Mike Flanagan, for more than three decades an ace pitcher, coach, executive and broadcaster with the Baltimore Orioles, died of a self-inflicted shotgun blast this week. It is obvious from listening to his devastated colleagues, former teammates and friends that he was genuinely loved and respected, and one reason was his overwhelming decency and strong ethical compass. Many members of the Orioles family recalled how Flanagan was known for taking young players aside and schooling them on how to represent the team with dignity, honor, fair play, hard work, and integrity.
In his lovely column today remembering Flanagan and his values, Washington Post sportswriter Tom Boswell recounts how the ex-pitcher once explained why he wouldn’t cheat. Many sportswriters and former player have offered the argument, during the continuing ethical debate over the culpability of players using steroids, that it is only natural that an athlete, any athlete, would cheat to prolong his career. Flanagan showed why they are wrong, and why we should never excuse unethical conduct on the grounds that “anybody would do it.”
Boswell: Wise beyond years, Flanagan knew himself. For example, when he was the reigning Cy Young winner, he showed me how to cheat. He scuffed one side of a ball, just two marks with a coat hanger in his locker. He played catch with Dennis Martinez to show how, effortlessly, he suddenly had four new pitches.
“It’s the same principle as a flat-sided Wiffle ball,” he said. “You hold the ball with the scuffed side opposite to the direction you want it to break. It takes no talent whatsoever.”
Why don’t you do it?
“My real stuff’s still too good,” said Flanagan, who won 23 games with the best left-handed curveball in the American League and a fastball in the 90s. Then, seriously, he said: “I can understand why they do it and I can’t swear that I won’t ever do it, but I still hate it. [Once] when I was hurt, I got to the point where I actually took the mound thinking I’d cheat that day. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I thought, ‘If you’ll do this now, just to have a little better chance to win, what won’t you do eventually?’
“I guess I just felt too conspicuous out there.”
Conspicuous to whom?
“Myself, I guess.”