BOSTON (CBS) – Last week, former Baltimore Orioles pitcher and franchise icon Mike Flanagan took his own life. It was an act that shocked his friends and former teammates. Mike Flanagan, it seemed to all, was always upbeat, ready to deliver a line or quip that would leave whomever he was talking to laughing and glad to be in his company.
No one could imagine that Flanagan was so troubled he would take his own life. However, there were friends who came to worry about Mike’s well-being. Friends who noticed a change had come over the former Cy Young winner and that happiness was something that seemed to be slipping away from his life.
Read: More from Walt Perkins
One of those friends was Ray Perkins, my brother. He took the time to remember his life-long friend and I would like to share his thoughts.
WORDS FROM RAY PERKINS:
“I, like many among us, was not only devastated by the death of Mike Flanagan, but in particular, the manner in which it occurred. I grew up with Mike. He was my friend. We played Little League, Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball together. We also played basketball and baseball for Manchester NH Memorial High School. I continued to maintain contact with him until his death. I am not claiming that I knew Mike better than anyone else. On the contrary, I just grew to know him differently.
Since his passing, I have read most of the accounts of his athletic accomplishments and the type of person he was. He was a baseball and basketball superstar at every level. He was well-liked, respected, admired, funny and smart. I have also read the theories as to why Mike did what he did.
From the moment I met Mike, it was apparent that he was special. It was apparent that he was more gifted than anyone else. The “gift” was not just in his athletic abilities, but his mind. His mental toughness was unequaled. His mind demanded that he be the best and not fail. He was a leader. If he was on your team you would not and could not lose. He made everyone around him a better athlete. He stepped to the line to make two free throws with seven seconds left in a game with a State Basketball Championship in the balance. It was his to win or lose. Was there any doubt he would make those free throws? Was there any doubt they would be “all net.” They were “all net.” His mind willed him to prevail and to persevere. You couldn’t help but worship him. It is the human condition. We worship great things in others that we wish we had in ourselves. Over the years I would watch grown adults reach their hand out to him so they could touch him, talk with him and thank him. It is only the petty among us that would deny him his greatness.
Most people saw Mike as “God” who could not fail. I am guilty of the same thing. Maybe that was the problem.
He was also a human being. Like all of us human beings, we are flawed. We are vulnerable. This is an imperfect world and all of us are imperfect human beings.
Three years ago during a visit with Mike in Baltimore, I became concerned for him. In beautiful Camden Yards, Mike and I watched very little of the game. In fact for most of the game we talked on a deck overlooking a parking lot. Although I will not disclose the substance of our conversations, what he had to tell me was very upsetting to me. This wasn’t the Mike Flanagan that people cling to and that you will read about in the newspapers concerning his “glory days.” This was a human being who was very vulnerable and in pain. This fearless warrior with a mindset of perseverance and no failure was a different person. As George Will once wrote, “All of us at some point during our lives are as soft as soufflés. It is hard for the stout and self-righteous among us to realize that even the strongest body is a twig easily broken by the sharp edges of Life.” We talked the entire weekend and most of our conversations had to do with his personal life. I left Baltimore concerned about Mike and hoped that we would continue to talk.
We exchanged phone calls and texts, even if infrequently over the next year and I returned the following year to visit with him. We ended up on the same deck overlooking the same parking lot while the game was in full swing. I didn’t think he looked well. I tried to get him to open up and talk to me and let me know if matters had improved at all. He said they had not. Sadly, he became very quiet about these issues, more truncated and less willing to talk. I am not a therapist and I don’t pretend to be, but it appeared to me that what he was keeping inside was very damaging to him. He was in a very dark place. Things were not getting better, they were getting worse.
Then he lost his job with the Orioles. I can say with certainty based upon what he told me that there were other serious matters deeply affecting him in addition to his job with the Orioles.
Then there was nothing. He stopped answering or returning my telephone calls or texts.
I would think of him often and would worry if he was OK and if he would see his way through these difficulties. Would he please just answer my call or text?
I am haunted by what happened to Mike. When I think of him I will naturally think of fastballs and free throws, as most people will do. More important, I will think of him as a person, a human being and my friend. Quite frankly I don’t care if the Orioles win the World Series, or Mike wins the Cy Young Award or if he even sinks those free throws. I will think of him as someone I went fishing with, a friend who I skipped school with to go to the Red Sox opener or have breakfast with every Friday morning and show up two hours late for school. I will think about how we would swing on a Tarzan swing and let go falling into the waters of Pine Island Pond. I will think of how it took Mike (a beautiful fisherman) 30 minutes to remove a fly hook from the back of my head when we went fly fishing, laughing at me the entire time. And there is so much more.
I will think about a simpler time when we could be kids, when there was certain innocence about our lives and our hearts were less heavy with life’s difficulties.
I can live with that.”