of 1.32. His ERA+ was an even 100. He completed 98 games, 17 of which were shutouts. He won the 1979 American League Cy Young Award and was a key part of the 1983 World Series championship team.
“Flanny” was born in New Hampshire and played college baseball at the University of Massachusetts. In addition to baseball, Flanagan also played basketball for the UMass Minutemen with Rick Pitino as a teammate. He decided to “work on his slider” after Julius “Dr. J” Irving rejected a jump shot of his during varsity tryouts.
Ditching the hardwood for the baseball diamond was a good career decision for the young Flanagan. The O’s selected the southpaw in the 7th round of the 1973 MLB draft. He quickly ascended through Baltimore’s minor league system and made his debut as a September call-up just two years later in 1975. After making 20 appearances (10 starts) for the Orioles in 1976, he joined the rotation full time in 1977.
Flanagan won the Cy Young Award in 1979, one of six times an Oriole has brought the award to Baltimore. He won a league-leading 23 games and posted an ERA of 3.08. His 190 strikeouts were third best in the American League (despite a K/9 of only 6.4). In the postseason, Flanny was not the reason the O’s lost the World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made two starts, going 1-1 and compiling an ERA of 3.00.
He regressed slightly after his superb 1979, posting ERAs of 4.12, 4.19, and 3.97 in the next three seasons respectively. But he turned it on in 1983, going 12-4 with a tidy 3.30 ERA. In the ALCS against Chicago, he gave up one run in Game 3 and earned the win. He did not fare as well in his only World Series start (two runs in four innings), but still won the only World Series championship of his career.
With the exception of an injury-plagued 1985 season, Flanagan maintained his effectiveness in the years following the world title. But the Orioles fell out of contention and traded him to Toronto him at the 1987 trade deadline. The Blue Jays were one game out of first place at the time and saw Flanagan as a key acquisition for their pennant run. Showing amazing foresight, Flanagan declared “I’ll always be an Oriole” after the trade was complete.
Flanagan was a free agent after parts of four seasons in Toronto, where he appeared in one postseason and had a 3.94 ERA. He decided to “come home” by signing with the Orioles prior to the 1991 campaign. Working primarily as a reliever, he appeared in 64 games and posted an impressive 2.38 ERA. In an otherwise forgettable season, he provided two of the most memorable moments: being one of four pitchers to combine for a no-hitter in July and recording the final out in Memorial Stadium’s history in October. Flanagan said afterwards that the final game on 33rd Street felt like game 7 of the World Series to him. Flanagan returned to the Orioles for the 1992 season but was ineffective. His career was over after posting an ERA of 8.05 in his final year.
Always noted for his intelligence and knowledge of the game, transitioning to a post-playing career in baseball was natural. He was the Orioles pitching coach in 1995 and 1998. He proceeded into Baltimore’s front office where he was a chief member of the baseball operations department from 2002 until the hiring of Andy MacPhail in 2007.
Younger fans will know Flanagan mainly from his work in the Orioles broadcast booth, where he spent time off and on between 1994 and 2011. It was here where his legendary wit and sense of humor were on display for all to hear. Just a few hilarious examples can be found in this Tim Kurkjian piece.
Flanagan tragically took his own life on August 24, 2011 after battling depression. It was news that shook the Orioles family. Readers may remember Flanagan’s friend and teammate Jim Palmer memorialize his passing live on MASN’s post game show. The 59-year old surely had many years of great broadcasting left and would have enjoyed seeing the Orioles’ playoff appearance in 2012.
While fans will remember Flanagan’s coaching and front office career and early death, it is on-field performance that earns him his spot as 18th best Oriole of all time. His 21.5 WAR ranks behind only Jim Palmer, Mike Mussina, Dave McNally, and Milt Pappas among all Baltimore Orioles pitchers. He is fifth in franchise history in wins, third in innings pitched, and fourth in strikeouts.
While never possessing electric “stuff,” the lefty was a model of consistency, longevity, and dependability. He was a key member of some great Orioles clubs and will always be remembered as one of the best pitchers in franchise history.