Casts of Character; By molding baseball players' hands in plaster of Paris, Alex Flanagan reveals much about the men themselves


Hands -- soft or calloused, cracked or smooth, scarred or innocent, taped, bent, gnarled -- tell stories. Hands hold secrets. Hands do tricks. Hands reveal strength, even character.

And so we come to Alex Flanagan's project to cast the hands of baseball players in plaster. Her aim was to create items that would garner high bids in a charity auction. But she's done more than that; she's captured a little bit of each player's soul, a little bit of his life story.

She froze in plaster, 20 years after it won the American League Cy Young Award, the left hand of her husband, Orioles Hall of Famer and broadcaster Mike Flanagan. She captured the sinker-ball grip of Orioles pitcher Scott Erickson, the knuckle-curve of Mike Mussina, and the circle-change grip of Seattle Mariner (and former Oriole) pitcher Jamie Moyer.

The plaster casts are remarkably detailed, revealing skin cracks and fingerprints. There's an eeriness to them. They emerge like white laboratory specimens from the pink rubbery substance Flanagan uses for molding.

During homestands this summer and fall, she and her husband set up shop in the bowels of Oriole Park and recruited players to make hand casts. Pitchers formed their special grips. Other players, such as the Mariners' All-Star shortstop Alex Rodriquez, gripped bat handles.

Flanagan got the idea from a product marketed as Precious Hands, a do-it-yourself kit for parents eager to make casts of their children's hands. The procedure is relatively simple -- hands are dipped in a small vat of a pink goo called 3-D Gel, made by Botanical Science of San Bernardino, Calif. (The company donated 500 packets of the substance for Flanagan's project.)

In seconds, the pink goo jells into a soft, rubbery mold, and the hand is withdrawn. Later, plaster of paris is poured into the cavity left by the hand. After the plaster hardens, Flanagan cuts away the pink rubber, revealing the white cast of a player's hand.

Boog Powell, Jim Palmer, Elrod Hendricks and Frank Robinson went along. So did Charles Johnson, B. J. Surhoff, Cal Ripken Jr., Jesse Orosco, Jeff Conine, Harold Baines, even Albert Belle. Once Mike Flanagan flashed a finished hand cast around a visitor's clubhouse, it wasn't hard to find more players willing to make the casts. Most players had seen nothing like it. Wade Boggs dipped his right hand in the goo. Rodriquez obliged, and asked for an additional cast for his mother.

Flanagan thinks the pink goo brings players good luck. "Cal went 6-for-6 the day he did it," she says. "Jesse broke the record [for most appearances by a pitcher] after he [made a mold], and Erickson won three in a row after doing it."

Give them a hand

Several of Alex Flanagan's casts will be offered for auction along with other items at the seventh annual All-Star Event, which benefits the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Oncology Center to be held Saturday at Port Discovery. Tickets are $175. Call 410-955-7555. Flanagan is honorary co-chairman, with WJZ-TV's Marty Bass.

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