Of course Orioles fans have special memories of Mike Flanagan. The Cy Young Award season of 1979 stands out.
As an O’s employee from 1983-1987, I had the honor of seeing Orioles come down to Washington to sign autographs. I recall Mike Boddiker and Mike Young stopping by. And Flanagan came down as well prior to his departure to Toronto.
Of course the Birds were slipping away in 1986 and fans in DC were beginning to lose interest. Not me. I was bored selling tickets but loved it when O’s players came down. But there was no one in the store to meet the 1979 Cy Young Award winner.
So I went out in on 17th street in DC and started hawking free autographs. I did get a few takers. When all five fans disappeared, I went into my Mike Flanagan wind-up and told him I was watching a game in KC in which the announcers said he deserved a no-hitter.
Flanagan interrupted me. He spoke quickly and fired off how many strikes he had thrown that night.
How can Mike Flanagan be dead? He wasn’t even 60-years-old.
I think I found that magical game of Flanagan’s. It came on July 27, 1979 in Kansas City. That Royals team had a player named George Brett who was nasty at the plate to the tune of 42 doubles, 20 triples and 23 homers. That’s right, 20 triples. He also hit .329. The late Darrell Porter had a huge year as well with 23 doubles, 20 homers and 112 RBIs.
However, the KC lineup with Amos Otis, John Wathan, Willie Wilson and Frank White was helpless on this night.
Ken Singleton’s three-run first inning homer off Dennis Leonard set the tone for the 8-0 victory. Get this the Birds were 35 games over .500 with this win.
Flanagan took no chances, however. He struck out George “Boomer” Scott all three times. Otis and Fred Patek had hits by the third inning. Flanagan did not allow another hit until the ninth.
His ball was electric that night. It marked his 14th win of the season. Superstar Brett went 0-for-4.
When Flanagan pitched sidearm to left-handed hitters, it seemed the ball went completely around them and landed in the strike zone. Flanagan had won 19 game for the 78 Birds. He had also dropped 15 games that season.
On April 17, 1979, Flanagan and the O’s dropped a 5-1 decision to reigning Cy Young Award winner Ron Guidry and the Yankees. Flanagan stood at 1-2 after that game.
Even at the end of May, his 6-4 mark didn’t overwhelm anyone. The southpaw was 7-5 in the middle of June. On Aug. 9, he nipped Jerry Augustine and Milwaukee, 3-2. He was 15-7 after this game. He wouldn’t lose again until Sept. 18.
On Aug. 15, he went 12. That’s right 12 innings. Jim Morrison, the first White Sox hitter of the night took a Flanagan pitch out of the yard. Flanagan then tossed 12 shutout frames. He would strike out 12. The winning run scored with Eddie Murray stole home.
Flanagan was also the winning pitcher in the 100th Orioles victory of the season.
He started game two of the American League championship series. And when he took the mound in the fourth inning, his offense had provided him with nine runs. The California Angels made a game out of it before falling 9-8.
Despite winter weather, he did take the mound in game one of the World Series with Pittsburgh. And his offense ignited early again providing five runs in the first. The O’s held on to win game one, 5-4.
Baseball voters had no problem selecting Flanagan as the Cy Young Award winner. He garnered 26 of 28 first-place votes. Flanagan won a career-high 23 games for the runaway Birds from Baltimore. He won 141 of his 167 career victories in a Baltimore uniform.
And he died too early.