Search

ONE RIP-ROARING FAMILY AFFAIR

March 09, 1987
March 09, 1987

Table of Contents
March 9, 1987

Books
Death Penalty
Ripken & Sons
Notre Dame
Ray Bourque
Unsung Heroes
Katy Bilodeaux
Bobsledding
Indoor Soccer
Horse Racing
Calgary
First Person
Review
Point After

ONE RIP-ROARING FAMILY AFFAIR

The Baltimore firm of Cat Ripken & Sons last week began restoring a once-proud club that had fallen on hard times

Three of ViRipken's favorite men, wearing the same surname across the backs of theirBaltimore Oriole uniforms, came out of the home dugout at Miami Stadium lastWednesday following a downpour. Striding onto the soaked field, the tallest oneasked. "Who's the dummy who sent us out in this stuff?" Following inhis footsteps, the youngest one chimed in, "Yeah, who's the dummy who sentus out in this stuff?" The oldest and toughest one said nothing. He justsmiled the contented smile of the dummy who has all of the answers.

This is an article from the March 9, 1987 issue Original Layout

If Cal Ripken Sr.,the Orioles' new manager, creases his leathery countenance with a grin everynow and then this spring, he's entitled. At various times during the past 30years he has caught, coached, managed, flashed signs and guided youths in theBaltimore chain, stoically abiding as others succeeded to the major leaguemanaging throne he coveted. The team passed him over after the 1982 season,when Joe Altobelli got the job, and again two summers ago, when Earl Weaverreturned. But his loyalty has been a match for Penelope's. "He's not a trueOriole," says former O's pitching coach Ray Miller. "He's the trueOriole."

So it's by a happyconfluence of fate and faith that this 51-year-old family man not only hasachieved the job of his dreams at last but also will be able to share theexperience, come rain or come shine, with his Nos. 1 and 3 sons, Cal Jr. (thetall one), 26, will play shortstop—as he has for every inning of every gamesince June 5. 1982. Second baseman Billy (the baby), 22, will probably wind upin Triple-A Rochester this season, but he has big-club potential and willprobably get at least a September call-up. Only Connie Mack and Yogi Berra haveever managed one of their sons; nobody has ever managed two of them.

"I've dreamedabout Billy and me playing side by side." says Cal Jr. "I'd like us tobe like Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker in Detroit—so good, so close, soimportant to their club. And to play together for our father would begreat."

Their father,however, is not given to such effusiveness. "Hell, no," thechain-smoking Ripken rasps, "I don't even think about having a son or sonson the ball club until the media brings it up. Listen. We're professionals, atthe top level of the game. We know our jobs, and family doesn'tinterfere."

The Orioles arealso family to Rip Sr., and last season he had to suffer as his adopted brooddissolved in ways he had never before seen. A club that had long prided itselfon reliable pitching, tight defense, precision execution and a knack forwinning the close ones suddenly lost the vaunted "Oriole way."Baltimore dropped 42 of its last 56 games and belly flopped into last place,22½ games behind Boston in the AL East. With four weeks left to play, Weaveralso succumbed to the malaise and announced his intention to resign as managerat the conclusion of the regular season.

Some suspectedthat Ripken was promoted because of fears that Rip Jr. and Eddie Murray wouldleave if he weren't. But the real reason was the Orioles' need to revive theirwinning tradition and foster unity, Indeed, Senior helped write The Oriole Way,a guide distributed to minor league managers and coaches, explaining how toteach the Baltimore system. Even if they don't win right away, the Orioles arehoping Ripken can get them back to such basics as hitting the cutoff man andlaying down bunts when needed, More important, Ripken will try to stop thebickering that plagued the club last year and try to start the players thinkingas a team again. "I know these guys can get the job done." says Ripken,"I may be hardheaded, but that's what I believe. We'll be a competitiveteam."

Oriole G.M. HankPeters had wanted to hire Ripken when Altobelli was dismissed in the middle ofthe '85 season. Owner Edward Bennett Williams overruled him. Now Williams says."Rehiring Earl Weaver was the biggest mistake I've ever made inbaseball." Of Ripken, the owner says. "He handled himself with suchclass and loyalty in difficult situations that you had to be impressed."And the image of Ripken on an '84 barnstorming trip to Japan lingered in theowner's mind. "We were on the plane 17 hours going over, and he neverloosened his tie once." Williams recalls. "You had to be impressed withthat kind of discipline."

Williams hopesthat some of Ripken's first-to-come, last-to-leave work ethic rubs off on hischarges. But the managerial switch is not all the O's have done to shake up theteam. In the off-season they signed a pair of free agents for theirinfield—second baseman Rick Burleson, 35, and third baseman Ray Knight, 34—andtraded a much-needed pitcher, Storm Davis, to the Padres for a catcher, TerryKennedy, 30. The changes not only plug the Orioles' three biggest holes, butthey also give them three World Series veterans with a will to win. They won'tdo much, though, to shake up the traditional Weaver offensive philosophy, whichboiled down to waiting for the three-run homer. Last year the O's hit thefewest triples in major league history (13), surpassed just one team in stealsand scored three runs or fewer in almost half their games. The Orioles also haddefensive problems, with 135 errors and a fielding percentage of 978 theirworst since 1959.

Old and new alikeapplauded Ripken's inaugural address in Miami last Thursday. "I wish youcould have heard it." outfielder Mike Young says. "He said he wanted usto laugh and have a good time like Oriole teams have had in the past. Thedifference is that when we go out on the field, we have to tend to business. Hesaid baseball was a matter of doing two million little things. You do thelittle things, and you never have to worry about the big ones." PitcherScott McGregor said. "He's so enthusiastic, you can't help but beenthusiastic. We heard the same speech for 10 years. It's good to hear adifferent one."

Said Cal Jr. ofthe speech, "I couldn't help but wonder what everyone else in the room wasthinking when he was talking. Many of them had never seen him like this before,but the guy who talked to us is the dad I've always known. He's at his bestwhen he's in charge. Older players like Eddie [Murray] and Flanny [MikeFlanagan] have seen it. The younger ones haven't. Some men were made to followand some to lead. My dad's a leader."

Ripken'sleadership wasn't just limited to words. "We seem to be getting back todoing things we used to do," says Flanagan. "We go through every drillmethodically now. We don't take anything for granted. This franchise was builton defense. As pitchers, we always complained about not having enough runs, butthat meant we took the defense for granted. But the last couple of years havemade us realize just how important it was."

Senior's greatestgood fortune as a skipper may be having Junior's solid gold future at hiscommand. In five seasons the 6'4", 218-pounder has averaged .291 with 27homers and 94 RBIs, and has majestically muzzled skeptics who thought a man hissize couldn't play short effectively. The genetic link between Cal Sr. and CalJr. isn't evident from their vital stats. When Ripken père washed up with acareer .253 average in the bushes, he was making $400 a month. Ripken fils,already an MVP in '83, is in the final season of a four-year, $4 million deal.But Father did pass something along to his son. Wherever Cal Sr. managed orcoached, little Cal would soak up knowledge. "I'd go ask someone say DougDeCinces. about how to do a certain thing Then when he told me I'd go ask mydad if what he told me was right My dad was always the final authority and ifhe told me the BUY gave me correct information I knew I could go back tohim."

Cal Jr. almostcertainly inherited the desire and stamina that saw Cal Sr. through some 15major relocations, from Aberdeen, S. Dak., where he managed in 1966, toAberdeen, Md., where the Ripkens make their home, Junior is now working on amajor league record of having played 6,947 straight innings, His passion forbaseball was a source of concern for Weaver, who one day wondered aloud tocoach Cal whether shortstop Cal might be better off resting on the bench ratherthan frolicking in the outfield under a scorching Kansas City sun."Nah," Cal Sr. muttered to Weaver, "that's just what he likes todo."

The old man neverpushed his kids into the game; baseball was just the thing he did. "WhenDad first asked if I wanted to go to the ballpark with him. I went because Icould be with him alone on the drive there and back," says Cal Jr."Eventually, I began to enjoy baseball." According to Billy Ripken,"We all grew up wearing baseball uniforms. Even when I was around the bigguys, the natural thing was to put on a batboy uniform. That's what I did formy dad's team in Asheville [N.C.] back in the early'70s. That's what I alwaysassumed I would do."

Billy's bat willprobably never equal his older brothers. Billy hit a relatively punchless .268at Class AA Charlotte last summer, but he led all Southern League secondbasemen in four fielding categories. Because of an assortment ofinjuries—tendinitis in both shoulders, a bum knee and two broken ringers—Billyenjoyed his first full season in four last year. "I just want to make it uphere," the 6'1", 178-pound Billy says. "I really believe it's easyto stay if you make that first step. I've been hurt so much I never thought I'dget that one chance."

While Cal Jr. ismilk-drinking and clean-living, Billy is, well, Billy the Kid, (The middlebrother, Fred, is a motorcycle mechanic.) Billy remembers that only a few yearsago Dad fashioned a wooden paddle, complete with air holes, as a disciplinarythreat, although he never used it. Last spring, in a split squad game at FortMyers, Fla., managed by Cal Sr., the sons formed the double-play combination.When a photographer persuaded them to pose three abreast afterward, Cal Jr.reached behind his father and twisted his cap sideways But Dad immediatelyfired a glance of annoyance at Billy assuming he was the culprit.

Baltimore's newmanager will let everyone, related or not, know the score. He's prone to bluntspeech, and he has a quick temper. His language is kindly described as"salty." and he's not one to charm the press. "You talk aboutoutside interests." says Peters, "well. I'm not sure Cal has many. Hegardens some during the summer and works around the house, but nothing is asimportant to him as this game. I don't think he'll ever be anything but thelast one to leave the field."

"There aren'tmany grays in Cal's world." Vi explains. "He has softened a little, butit's still pretty much black and white." Except, that is, where hiswardrobe is concerned. Cal Sr. is partial to brown suits.

So far Vi'striumvirate has been the hit of the Orioles' camp. When The Miami Herald ran acolor picture of the trio before the first practice, someone Cut out thepicture and tacked it to the clubhouse bulletin board. Over the photograph waswritten this graffito: THE PEP BOYS—MANNY, MOE AND JACK.

That's a lotbetter than last year's team, which played like Larry. Moe and Curly, Thisseason the Ripken family should prevent that from happening to the Oriolefamily.

PHOTOBILL FRAKESThe Orioles signed World Series hero Knight to get a grip on their third base problem.PHOTORONALD C. MODRAIn the first week, Cal Sr. showed his troops a leadership ability many hadn't seen before.PHOTOBILL FRAKESKennedy, who came from the Padres in the trade for Davis, has some catching up to do.PHOTOBILL FRAKESCal Jr.'s record playing streak proves he will always be there when his father needs him.PHOTOBILL FRAKESBilly (56) will probably yield to Burleson at second, but the youngest Rip has a future.PHOTOBILL FRAKESPitcher Mike Kinnunen soaked up the new, more energetic atmosphere in Oriole camp.PHOTOBILL FRAKESThe Orioles expect Murray to come back swinging from his disappointing '86 season.