Cumberland Times-News

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October 11, 2013

Is managing big enough in the Ripken big picture?

Cal Ripken Jr. says he has the itch to return to baseball, and most of Washington seems eager to scratch it for him by crowning him manager of the Nationals.

Not only does Ripken have the endorsement of Nationals stars Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, but it would seem a large portion of Nats fans would be all in as well, seeing how for 21 of the 34 years between the ‘71 Senators and the ’05 Nats, Ripken was the marquee performer they drove to Baltimore to see play.

Whether or not the Lerners, who own the Nationals, and General Manager Mike Rizzo are all in remains to be seen. It’s far too early in the process, and with experienced managers and coaches such as former Giants, Cubs and Reds manager Dusty Baker, Diamondbacks third-base coach Matt Williams and Nats bench coach Randy Knorr said to be candidates, Ripken is likely going to have to do more than throw his hat into the ring to be seriously considered for the job. But then Ripken has never been one to avoid doing whatever was necessary to do a job correctly. You know, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice does.”

Ideally, of course, he would return to Baltimore with the Orioles in some capacity but ideals don’t always come to fruition. Currently, many Orioles fans are in a mild panic over the possibility of their hometown lad representing D.C., but unless he makes owner Peter Angelos an offer he can’t refuse, there really doesn’t appear to be a place for him with the Orioles right now, as the Angelos family has given no indication they are willing to sell, and Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter are entrenched as general manager and manager.

Should Ripken eventually become the Nationals manager, despite the unseemliness of it, he would become the second Camden Yards statue to manage the Washington club, joining Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who led the Nats in ’05 and ’06. And while there is no Davey Johnson statue at Oriole Park, he is an Orioles Hall of Famer, so there has been somewhat of a Baltimore-to-Washington pipeline established over time. But that isn’t what Rizzo is trying to accomplish, and neither are the lines as blurry when it involves a Baltimore icon such as Ripken. Robinson and Johnson, after all, have managed and played for several other teams. The only colors Ripken has known have been black and orange.

Would Ripken be a good manager where some of the all-time greats of the game have not been? It wouldn’t make a lick of sense to count him out of being a good anything. If he ever does manage, there would be no reason to doubt his success because, with the way he makes decisions, he would only agree to become part of and build upon an ideal situation, having himself experienced the perfectly disastrous situation his father finally inherited when he became manager of the woeful Orioles of ’87 and six games into ’88.

If Cal Ripken wants to get back into baseball, he will, either as manager, general manager, organization president or owner. Those are the choices because his business empire is too vast for him to spend time in the bushes and then hit fungos for much of his life the way his father did. And that’s a tribute, not a knock, to the great Cal Sr. because when he did it, driving buses in the bushes and hitting fungos was the Ripken family business.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, develops from this. Having followed Ripken Jr.’s career since the day he came up to the Orioles in August 1981, we’ve seen him accomplish the unthinkable both as a player and as a businessman. And while, from high atop the TBS broadcasting booth, he may currently have a mild case of Donny Baseball envy, having told ESPN this week, “(Dodgers manager) Donny Mattingly said there’s nothing like being a player, but managing is the closest ... ”, the personal perspective here of Cal Ripken Future has never been as manager.

Yes, Ripken has a front-row seat to the excitement of October baseball and, yes, Don Mattingly is on the ride of his life, but only four months and a Yasiel Puig from being this close to being fired as the L.A. skipper.

Rather, I have always seen Ripken as an executive, be it GM, president and CEO, or owner. Don Mattingly is a great baseball man, and it’s gratifying to see him engineer the success he is for himself and for the Dodgers. But to me, Cal Ripken is more Nolan Ryan than Don Mattingly. It just seems he would have more control over his fate if he had more control over the ranch rather than just the cattlemen.

 Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at mburke@times-news.com

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