Thursday, August 25, 2011


Mike Flanagan

The ball rests in a small case, all by itself, surrounded by a large graphic depicting the last Orioles game ever at Memorial Stadium, October 6, 1991. The horsehide, red-stitched icon was used to record the final enemy out –ever- at the team’s venerable home on 33rd Street, a strike three that retired Detroit’s Travis Fryman.

The ball is symbolic of that last, historic day at Memorial Stadium, and of that final Orioles game. But, more importantly, it is symbolic of the man who threw it, Mike Flanagan. “Flanny” was chosen for that moment, to record that final out, and to conclude an important chapter in the team’s celebrated story, not because he was the ace closer of that 1991 staff (in fact, he was then in the twilight of his career), but because of what he meant to the Orioles organization.

From 1977 through 1983, a seven-year stretch when Baltimore finished first twice and second four times, winning two American League pennants and one World Series to boot, Flanagan was the bedrock of a talented roster of hurlers. Over that period, the winningest seven years in team history, Flanny went 109 and 68, a .616 winning percentage. During that astonishing run he was third in the AL in wins.

While most Baltimore fans are aware of Mike’s various roles with the ball club following his playing days (pitching coach, broadcaster, VP of baseball operations), we at the museum knew him best as a passionate fan of baseball history. When we were working to open Sports Legends Museum in 2004 and 2005, we occupied a large space on the fifth floor of the Camden Yards warehouse. Flanagan’s office was also on the fifth floor, and he frequently stopped by to see how work was progressing.

Mike Flanagan Tribute at
 Maryland Sports Legends Museum

Once he understood how we used artifacts to help interpret our sports stories, he brought us mementoes from his career dating all the way back to his Babe Ruth League youth baseball days in New Hampshire.

And he brought us the ball he used to strike out Travis Fryman for that final enemy out at Memorial Stadium; an iconic symbol of maybe the proudest achievement of his storied career with our Baltimore Orioles.

Mike Gibbons is the executive director for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Babe Ruth: 63 Years and Counting

How serendipitous that Jim Thome would become the eighth player in Major League history to hit 600 career home runs the day before the 63rd anniversary of Babe Ruth’s death. Most articles detailing the event alluded to the fact that the 40-year-old slugger accomplished the rarified fete in the second fewest at bats ever, trailing only, you guessed it, George Herman Ruth.

I mention the Thome milestone and the subsequent link to Babe Ruth because it serves as yet another example of how Ruth lives on in the day-to-day vernacular of our national pastime. 63 years after his death, he remains a baseball standard; still part of the discussion.

And all these years later, Babe Ruth remains relevant not just to the sport he helped define, but to America’s cultural landscape as well. The Bambino was so much the colossus, both on and off the playing field, that he transcended baseball to become a national icon, right up there with Martin Luther King, JFK, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, who, ironically, shares the same August 16 death date as the Babe.

For the past quarter century I have taught a writing course at a Baltimore university. As a way of introducing myself on the first evening of class, I have always asked students to raise their hands if they never heard of Babe Ruth. In twenty-five years, no student has ever raised a hand. They may not all know he was a great ball player. They may not know his slugging records. But they know the name, and that is testament to his continued staying power as one of the most celebrated Americans of all time.

There are lots of reasons why: his extraordinary skills as a ball player; the fact that he arrived in New York at the very height of the countries’ ‘roaring twenties’ swagger; his playful, boyish image. But, and perhaps most importantly, it was Ruth’s understanding of the power of media that helped secure his perpetual celebrity. Almost from the get-go of his professional baseball career, Ruth befriended the press, making certain that each and every beat-writer on the circuit was his friend.

That savvy, that ability to manipulate the most powerful force on earth, media, ultimately propelled Babe Ruth towards his eternal role as an American icon, 63 years after his death and counting.
Mike Gibbons is the executive director for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.