TBS baseball analyst and Topps spokesman Cal Ripken Jr. spoke to SI.com about the upcoming season and the state of his former team, the rigors of spring training and the downside to being on a baseball card.
SI: You're helping promote Topps' Million Card Giveaway, which makes more than a million Topps cards, including such famous ones as the 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card, available for the first time in years. Were you a collector as a kid?
Cal Ripken Jr.: I use the collector word loosely. I was someone that used cards as toys. We played with them, we threw them around. I guess I collected them in the sense that I put them in shoe boxes and put rubber bands on them and got them out, but I didn't collect them in the sense where they had value as a future investment.
SI: Do you have copies of your own cards?
CR: I do. The good part about being a baseball player is that they give you a bunch of the cards so you can hand out and those sorts of things, so I collected all my cards and I have them. I can't tell you exactly where they are but I have them.
SI: Did you ever see one of your own cards and wish they'd picked a better picture?
CR: Yes.I was making fun of some of the pictures and then I got my card and you take a bad swing and the ball would hit and dribble in front of home plate. For some reason the art person saw that as a colorful shot. I saw that as an embarrassing shot.
SI: Where are the players at at this point in spring training?
CR: When you go into spring training, you want to have done all the hard work and be in really good shape so you can take your physical conditioning that you've handled in the offseason and really put in your baseball shape. Which means all the repetitions, timing and hitting and those things. Not to say you haven't done that before you went to spring training, but once you're in spring training you want to get in optimal shape for baseball and you want to stay away from injruies. You can't teach a whole team to actually be a team in spring training. You can execute and work over fundamentals, but you really want to get yourself individually ready for [the season during] spring training and then leave very healthy so you can go forward into the season.
SI: Who will have a bigger impact on his new team, Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay?
CR: Cliff Lee was very impactful when he went to Philadelphia. He was a Cy Young winner and then all of a sudden they put him into that rotation and he was on fire and a big reason why they went as far as they went that year. I happen to think Roy Halladay is a No. 1 that's proven himself many times over and I thought whoever landed Roy was going to be in a really good position. Seattle's got a great up-and-coming team and putting Cliff Lee over in Seattle is definitely going to make them better. But if I had to choose one right now I think Roy going to Philadelphia is going to be more impactful.
SI: How close do you think your former team, the Baltimore Orioles, is to contending?
CR: I think they're at a crucial stage in their development right now. They have some young talent that they've assembled, they have aligned that young talent so if they get good at the same time they can be good for a while. The word is around all of baseball that the Orioles have assembled some really good arms and have some power arms in the staff. They got a lot to choose from, guys that legitimately throw in the upper 90s. But the crucial part of that is how do you take that stuff, that upper 90s stuff, and actually get big league hitters out consistently? If they're able to do that and ifMatt Wieters is the catcher that can work with that staff then they have a chance to move their development really quickly. If not, they'll be a little slower.
SI: A big story this winter has been Joe Mauer and speculation that he will sign long term with Minnesota. What advice would you give him as someone who played his entire career with his hometown team?
CR: I'm sure he's under all kinds of pressure to make a good deal financially and this is his opportunity to do just that. I think his heart is in Minnesota and I think that he's looking to sign a longer term deal and I think Minnesota wants to sign him to a longer term deal. They're trying to figure out what price. But I have no doubt that Joe will end up being a Minnesota Twin for his whole career.
SI: Do you regret not having given yourself at least the chance to play for teams that had a better shot at winning?
CR: There's no sure thing. Even if you wanted to go to the Yankees and say we're gonna win the World Series. I remember Mike Mussina left the Orioles and went to the Yankees thinking that was his best chance of winning the World Series. He never accomplished that. He got close a few times. I have no regrets. I would have rather had more winning seasons and been in the playoffs more times. I wish I had a career like Derek Jeter is having where a bad year is losing in the first round of the playoffs, but I have no regrets for choosing to stay in Baltimore.
SI: One of the big stories of the offseason was Mark McGwire's return to baseball. What did you think of his admission and apology?
CR: I know Mark and I think he's a good guy, a good-hearted guy. I felt for him for a long time now. I know he's been working with people in the batting cage privately and he's really helped a lot of people get their swings straight and I know he wanted to come back and do that officially. In order to do that he had to go through addressing a few issues. You can argue whether he handled it really well or he didn't handle it really well; I tend to look at it as: he broached the subject, he got it out and for the first time in probably a long time he got a good night's sleep. So it remains to be seen if he dealt with all the issues sufficiently enough so it won't be a distraction for the Cardinals. But certainly he's going to get into the batting cages and he's going to do a lot of hard work and he's going to make hitters better and I think that's what he's really trying to focus on.
SI: How do you assess MLB's efforts to end PED use in baseball?
CR: They've been tough, they've been fast-acting when they discovered that there is an issue and a problem. I think most of us had no idea that it was as big [as it was]. I mean, if you don't live in that world you don't really understand what's going on. The measures they put in seem to be having the right effect and baseball to me has returned to really focusing on what's going on between the white lines and I think most people are satisfied.
SI: A lot of former players turned broadcasters say they were shocked at how difficult it is to give commentary on games. What has your experience been?
CR: Getting used to the lights and the camera and all that kind of stuff its just getting comfortable in that surrounding and when you do it for the first week or so it becomes second nature. The hardest part is you've got to figure how to get your points across in a shorter period of time. You want to really go over the points and repeat those points into the ground but your sound bites are really small and you might have 20 or 30 seconds to describe something that might take two or three minutes.
SI: Who will win the World Series in 2010?
CR: The Yankees probably have to be the favorite just because they walked through last year almost seamlessly and they've added a little depth.
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