Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mike Flanagan, Mark McGwire and Sour Grapes

There are many irritating things surrounding the revelations about the Steroid Era. First and foremost are the excuses and lies from the players who, for whatever reason, have to confess that they were users during their career. A close second is the righteous indignation of fans and (especially) writers who wail and gnash teeth over the "sanctity" of the game and the Hall of Fame. And third are the retired veterans who now rue the day they had to face an admitted steroid user and how he cost them their personal moment of glory. (I'm looking at you Mike Greenwell.)

Today, I have to take my fan hat off for a minute and take a former Oriole to task for pulling a bit of a Greenwell. It's Mike Flanagan and his recollection of a day in 1991 when Mark McGwire stole his mojo.

To set the scene:

...the retired pitcher's story provides an insider's view of the steroid scandal and why it matters. It matters because baseball matters, because records matter, because honesty and integrity matter...

Mr. Flanagan stepped on the pitcher's mound in Oakland on May 8, 1991, with a 1.50 earned run average. He was quite aware of where he stood among Orioles pitchers at the time - fourth in wins, directly behind Mike Cuellar. In the last year of his pitching career, Mr. Flanagan wanted to surpass Mr. Cuellar, and he was within three wins of doing so.

The gist here is that Flanagan never got those three wins and the tone of the article makes it sound that if he had just won this one game in Oakland in 1991, the record would have been his. But the article correctly states that "Mr. Flanagan" won 141 games. Mike Cuellar won 143. So even if he had gotten the best of Oakland and Mark McGwire on this day in 1991, he still would not have the record. He would just be one game closer. So Flanagan will now cry sour grapes over a game that, ultimately, did not matter in his chase of Cuellar. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

The leadoff batter hit a double that hit chalk on the way to left field. The second batter reached first on a bunt single. Mr. Flanagan struck out the next batter, Mr. Canseco.

This much is true. According to Retrosheet, Flanagan started the game and in the bottom of the first, he got behind 2-1 to Rickey Henderson and he gave up a line drive to left for a double. Then, Dave Henderson bunted between 1B-2B for a single. It must have been a perfect bunt. Henderson was fast but you would think that Flanagan would've has a shot to make a play on that ball but that's all speculation because I wasn't there. Then he struck out Canseco on 4 pitches.

The next batter was Mark McGwire. Flanagan speaks about Canseco and McGwire:

"I remember when he and Canseco came along, I had never seen guys who looked like that," says Mr. Flanagan. "There had been some big guys around in my time, but not like that. They did not look human to me."...

Mr. Flanagan is convinced that Mr. McGwire was using steroids by the time he faced him in Oakland in 1991.

Maybe he's right. Maybe he was. But McGwire has not admitted it nor is there any evidence. It's pure conjecture on Flanagan's part.

Mr. Flanagan was amazed at what happened in the next instant. McGwire golfed at the low-and-dirty pitch and what, in the before-juicing era, might have been a fly ball ended up as a three-run homer.

In Peter Schmuck's account of the Orioles loss in The Baltimore Sun the next day, Mr. Flanagan was quoted as saying he had thrown a "bad pitch." In his memory, however, it remains a good pitch; the result never made sense, always bugged him and, as the years went by, made him more suspicious of Mr. McGwire.

So Flanagan's recollection and his quote from '91 don't jibe. That's another strike.

Secondly, steroids didn't put the first two runners on base for McGwire to drive in. Flanagan did. No amount of steroids would have allowed McGwire to hit a 3-run homer with the bases empty.

It was the first inning. Oakland starter Dave Stewart had to leave in the second inning due to injury. If Flanagan could hold the A's at bay he would still give himself a chance to win. Even with three runs on the board, Flanagan could have given himself a chance to win if he had pitched well going forward. He did not.

Flanagan got behind hitters all day but was able to pitch out of trouble until the 5th inning. Rickey Henderson led off the 5th with a solo shot to deep left-center, the same spot where McGwire hit his three-run shot. Was Henderson on the juice too? Or was the ball just carrying to left-center that day? Willie Wilson also hit a deep fly ball to left-center that just missed leaving the yard and went for a triple instead. Willie Feakin' Wilson!

Next, Dave Henderson singled to center and Flanagan's day was done.

The line for Flanagan: 4 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 2 K, 1 BB. He gave up extra base hits to Rickey Henderson (who slugged .423 in 1991), Terry Steinbach (a .386 slugger) and Willie Wilson (a .313 slugger in '91). And then there's McGwire. 1991 was his worst year as a batter. He only hit 22 homeruns all year, slugged only .383 and had the lowest ISO of his career at .180. This is the roided up monster that is portrayed in this story? In '91, McGwire was barely a league average hitter. Outside of Canseco and Harold Baines, there were no hitters to be feared in this version of the A's.

Mr. Flanagan did not surpass Mike Cuellar on the all-time Orioles wins list, something that mattered to him.

Really? This record really mattered to you Mike? Then why, before the 1989 season did you not return to the Orioles as a free agent? Why did you instead re-sign with the Blue Jays for the 1989 season? You know, those same Jays who edged out the "Why Not?" Orioles for the AL East crown. I'll bet you could've won a few games for the '89 O's, getting your beloved record and maybe tipping the balance of power to Baltimore in the AL East race.

So let's recap: Mike Flanagan wants us to believe that a roided up Mark McGwire cheated him of a minor team record because in one game in 1991, McGwire's worst year at the plate for power output, McGwire hit a three run homer off of him on a pitch Flanagan himself labeled a bad one at the time. By the way, in the same game he gave up extra base hits to fearsome sluggers like Willie Wilson, Rickey Henderson and Terry Steinbach. And we're pointing to a single event in a single game when you fell two games short of Mike Cuellar on the Oriole wins list.

Maybe it was steroids. Or maybe McGwire just owned him (He OPSed .905 against Flanagan for his career, a great majority of it before 1991). Or maybe the ball was just carrying to left-center that day. Or maybe Flanagan was just a 39-year-old reliever pressed into a spot start and he pitched like one.

I'm not buying the theory Mike. And based on your decision to play for Toronto in 1989, I don't feel the least bit sorry for you either.


Jon Shepherd said...

Pretty sure at the time, Flanagan said the reason why he lost that game was because the Orioles did not sign Dave Righetti, Ted Power, and Jeff Robinson.

math_geek said...

Secondly, steroids didn't put the first two runners on base for McGwire to drive in. Flanagan did. No amount of steroids would have allowed McGwire to hit a 3-run homer with the bases empty.

Matt Wieters did that.