- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 22, 2005

Mike Flanagan is Baltimore Orioles royalty. He may not have been in the small circle of icons like Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken, but he was right there on the perimeter, one of the top pitchers to put on the uniform.

But like his star-crossed young pitcher, Sir Sidney Ponson, Flanagan is in danger of losing his title, his crown becoming more tarnished with each failure by the front office he and Jim Beattie operate.

Flanagan, vice president of baseball operations for the Orioles, is developing Wes Unseld disease. To a whole generation of basketball fans who never saw him play, Unseld represents the losing and the futility of the Washington Bullets/Wizards franchise.

That is a shame because perhaps no other athlete in the history of Washington sports represented winning more than Unseld, an undersized, hard-working center who excelled against the greatest big men who ever played. Unseld consistently led his teams to the playoffs and ultimately to an NBA championship. All of that is pretty much forgotten now, a couple of lines in a media guide.

Flanagan is not that far removed from the days when he represented the guts of the Orioles franchise. The 1979 American League Cy Young winner, who won 141 games in 15 seasons in Baltimore, has presided over the futility of the organization long enough to obliterate what he did and what he represented to Orioles fans. He took a big step toward diminishing his stature recently when he complained to the Baltimore Sun about how the presence of the Washington Nationals has hindered his and Beattie’s plans to turn the Orioles into a winner again.

Could you imagine Flanagan the pitcher doing this? Whining about an umpire’s call or a play in the field or anything that placed the responsibility for losing somewhere other than on his shoulders? It was embarrassing and a measure of how desperate Flanagan, in his third year on the job, has become. It is pretty obvious Year 3 won’t be much different from Year 2 or Year 1 — another season of losing.

The Orioles could improve, though who knows how with an uncertain pitching staff (not even as strong as the makeshift Nationals rotation, which basically has been thrown together). But what would improvement mean? A six-game shift forward, as they did last season, from 71 wins to 77? Not likely. It would have been nearly impossible not to exceed the 2003 team’s victory total after adding Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez and Rafael Palmeiro last year.

Who have the Orioles added to the 2005 roster? Backup infielder Chris Gomez (and they even flubbed that by signing him as a minor league free agent, then leaving him exposed in the Rule V draft and having to trade with Philadelphia to get him back)?

Let’s face it, Flanagan’s legacy so far in the Orioles’ front office has been a dismal failure. His biggest decision was to hire Lee Mazzilli, a manager in so far over his head that by the end of the season he was babbling about moving to the National League East (as if they would have the Orioles). And it didn’t take a scouting genius to bring in Tejada and Lopez. When Flanagan had to compete in a tougher marketplace during this free agency season, he lost out on Carl Pavano and was bypassed in the deal for Tim Hudson. This winter, Flanagan hasn’t had his best stuff.

Of course, we all know why. He works for an owner whose management style prevents the front office, whoever is in there, from being aggressive enough to compete. That has been the case since the days of Pat Gillick, who missed out on signing David Cone in 1996 by $60,000 because Peter Angelos wouldn’t pull the trigger, changing the history of baseball. Cone re-signed with the Yankees and led them to the start of their most recent championship run.

But if that is the case, then shut up and take your medicine. Stop making excuses for the shortcomings of your organization. It wasn’t anyone from the Nationals who called you at the last minute before the draft last summer and told you not to draft the high school pitcher you wanted — and instead to pick a college shortstop who ultimately did not sign.

Everyone in baseball knows what the problem is, and it isn’t the baseball in Washington. To make such claims is akin to standing in front of your locker after giving up five runs in a start and blaming your outfielder for failing to run down a fly ball or moaning about being squeezed at the plate. Flanagan the pitcher, a stand-up guy, would never have done that.

Flanagan the vice president of baseball operations, though, is not above such excuses. It is that Mike Flanagan who is in danger of overshadowing the one who left everything he had on the mound, the one who was known as a gamer. Will anyone remember that guy?

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