Cal Ripken Sr. is first to manage two of his sons in major leagues
Until the current Ripken family saga, only two men - Connie Mack with the old Philadelphia Athletics and Yogi Berra with the 1985 New York Yankees - had ever managed one of their sons at the major league level. Nobody had ever managed two. But Baltimore skipper Cal Ripken Sr. has sons Cal Jr. and Billy both playing starting roles as the team winds up spring training this week and heads home for the beginning of the season next Monday.
This will be the seventh full year that shortstop Cal has worn an Orioles uniform, the first for second baseman Billy, although he played 58 games last season.
As youngsters, both boys dreamed of some day playing side by side in the big leagues. What is surprising is that their father claims he has never been that gung-ho about it. And he certainly isn't about to let family ties influence his judgment concerning the makeup of his team.
``We're professionals,'' Cal Sr. said at the Orioles' Miami training camp. ``We've all got a job to do. Mine is to make sure we go north with our 24 best players and that we're in shape to open the season.''
Not focusing on his kids is indeed a wise thing in this case, for nobody knows better than the senior Ripken that if the Orioles again go 67-95 (an incredible 51 of those losses coming at home in '87), he is in big trouble.
Of course Cal Jr. is a known quantity at this stage of his career. Perhaps nowhere in baseball is there a more durable shortstop than the man who was the American League's Rookie of the Year in 1982, and its Most Valuable Player the next year. He has played in 927 consecutive games (sixth on the all-time list), appeared in five All-Star games, is extremely smart in the field, and hits for both power and average.
Hard as it seems to believe in view of all this success, when Cal Jr. first came up to the Orioles under then manager Earl Weaver, however, all he ever heard was that at 6 ft. 4 in. and 225 pounds, he was too tall and too heavy to play shortstop. This was a position that called for either a jackrabbit like the Cardinals' Ozzie Smith or a piece of telephone cable like the Tigers' Alan Trammell.
Third base, many observers thought, was a more logical choice, and the outfield for sure, but at shortstop only stereotypes need apply.
Cal Jr., however, proved them wrong. He has always had great hands, plus a great feel for the game. Because he has taken time to learn the hitters and because he positions himself so well in the field, not many balls get by him.
Getting Ripken Sr. to talk about his son's consistency in the field is an exercise in futility. Occasionally, though, he mentions big shortstops from the past, such as Honus Wagner, who could cover in two running steps what it often took a smaller man a couple more to equal.
Billy, who is four years younger than Cal Jr., still has to establish himself as he begins his first full season as the starting second baseman. He seems well on his way, though, after hitting .308 last year and making only three errors in 298 chances for a .990 fielding percentage.
Lighter than his brother by about 45 pounds, Billy is is never going to have Cal Jr.'s power at the plate, but he is a good contact hitter who can get on base often. In the field he's a natural when it comes to pivoting on the double play, a maneuver many second basemen never fully master. He is also capable of playing any of the other three infield positions if the need should arise.
Actually, there was a third Ripken, middle brother Fred, who also seemed to have all the tools necessary to make the big leagues, but he decided to repair, sell, and modify expensive motorcycles instead. .
As for Cal Sr., a man with a scarecrow body, years of paying his dues in the minors, and the kind of employee loyalty one doesn't find very often these days, there may not be a better organization man in baseball. As Weaver's longtime third base coach and right-hand man, Ripken was widely considered the heir apparent for the manager's job, but when Earl retired at the end of the 1982 season, the front office hired Joe Altobelli instead. In fact, Cal Sr. never even applied for the job.
Asked why, Ripken replied: ``If they had wanted me, they knew where I was. Nobody had to tell them.''
Practically anybody else would have quit in that situation or at least expressed to friends how he really felt. But Cal Sr. just swallowed hard and went on with his work.
Although Altobelli won the World Series in his first year at Baltimore, Joe didn't last. Weaver was called out of retirement partway through the 1985 season to try to get the Orioles on their feet, and then stayed through 1986 before leaving again.
This time management gave Ripken Sr. the chance he should have had four years before. But the situation that Cal inherited in 1987 in no way resembled the one the Orioles used to enjoy. Gone were the reliable pitching, tight defense, deep bench, and ability to win the close ones that had brought this club six division titles and four World Series appearances in the 1970s and early '80s.
Even though Baltimore made some personnel changes over the winter, and should definitely score more runs, the consensus is that the Orioles didn't do nearly enough to improve their pitching.
By July 4, Ripken's brief managerial career could be tumbling through the neck of the hourglass!