As a Baltimore Orioles fan growing up in the late 60’s and into the 70’s, I was living the life. I remember when I was in the third grade, my teacher turned on the television so we could watch the beginning of a 1970 World Series game between the O’s and the Cincinnati Reds before we left for the day. Yes that was back when they actually played day games in the World Series. As kids, we would pretend we were Orioles as we hit tennis balls with our bats in the streets. I remember getting autographs from Brooks Robinson and Paul Blair when they came to our Little League opening day parade. The success continued for the Orioles, and as a high school senior I remember going to a 1979 playoff game against the then California Angels with my father. That was the year Mike Flanagan won the Cy Young award for the Orioles, leading them to the World Series.
Mike Flanagan did just about everything for the Baltimore Orioles over the past 35 plus years but hand out programs to fans as they entered the stadium. He was one of the most successful starting pitchers in the team’s history, winning that Cy Young award in 1979 and also pitching for the team when they won their last World Series title in 1983. He was the last pitcher to pitch in Memorial Stadium in 1991. He finished with a record of 167-143. He was a pitching coach for the O’s under former manager Phil Regan in 1995, served as co-general manager from 2002-2008, and had been a broadcaster for the team on MASN. It seemed that Mike Flanagan had it all. He was an accomplished athlete, had a wonderful family, had more money than most, and was able to work for the team he had played for after he retired. As a life-long fan, I would have given anything to be in his shoes. Or at least I thought so.
With the news that Flanagan may have taken his own life we need to reexamine the importance we place on sports in our society. We grow up rooting for our teams and our favorite players. When we become adults, we still root for these teams and players, but the minute they let us down, we turn on them. We call them bums, spoiled millionaires, overpaid, washed up, disappointments. With the arrival of ESPN and 24 hour sports talk radio in the 80’s and 90’s, athletes became fair game. Now with the internet and social outlets such as twitter , it has gotten even worse. Add fantasy sports to the mix and you now have fans who are financially invested in the success of players and their teams. They become even more emotional and upset when players don’t perform well.
The Baltimore Orioles of my youth are now just a distant memory. I can still remember making banners to take to the games as a Jr. Oriole, driving with my buddies to games in high school and college when they were still winning games. Since 1997 the Orioles have not won. For a good chunk of that period Mike Flanagan was involved in player acquisitions in his position with the team. Many fans must have blamed him for the team’s lack of success. He also knew it, or at least thought it. Apparently, he never really got past the idea that he had “let us down”.
We spend a good part of our days as fans in a sort of bipolar state. Part of us loves our team and takes pride in saying “we will beat your ass tonight”. Our other side says “we suck and we need to get rid of that guy, he’s killing us”. We get depressed and come in to work in a lousy mood.
Did we ever think of how the players or management must feel? Think how we would feel if everybody criticized us every day about our jobs. If we had to come to work everyday knowing the company wasn’t succeeding. I’m sure that does happen to some of us, but it’s not being written about in the newspaper for everyone to see.
If Mike Flanagan did take his own life, and if it had to do with his disappointment in “ letting us down”, then shame on us.
Mike Flanagan deserved better.
RIP Flanny – we’ll miss you.