RIP to Tom Flanigan, a pitcher with two trips to the major leagues, four years apart. He died on December 8 at Hospice of St. Elizabeth in Edgewood, Ky. He was 88 years old. Flanigan played for the Chicago White Sox (1954) and St. Louis Cardinals (1958).
Thomas Anthony Flanigan was born in Cincinnati on September 6, 1934. He attended Elder High School in Cincinnati and played on the school baseball team, as well as a Glenway Merchants amateur team. The left-handed pitcher threw a no-hitter in his senior season of 1952 and also struck out 20 of 21 batters in a 7-inning game. Elder High won the Ohio state high school championship that same year. Flanigan was signed by the Chicago White Sox by scout Eddie Ries after graduation, and he reported to the Madisonville Miners of the Class-D Kitty League. Ries boasted that the tall (6’3″) lefty already had a major-league curveball.
Flanigan won 9 games with the Miners in 1952, with a 2.58 ERA. He missed more than a month of playing time in 1953 with the Class-B Waterloo White Hawks after being hit on the left arm by a pitched ball. When his sore arm wouldn’t allow him to pitch, he was sent to Chicago to be examined by the White Sox medical staff. Flanigan recovered in time and finished 1953 with a 7-4 record. He struck out 87 batters in 113 innings.
The White Sox invited the youngster to their training camp in 1954, and Flanigan made quite a positive impression, despite his youth and inexperience. Dizzy Dean broadcast a game between the White Sox and Milwaukee Braves, and he liked Flanigan’s poise and his fastball. “That kid’s got something out there,” Dean said. White Sox manager Paul Richards was particularly enthusiastic about the pitcher. “Nobody showed him or taught him anything. He is just a natural pitcher,” Richards said. “I suspect he might not know what he is doing, and I don’t know what will happen when he asks himself how he does it. But as long as he keeps pitching like he has been, he’s going to have a chance to do it in the American League.”
The White Sox did keep Flanigan on the Opening Day roster, and the 19-year-old made his pitching debut on April 14, 1954. He relieved Mike Fornieles in the eighth inning with one out and a runner on first base. The first batter, pitcher Bob Lemon, bunted Hegan over to second base, and Flanigan retired Bobby Avila on a grounder to third base to end the inning.
The 1954 White Sox got off to a hot start and found themselves narrowly in first place by the end of April. Richards used Flanigan sparingly and didn’t put him into another ballgame until the Sox were getting blown out by Detroit on May 8. With the score already 12-1, Flanigan entered in the top of the ninth inning and retired Bill Tuttle on a fly ball to right field. Frank House walked, opposing pitcher Ned Garver flew out to center and Frank Bolling singled to put runners on first and second base. Flanigan worked out of the jam by getting Jim Delsing to hit a comebacker to him for the third out. He was the only one of the five White Sox pitchers who didn’t allow a run to score.
Though Flanigan had turned in two scoreless outings, he was still one of the players sent to the minor leagues when the roster was cut down to 25 players in May. He reported to the Memphis Chicks of the Southern Association, and he spent three seasons there. He finished the ’54 season as a swingman but spent most of 1955 as a starter. He made a career-high 22 starts in 28 appearances and threw 143 innings, even after starting the season on the suspended list for “not being in condition to pitch,” reported the Memphis Press-Scimitar. Once he got into playing shape, he won 12 games against 8 losses and a 3.97 ERA He threw a shutout on the last day of the season to clinch a Southern Association pennant for Memphis. The Chicks used Flanagan as a reliever in 1956, and he performed well in the role. In 49 appearances, only 2 of which were starts, he won 9 games and lost 5, with a 3.75 ERA. He racked up 97 strikeouts in 108 innings for an 8.1 K/9 inning ratio that was far any away the best of his career to that point. The move to the bullpen may have been to save his arm, which apparently was prone to soreness.
The White Sox moved Flanigan to Indianapolis of the Triple-A American Association in 1957. Again, working mainly as a reliever, he finished with a 9-7 record and 4.25 ERA. He made 7 starts among his 50 appearances, and he managed 2 complete games and a shutout. But Flanigan improved on his strikeout rate with 100 K’s in 110 innings of work, so it seemed as if the conversion to a reliever was working out well for him. The St. Louis Cardinals decided to take a chance on him and drafted him in December of 1957. The team had a shortage of lefties on the staff, and Cardinals management were impressed by Flanigan.
Flanigan made the Cardinals team out of spring training, and manager Johnny Keane wasted no time in getting him some action. He was part of a 4-0 Opening Day loss to the Cubs in St. Louis on April 15, 1958. Cardinals starter Vinegar Bend Mizell allowed 3 runs in 3 innings of work, while the Cubs kept the home team scoreless. Flanigan worked the top of the ninth and walked leadoff hitter Dale Long. He got Johnny Goryl to hit into a 4-6-3 double play, but the next batter, catcher Cal Neeman, homered to left field to make the score 4-0. Flanigan then gave up a single to pitcher Don Elston, but Tony Taylor grounded out to third base to end the inning. The Cardinals were retired in order in the bottom of the inning to end the game. That inning of work would be the only one that Flanigan threw for the Cardinals. He was returned to Indianapolis on April 19 and struggled to a 5-11 record as a swingman. He started 12 of his 52 games and sported a 3.93 ERA.
Flanigan was supposed to rejoin Indianapolis in 1959 but threated to quit once he got his contract. He said the team had “missed by just $50 of cutting my salary in half from last year.” When the Cardinals had returned Flanigan to Indianapolis in 1958, there had been the assumption that his new team would pay his old contract. Indianapolis management didn’t feel that way, and it took an intervention by Commissioner Ford Frick to work out a deal where St. Louis and Indianapolis split the payment. Apparently Indianapolis decided to lowball Flanigan, who refused to sign. “I couldn’t play for that money and support my wife and two kids,” he said. So, he retired at the age of 24.
Flanigan worked a total of 2-2/3 innings in 3 games in parts of 2 seasons in the majors. He allowed 3 hits, including a home run, for a 3.38 ERA. He walked a batter and didn’t strike anyone out. In the minor leagues, he had a 55-45 record and a 3.76 ERA, with 512 strikeouts in 824 innings pitched.
Flanigan had held down a variety of offseason jobs, when he wasn’t playing winter ball in places like Venezuela. One of his most interesting jobs was working for a tree service. “Swinging an axe all day helped me make my wrists stronger so that I could swing a bat batter. But I’m still a terrible hitter,” he wrote in a National League questionnaire. At the time of his retirement, he was working as a cattle hide inspector back home in Covington, Ky. According to his obituary, Flanigan worked for an insurance company for many years and later retired from Pilot Home Center. He is survived by children Rob, Steve and Beth.
For more information: Floral Hills Funeral Home