Two years after Mike Flanagan won the American League Cy Young Award, the Orioles were willing to trade him to the Cardinals.
The Orioles made Flanagan the centerpiece of a package they offered to the Cardinals in 1981. In exchange, the Orioles wanted two players the Cardinals were willing to trade, outfielder Sixto Lezcano and shortstop Garry Templeton.
The trade talks between the Cardinals and Orioles began in November 1981 and extended to the baseball winter meetings in December, but despite several attempts to structure a deal, the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement.
Neither club regretted the outcome. The Cardinals traded Templeton and Lezcano to the Padres for a future Hall of Famer, Ozzie Smith, who helped them win the World Series championship in 1982.
Rather than have Templeton at shortstop, the Orioles turned to an internal candidate, Cal Ripken, who, like Smith, developed into a Hall of Famer and helped them win the World Series championship in 1983.
A durable left-hander, Flanagan was 23-9 in 1979 when the Orioles won the American League pennant. Flanagan received 26 of 28 first-place votes in the Cy Young Award balloting.
In September 1981, Flanagan developed tendinitis in his left elbow and missed a turn in the rotation, ending a streak of 157 consecutive starts since 1977. “It’s just an oil change and a 30,000-inning checkup,” he told The Sporting News.
With Flanagan eligible to become a free agent after the 1982 season, the Orioles wanted to get him signed to a multiyear contract in November 1981. When he wouldn’t commit, the Orioles let it be known they were willing to deal him.
As the Baltimore Evening Sun noted, “Rather than take a chance on losing a pitcher of Flanagan’s caliber as a free agent, it is preferable to trade him.”
A player the Orioles wanted was outfielder Sixto Lezcano. Acquired by the Cardinals from the Brewers in December 1980, Lezcano asked to be traded after the 1981 season.
When he was with the Brewers, then an American League team, Lezcano had a .378 on-base percentage in games against the Orioles.
“The Orioles have coveted Lezcano almost since the day he broke in with Milwaukee,” The Sporting News reported, also noting that Orioles manager Earl Weaver “long has been a fan of Lezcano.”
Whitey Herzog, who had the dual role of Cardinals manager and general manager, wanted a pitcher in exchange for Lezcano. Orioles general manager Hank Peters “apparently is willing to part with Mike Flanagan,” according to The Sporting News.
Mix and match
A trade of Lezcano for Flanagan likely would have been made, but the Orioles opted to expand the deal to include Templeton.
Herzog wanted to trade Templeton, who was unhappy in St. Louis, and sought a shortstop in return. The shortstops the Orioles offered were veteran backup Lenn Sakata and rookie Bobby Bonner.
Jim Russo, who resided in St. Louis and scouted the National League for the Orioles, recommended Lezcano and Templeton. Russo was “instrumental in these discussions from the beginning,” the Baltimore Evening Sun reported.
In November 1981, the Baltimore Sun reported the proposed deal was Flanagan, outfielder Gary Roenicke and either Sakata or Bonner for Lezcano and Templeton.
Both sides were intrigued but agreed to suspend talks until the December baseball winter meetings in Hollywood, Fla.
At those meetings, the Baltimore Evening Sun reported, Orioles third baseman Doug DeCinces was added to the offer. The proposed trade was Flanagan, DeCinces, Roenicke and either Sakata or Bonner for Lezcano and Templeton.
The Orioles were willing to include DeCinces because they projected Cal Ripken, who debuted with them in August 1981, to be their third baseman, with either Sakata or Bonner playing shortstop.
The Cardinals, though, were not sold on having either Sakata or Bonner as their replacement for Templeton. A shortstop Herzog liked was Ivan DeJesus of the Cubs. Herzog also asked the Orioles for pitcher Sammy Stewart as a substitute for Flanagan. A right-hander who could start and relieve, Stewart had a 2.32 ERA for the 1981 Orioles. In 26 relief appearances that year, his ERA was 1.58.
“Herzog has a high regard for Flanagan,” the Baltimore Evening Sun reported, “but the pitcher he coveted most … was Sammy Stewart.”
Eager to make a deal, the Orioles tried to accommodate Herzog and the Cardinals. According to the Baltimore Sun, the Orioles, Cardinals and Cubs discussed a three-way trade. The Orioles would send Flanagan, DeCinces and Bonner to the Cubs for DeJesus and pitchers Mike Krukow and Lee Smith. Then the Orioles would swap DeJesus and Sammy Stewart to the Cardinals for Templeton, Lezcano and pitcher Bob Shirley.
“We’ve talked to the Cubs extensively, very extensively,” Hank Peters told the Baltimore Sun.
The Cubs, though, foiled the plan, trading Krukow to the Phillies on Dec. 8 for Keith Moreland, Dickie Noles and Dan Larson.
The Cardinals and Orioles continued to try to find the right combination of players to complete a deal. The Cardinals asked for outfielder John Shelby instead of Roenicke, the Baltimore Evening Sun reported, and the Orioles asked for outfielder Gene Roof.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “one possible combination would have had Templeton and Lezcano going to the Orioles for pitchers Flanagan and Steve Stone and either Bonner or DeCinces.”
“Whatever the other teams offer St. Louis, we’ll make a better offer,” Earl Weaver said to the Baltimore Sun. “I’m definitely not against overloading the deal with pitchers if we can get a shortstop who bats .300 and a man who can go get fly balls like Sixto.”
On Dec. 10, the Baltimore Evening Sun reported, “The trade has been restructured so many times that the two teams have talked nine times in the last two days.”
Change in plans
By then, the Padres had entered the picture, and the Cardinals’ interest in the Orioles cooled considerably.
Before the winter meetings ended, the Padres agreed to trade Ozzie Smith and pitchers Steve Mura and Al Olmsted to the Cardinals for Templeton, Lezcano and pitcher Luis DeLeon.
A month later, in January 1982, the Cubs traded Ivan DeJesus to the Phillies for Ryne Sandberg and Larry Bowa, and the Orioles dealt DeCinces to the Angels for outfielder Dan Ford.
Ford became the Orioles’ right fielder in 1982, filling the role the team had envisioned for Sixto Lezcano.
The Orioles opened the 1982 season with Cal Ripken at third base and Lenn Sakata at shortstop. Ripken shifted to shortstop in July.
Mike Flanagan earned 15 wins for the 1982 Orioles.
In 18 seasons in the majors with the Orioles and Blue Jays, Flanagan had a record of 167-143.