Proven Ripken deserves as much as newcomer

John Steadman

February 13, 1991|By John Steadman

It's an inequity and an inconsistency -- likewise an incongruity -- that can only be alleviated by tearing up Cal Ripken Jr.'s existing contract and issue him a new one calling for $3,275,000.

That's what Glenn Davis, who has yet to swing a bat or throw a ball for the Baltimore Orioles, will be making as a result of the unprecedented benevolence bestowed upon him by management. Yes, $3,275,000 and they don't even know how he's going to look in a uniform.

But no quarrel with Davis. He merely accepted what the Orioles offered as a negotiating ploy while less than 48 hours away from taking his claim to arbitration. But should Davis surpass Ripken before they even see him play?

Baseball salaries are out of control. They have no relationship to the reality of performance and the Orioles were caught in a trap. If they could only consider production and longevity, Ripken would still be No. 1 as a reward for his achievements as an Oriole.

Ripken, by any standard of study and evaluation, deserves to be paid the same record amount, considering his contributions and devotion to a team he could have left via the free-agent exit but decided to remain at home. Such loyalty should not be minimized; only recognized, appreciated and fully compensated.

This is not to be misconstrued as criticism of Davis, a gentleman personified (as is Cal) and an asset to any team he represents. Injured last year, Davis played 93 games, batted .251, hit 22 homers and drove in 64.

Ripken, off to a slow start, hit one point less, .250; had one fewer home run, 21, but put up 84 RBIs. And, of course, he competed in all 161 games the Orioles played.

Do you pay Davis all that money and leave Ripken at the same level? This coming season, Cal will make $2,466,667, which is certainly not an insult by any fiscal stipulation. The Orioles might have made a mistake in reacting to the arbitration case Davis was to have presented on Thursday.

He was asking $3,650,000. Had he been awarded the amount, the Orioles would have been left with no alternative but to pay it. Then the onus would have been on the arbitrator, not the club's willingness to spend.

Certainly, Ripken has done far more for the Orioles than Davis, considering he has been a starting shortstop for nine years, has played in 1,411 consecutive games, set major-league records for most games at one position and for defensive competency, plus the only shortstop in history to post 20 or more home runs eight straight years.

Cal's double-play partner, brother Bill, led the team in batting last year, .291, and was boosted to a salary of $700,000 for 1991. But, Davis is going to be making more than both Ripkens combined, which becomes another bizarre fact of financial life. These are indeed the strangest of times.

Cal, playing the most important position on the team, isn't going to complain because Davis is making more in his first year as an Oriole than he's earning after nine seasons. But he has feelings. And also an understanding of how the negotiating game is played.

All the Orioles will benefit at the negotiating table from the acquisition of Davis and his huge contract. Davis has moved them up because a new high has been established.

For Orioles' management, it puts the quietus on the detractors who spoke and wrote of them as an organization that wouldn't give top dollar for services rendered. But, in Davis' case, specifically, they are paying for potential and are confident he'll make a sizable return on the investment.

Meanwhile, Cal Ripken Jr., who has been their most valuable employee, and never threatened to test the free-agent market, is inadvertently relegated to second place at the payoff window.

It's called rub of the green.

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