It was hard to believe the news last night. Mike Flanagan, a childhood hero of mine, had passed away. Sadly, there are rumors of suicide and tragedy and we are all left with the question of why did this happen? Amidst all of this, I’m going to share my one and only Mike Flanagan story in hopes that people realize just who this man really was.
The year was 1988. I was very sick and my family was not certain if I was going to survive. I had a bizarre type of stomach infection and things were touch and go. My mom wanted to cheer me up so she bought us tickets to the Phillies/Dodgers game. I could not go and as usual, when mom wasn’t working, she was going to stay home with me. It was at that time that I was a serious baseball card and autograph collector. I was going to go to sleep early and I asked mom if she would go to the game and try and get me some autographs. She obliged. One such autograph was from a veteran catcher named Rick Dempsey. Mom told Mr. Dempsey my story and he did more than sign some baseball cards, he also called me. He told me to hang in there and that things were going to be okay. It was truly a great thrill. It was something a major league catcher certainly did not have to do but that’s just the kind of guy Rick Dempsey is. It was one of my few happy memories of that year. Another one was to come shortly thereafter.
It was November of 1988. The Dodgers had won the World Series in October of that year and football season was among us. I remember the phone ringing one night and there was a strong voice on the other end of the line. I said hello and the voice said, “Is this Bill?” I responded yes and then the voice told me they were Mike Flanagan and he wanted to see how I was feeling. Mr. Flanagan and I spoke for 10 minutes about baseball, life and the future. It was a great moment for a sick child. It was a moment I will treasure forever.
I could sit here and tell you about Mike Flanagan wining a World Series game in 1979 by throwing 154 pitches. I could sit here and tell you how he always made his teammates better and I could sit here and tell you how much I hated the Oriole’s for beating my Philadelphia Phillies in the 1983 World Series. (Life is truly ironic). Instead, I think of the words of my friend Tom Montgomery last night on Facebook when he told me, “Those Orioles teams were truly brothers’” and I am reminded once and for all how true of a statement that is.
Apparently, Mike Flanagan and Rick Dempsey spoke regularly despite being on different teams after their Baltimore days were over the first time around. Last night, as I watched Rick Dempsey and Jim Palmer fight back the tears on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network Channel, I thought a lot about my late-mother and how she asked Rick Dempsey to cheer up a sick child. I thought even more about how after the season was over, Dempsey told his friend Mike Flanagan about it and how Flanagan took the time to cheer up that same child. They didn’t do it for money and this was before the Internet would pick up such a story. They were just good guys who flourished in the game we love.
So Mr. Flanagan, I just want to wish you farewell. Thanks for that phone call 23 years ago and thanks for being you. May you rest in peace.