Thursday, 25 August 2011

Mike Flanagan, RIP

Read today of the passing of former left-hand pitcher Mike Flanagan, a guy who got as much out of a batting practice fastball as anyone.

Flanagan was 60 years old, and best remembered as the guy who won the 1979 Cy Young award; he went 23-9 for the Baltimore Orioles team that lost to the disco-themed "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates.

Just thinking about those two items (that Pittsburgh AND Baltimore made the World Series, and that disco was sufficiently main stream that it was featured in a non-ironic way) makes me feel old.

My best recollection of Flanagan was his remarkable performance, as a fading former star, in the penultimate game of the ultimately doomed Toronto season of 1987.  Flanagan faced off on the final Saturday of that season against Jack Morris and the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium.  The teams entered the game tied for first, but heading in opposite directions.

At 36, Flanagan pitched 11 innings, giving up one earned run; the Tigers ended up winning in the 12th on a double-play ball off the bat of Alan Trammell that rolled under the glove of Jays' rookie shortstop Manny Lee (Lee was playing in place of All Star Tony Fernandez, who had had his elbow broken the week before, in a game also against the Tigers).

Toronto went on the lose the final game of the season, and the pennant, the next day, in a 1-0 game - interestingly, pitched by another very soft-tossing lefty: Frank Tanana.  The loss capped an epic collapse - Toronto lost its final seven games of the season, squandering what had been a five game lead with seven to play.

Interestingly, and I was unawares of this fact - Flanagan had been a teammate of Julius Erving on the UMass basketball team.  He quipped in an interview that, after guarding "Dr J" in practice, he realised he ought to pay more attention to his pitching mechanics.

Flanagan was a quick wit, apparently, in addition to being a class act.


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