When I heard that former Baltimore Orioles star Mike "Flanny" Flanagan had died, it affected me personally.
I grew up in Rochester, NY, and followed the Rochester Red Wings, the Orioles AAA affiliate during this time. I watched Oriole Hall of Famer Cal Ripken go up against Von Hayes (another phenom who eventually starred for the Phillies). I followed former Red Wing star slugger Jim Fuller, who hit massive home runs and led the Red Wings to the Governor's Cup in 1971.
I also played baseball in high school and college and worked for the Red Wings as an intern after college. Like many other kids, I had dreams of being a major league player. I loved baseball and the Orioles had a lot to do with it.
The Orioles always had this kind of rock star mystique, Flanagan not being an exception. From their neon orange and black uniforms to their fiery manager, Earl Weaver, the Orioles came across as a cool team that always won a lot. And even when they lost, they still looked good doing it.
Just look at that roster through the years: Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Ken Singleton, Al Bumbry, Rick Dempsey (no hard hat for this catcher), and the pitching Martinez's...Tippy! The Orioles had swagger and confidence reminiscent of the old school Oakland Raiders and A's.
The Orioles were no choir boys themselves, transgressions occurred on occasion like getting caught smoking pot or whatever, but that was considered kind of cool too.
This historic era in Oriole lore in no way reflected the present state of baseball where steroids have defined the last decade and big money has created a psychological distance between player and fan.
Lastly, I remember heading down to the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and watching the Orioles play back in the mid-1970s on a hot summer night. I sat wide eyed the whole evening as I watched the Orioles play a double-header. I felt like a king sitting on a pile of gold. Earl Weaver seemed bigger than life and the entire team had a seriousness and urgency about them that I will never forget.
The place had a special hallowed quality about it.
So I can see why Mike Flanagan wanted to be the last pitcher to toss an out in that great stadium, because deep down, he had the same respect and innocence for the game that many of us still love and cherish.
These Orioles were approachable and dare I say vulnerable on a human level. As fans, we could relate to them in many different ways. We looked up to these athletes and could see something in them that we could also see in ourselves.
These guys were like our cool older brothers.
Thanks for the memories Mike!