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Angelos hoping Flanagan,
Beattie bring O's back to glory

Special to

Dec. 17

NASHVILLE -- It's been five years since they were even average. In those five years (1998-2002), the Orioles are 87 games under .500. And over the last two years, the O's are a combined 130-193. Camden Yards is all too often a desert of no-shows and the franchise whose 30-something year reign of excellence and passion has dried out into apathy.

What makes it so unfathomable for one of baseball's most loyal and knowledgeable audiences is that five years ago they were so good, and when they were ousted in the playoffs in 1996 and '97 it reeked of bad fortune far more than bad performance.

Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie
Mike Flanagan, left, and Jim Beattie are now in charge of the Orioles' day-to-day operations.

In '96, there was Jeffery Maier. Then in '97, the Orioles led the American League East from Opening Day to the final day of the season, only to end up losing an incomprehensible Division Series to Cleveland thanks to games in which Marquis Grissom homered off Armando Benitez, an Omar Vizquel foul tip was ruled a 13th-inning, game-deciding passed ball and, finally, a Mike Mussina nine-inning one-hitter was squandered and lost in the 12th when Tony Fernandez homered off Benitez.

In their freefall from grace, owner Peter Angelos became the focal point of the blame, in his hometown, no less.

"I can't say I've enjoyed this," says Angelos. "It has been hard, because this is my hometown, because I do care about the Orioles' place in the community. Sometimes the criticism is hard to take, but I have to swallow my tongue. This is not the courtroom. I can't build my case point by point and deliver it. What I'm doing now is trying to get the Orioles back where they should be, competing with the Yankees and Red Sox. But it's not for me, it's for Baltimore, and the Oriole fans. We have great fans, and the last few years have been very difficult for them."

Which is why Angelos finally admitted that the Syd Thrift era had to end and turned to Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie. This is a fascinating pairing of a couple of Northern New England basketball players into place to try to bring Angelos' team and community standing back to where it once stood.

Flanagan has known Angelos well for the last few years.

"Mike is someone I trust because he is so honest and has such integrity," says Angelos. "He is very smart, he is very modest, and he's never said anything to promote himself." In fact, the first firing Flanagan enacted was a Thrift hire who Flanagan felt had been disloyal to the former general manager.

"The first time I met Jim I was tremendously impressed," says Angelos. "I was struck by his obvious intelligence, but the thing that I heard most about him was integrity. So I feel very good about this. They bring to this franchise something it badly needs."

In the past, Angelos was viewed as too much of a meddler who clashed with former GMs Pat Gillick and Frank Wren. The last few years, he has been ctiticized for being too disant, and allowing Thrift and his friends to unravel the franchise.

In reality, the truth probably is somewhere in-between. But the fact remains that in the last five years the Orioles have become one of the worst franchises in baseball.

"Peter has been hurt by how the team has performed and the hits he's taken because of it," says Flanagan. "There are problems, obviously, and they have discouraged anyone who cares deeply about the Oriole tradition. But Peter has taken some unfair criticism, as well. People don't really know him. For instance, when the Orioles got the medical report on Aaron Sele (who had been signed to a four-year deal by Thrift prior to the 2000 season), it stated that his shoulder would last two years, then blow out, which is what happened. But Peter bit the bullet and took the heat for refusing to allow the deal. Privately, he said that he didn't want to make public Dr. Jacobs' conclusion because he didn't want to hurt Sele's chances of getting a good contract, so he took the heat."

"That is true," says Angelos. "But Pat Gillick was smart enough to get two very good years out of Sele. So he's the smart one."

In reality, Angelos' separate office has probably allowed some people to pull the wool over his eyes because he hasn't had his hands on the running of the franchise. He kept being told that the farm system was loaded and that they were close to contending.

"I gave up even calling the Orioles," says one NL GM. "I hate to say it, but a lot of general managers gave up. It was a shame, because that should be a crowned jewel of a job."

The farm system is virtually barren. Four pitchers who were picked in the first round have been hurt. As for the major league team ... thank God for the Devil Rays and Tigers, because they have kept them out of last place in the AL East and runs scored and walks, respectively.

"We have a lot of work to do on two levels," says Flanagan. "We want to get scouting and development on the same page, and the minor leagues is an area that requires a lot of attention.

"But we have to get the major league product better at the same time. Our strength is our bullpen. We need some more starting pitching, but our glaring weakness is our offense. We don't have enough pure hitters, guys who hit doubles and line drives and put the ball in play. Jim and I are looking for 100 more runs."

Beattie and Flanagan worked hard at the winter meetings. They pursued Jeff Moorad, the agent for Pudge Rodriguez. Pudge is a player who can hit in the middle of the O's lineup and can extend his career by splitting the catching duties with Geronimo Gil. He should be able to also get 550-600 at-bats, playing in a city thirsting for some heroes. They are coming in late to the Hideki Matsui sweepstakes, but did sign Deivi Cruz to be a stopgap at shortstop.

Mike is someone I trust because he is so honest and has such integrity. He is very smart, he is very modest, and he's never said anything to promote himself.
Peter Angelos, Orioles owner, on new Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan

"We got a late start, but we can make up ground," says Beattie. "Fortunately, it's been a slow market."

Angelos has made it clear he's willing to get back into spending, and when the Albert Belle contract is finally history at the end of this coming season will have more cash available. After hiring Beattie, Angelos jokingly reminded him, "you're no longer working in Montreal. You can spend some money."

"The one thing that cautions me is the potential of having a team (the Expos) move into Northern Virginia," says Angelos. "Would it affect us? Of course. Of course it concerns me. If a team were to move into Northern Virginia or D.C., it would cost us between 50 and 60 percent of our radio and television revenues. If there is no team there, our next deal (2004) could equal that of Seattle ($38 million). But if a team moves in, the reality is that you will have two mediocre franchises instead of one that should be great, and strong enough to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox."

"Unfortunately, Peter is probably right," says one senior MLB official. "I think 60 percent is a little high, but he will suffer substantial losses. I don't think Northern Virginia is anywhere near the market the local papers think it is. There isn't a ballpark, and the Washington Post isn't going to build (a park). But if someone doesn't step up in Montreal, buy the club and build a new stadium at the site they had picked out a couple of years ago, what is the alternative? There isn't another market that looks like it could support a major league franchise except for New Jersey, and that isn't going to happen. Unfortunately, they were right about contraction, they just executed it improperly, because there are too many teams."

If the Expos are moved to D.C., the Orioles will be impacted, although other baseball officials say Angelos' protests simpy will produce reparations.

"Peter will get his $150 million," says one official. "He will be fine. There is no precedent for this. It didn't happen in L.A. or the Bay Area or Texas when clubs moved in, but this is only fair. He should get reparations."

So the New England two-headed GM of Flanagan and Beattie will have the wherewithal to begin restoring the Orioles to their once-proud status. But one thing should be made clear -- they are not both from New Hampshire, although Beattie attended Dartmouth and currently lives in Hanover. Flanagan is a Manchester, N.H. native. Beattie is from South Portland, Maine (Beattie and Billy Swift, also from South Portland once started consecutive games in Fenway Park, a milestone in Maine history), but don't confuse Beattie's hometown from that of Pirates GM Dave Littlefield, who is from Portland, on the other side of the Million Dollar Bridge across Casco Bay.

Flanagan was an extraordinary basketball player in Manchester and played at UMass, on the best freshman team in that school's history, one that included Boston College coach Al Skinner and Boston legend Billy Endicott, and a varsity that included Julius Erving and Rick Pitino. That prompted one of Flanny's great lines. "One day I came down on a three-on-one on Dr. J and pulled up for a jumper, " he says. "As I watched the ball, rejected, sailing back over my head, I thought, 'this might be a good time to work on my slider.' "

Beattie was the starting center for Dartmouth. His highlight came against Robert Parish and Centenary, but a bad blocking call -- yes, it should have been a charge on Parish that would have fouled him out -- instead fouled Beattie out and gave Centenary a 105-103 win.

Even though Flanagan played basketball, he was born to play baseball. His grandfather, father and uncle, all of whom played some form of professional baseball, used to take him to the park on the weekends when Mike was young and they'd be like The King and His Court -- taking on all comers. His grandfather Ed was a legend in New Hampshire. Legend has it that Christy Matthewson's first game was against Big Ed. A team from Southeastern Massachusetts used to barnstorm New England small towns playing the New Hampshire All-Stars; a battery from Cohasset, Mass. named Everett Gammons and Bill Enos (whose son recently retired after a long scouting career would pitch each end of the doubleheaders, and Big Ed Flanagan would pitch both games against them -- one right-handed, one left-handed.

"(Ed) pitched when the spitball was legal," says Flanagan. "So when I started in Little League, he took me into the basement and handed me a box of slippery elm tablets. He showed me how to use them to throw a spitter. Of course, I wanted no part of listening to him, I thought I didn't need it. Many a night I stood on the mound thinking, 'I wish I'd listened to grandpa.' "

Flanagan helped mold ESPN anchor Chris Berman's nicknames, as when Berman was a student at Brown, he'd read the "Mike Flanagan Name of the Week" in a Boston paper. Don Stanhouse was "Stan the Man Unusual." Sixto Lezcano was "Mordecai Six Toe Lexcano." When Tony Solaita was sold to Japan, he was "Tony Obsolaita."

Along with what Angelos sees as the intelligence and integrity that Beattie and Flanagan possess, he knows they will also need all their senses of humor. "I think they are the right people to bring the fun back to CamdenYards," says Angelos. "Look, I'm a realist. I know things aren't right. So I'm also looking forward to their humor as we all get to work to get the Orioles back where they should be."

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