Thursday, August 25, 2011

Death robbed us of Flanny

In sports you often hear the phrase, “he was robbed” when describing a play that unfolds in a way we didn’t expect.

Today, the fans of Baltimore were robbed when we learned of the passing of Mike Flanagan.

Death is a notorious robber.

I’m sure most if not all of you have been subjected to the criminal behavior of this thief before in some way, shape or form. After the immediate shock and heartache settles a bit, human nature takes over and we seek answers to the how’s and why’s as if the knowledge can somehow make it all better.

Sometimes it makes it worse.

Yet at the end of the day, when the uncomfortably numb feeling and surrealism subside we have no choice but to dust off, begin the healing and be happy that the person we lost had even in a small way touched our lives. We’re better because they came along.

Fans of the Orioles will remember Flanny in many ways. They’ll share their own favorite highlights of the former Cy Young Award Winner.

For me, it took place in 1979 during the first game of the World Series.

The Orioles hosted the Pirates at Memorial Stadium and the conditions were anything but ideal for the Fall Classic as a wet snow fell from the sky intermittently during the damp and unseasonably cool October 10 night.

Unfortunately for me, I along with 3 buddies purchased tickets months before to go see Styx at the Capital Centre that same evening. But before Dennis DeYoung, JY and Tommy Shaw took the stage we learned that the Orioles had jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning. With Flanny, a 23 game winner that season on the bump facing Pittsburgh’s Bruce Kison, we had little reason to worry and we felt quite confident and comfortable.

Our collective peace of mind was sweetened by a healthy dosage of Styx’ “Pieces of Eight” LP along with their new record “Cornerstone” and of course the classics from “Grand Illusion.”

As it turns out, our comfort zone was an illusion.

Throughout the balance of the game the Pirates chipped away at the O’s lead thanks in part to 3 costly errors leading to 2 unearned runs. Protecting a 1 run lead heading into the ninth, Flanagan showed grit and determination, staples of his character, and registered a complete game 5-4 victory on 150+ pitches while scattering 11 hits.

The game outlasted the concert and we were able to catch the tail end of the nail biter on radio.

I’ll never forget that night.

And I’ll never forget this night (now morning) either.

I learned of Flanny’s passing through a series of text messages and Tweets during the early evening. There were inconsistencies in the reports of Flanny’s death so I tuned into the MASN broadcast of the Orioles @ Twins.

Not a word was spoken about Flanny.

Jim Palmer and Jim Hunter called the game. Surely if this story was true they would be talking about the tragic demise of their colleague and friend and if not, maybe the news was kept from them so that they could get through the game unburdened by a massively heavy heart.

Palmer and Hunter joked throughout the game and the more I paid attention for clues provided by the “body language” and tenor of their dialog, the more I was convinced that somehow in this modern age of information flow the pair were successfully kept in the dark.

I was wrong.

To my amazement both Palmer and Hunter had learned of Flanny’s death earlier in the day. Their professionalism during the broadcast combined with the expected and understandable meltdowns during the post game discussion were an absolute labor of love for their fallen mate. They could not have been more flawless while doing their jobs or more beautifully human when remembering Flanny.

Hollywood at its best could not re-create this touching scene.

And to make the broadcast even more poignant, heartfelt and real, host Amber Theoharis along with analyst Rick Dempsey and MASN’s Tom Davis also stepped up with “A” games when conditions were anything but ideal.

Just like Flanny on that snowy October night…

We watched the MASN crew’s collective heart break before us yet their love and commitment to Flanny provided enough inspiration to allow them to plow through when the easiest thing would have been to call it a day.

God bless them.

In the end the how’s and why’s of Mike Flanagan’s demise don’t matter much. What does matter is the way we preserve Flanny’s memory and legacy. Insensitive media outlets be damned, the best thing we can do is to follow the wonderful example of the MASN crew and treat this tragedy with class, dignity and respect.

I think Flanny earned that and his wife and three daughters deserve it.

To do anything else is to rob them!

R.I.P. No. 46


Jerry B said...

An unspeakable ending to a life that appeared to have been well lived! Mike Flanagan adopted Baltimore as his hometown and devoted more than 25 years of his life to a team and organization he obviously considered "family". We'll never know the real reason he chose to end his life, but it's fair to say that if there was blood at the scene, no doubt it and black! May he rest in peace........