Remembering Mike

Mike Flanagan, was found dead at his home on Wednesday, had an amazing sense of humour....

Mike Flanagan, was found dead at his home on Wednesday, had an amazing sense of humour. (REUTERS/Joe Giza/Files)

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:21 PM ET

TORONTO - He was witty.

He was intelligent and well read.

He could pitch.

And now Mike Flanagan, 59, is gone.

We'll leave it to smarter people than I to figure out the demons which caused Flanagan to take his own life Wednesday, according to the Baltimore medical examiner.

He was witty 27 days ago at the back of the Rogers Centre press box when the Baltimore Orioles were in town.

I prefer to remember Flanagan, a Blue Jays starter from 1987-90, for his sense of humour, a must when you gather in February and travel around North America until the end of September or later.

Reliever Tom Henke, like about 101 other former Orioles and Jays, was one of Flanagan's pals.

Henke: "Flanny, what's this talk about global warming?"

Flanagan: "It means if this keeps up Big Man, we won't be going to Florida in the spring, we'll be busing to Trois-Rivieres."

The Jays flew from New York to the Maritimes for a charity game against the National Baseball Institute in Halifax, Nova Scotia one April.

Flanagan: "Henke is looking forward to the tour of the Brunswick bowling ball factory."

Headed to Yankee Stadium in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the team bus, Flanagan looked out the window at a tiny apartment building and asked Henke, who disliked New York: "Has your realtor checked out that place? The yard about 12-by-10 feet, plenty of room for Kathy and the kids."

Junior Felix was on third and two out, when Rangers' Nolan Ryan threw a third strike past George Bell one night in Arlington, Tex.

Catcher Chad Kreuter couldn't locate the ball about 10 feet to his right, turning around and around as the Rangers dugout yelled "right! No your other right!"

Felix made it easily since Ryan didn't cover. Said Flanagan "good job Georgie, another RBI strikeout."

Once former pitching coach Al Widmar, who walked with a limp due to a bad knee and arthritis, headed to the mound asking '"Stiff?"

Flanagan answered, "I wasn't when you left the dugout five minutes ago ... but I am now.'"

And if the Jays made a deal for a player to be named he'd ask, "How can a player without a name help us? The only people without names are new borns. We'll be retired before the kid makes it."

When reliever Duane Ward showed in 1989 wearing a gold, star-shaped earring, Flanagan asked manager Jimy Williams: "What's the ruling on earrings? Do they have to be the same color as our home uniforms?"

After reliever Frank Wills escaped a jam against the Minnesota Twins, Flanagan shook hands with Wills and said "Way to get 'em 1-2-3 ... 4-5-6."

One spring in Miami, Orioles right-hander Dennis Martinez made his exit off a highway and crashed his car into an empty Howard Johnson's restaurant. No one was injured.

The next day spotting Martinez in front of his locker, head in his hands, Flanagan walked over, cigarette in hand.

"Dennis, Dennis, I've told you a 1,000 times," Flanagan said. "Burger King? Yes! McDonald's? Yes! Wendy's? Yes! But Howard Johnson's does not have a drive-through window."

He could also pitch, winning the 1979 Cy Young award with Baltimore and pitching the greatest no decision I ever saw.

When the Jays met the Detroit Tigers on the next-to-last day of 1987 with identical records, Jack Morris faced Flanagan.

Williams had the bullpen warming every inning from the third inning when the Tigers tied the score 1-1. Each inning Flanagan without a run, save for an unearned run in the fifth, and the relievers would sit down.

Morris left after nine saying later: "I tried to keep them scoreless until Flanagan left, because I knew we weren't going to score off him."

Flanagan watched a tape of the game that winter as Jays broadcaster Tony Kubek said: "If they get five out of Flanagan they'll be happy."

Then, "If they get seven out of Flanagan they'll be happy."

After the eighth: "I wouldn't take Flanagan out."

Williams hooked Flanagan after 11 with Flanagan arguing: "I have four months to rest, I can go another."

Williams went to rookie Musselman, rather than Henke. The Jays lost in 12 and lost the next day.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to Flanagan came from the Orioles that day.

The Orioles finished their game at Yankee Stadium that day. Normal bus departure is 45 minutes after the final pitch. The Orioles waited two hours to see how Flanagan's masterpiece would develop.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 8, 1990, I was talking with Flanagan as he skimmed the transactions in USA Today at his locker.

"Hey Big Man Eugene has died," said Flanagan, passing the paper to Henke. Reliever Doug (Eugene) Bair, had been released by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Flanagan moved on to the Life section of USA Today and, as he did, pitching coach Galen Cisco arrived to tap Flanagan on the shoulder.

"Mike, got a minute?' said Cisco. Off they trudged to the manager's office.

Henke raised an eyebrow.

Naw, couldn't be.

Manager Cito Gaston informed Flanagan that the Jays were releasing him.

"I asked Rance Mulliniks, if it was true," Todd Stottlemyre said that day, "he nodded yes and walked away. I had to wipe a tear away."

Retired players from coast to coast were doing the same.

A good one gone.


Photos