The Orioles' Cal Ripken Jr. is doing a lot more than having a great season. In one year, he has gone from a struggling hitter, catching a lot of flak from critics, to being called the No. 1 player in baseball.
Cal's present exalted status tends to obscure what happened in 1990.
He began with a two-month slump. At mid-June he was batting .209, his career-low. Talk show calls and letters to the editor condemned him as a player who cared more about his consecutive game streak than winning.
I can remember being away on vacation and hearing a caller on WFAN, the all-sports talk station in New York, say, "What's the matter with those fans in Baltimore, getting down on Cal Ripken? take him if Baltimore doesn't want him."
Now, not only is Cal running away with the American League batting championship and hitting with power, as well as playing his usual Gibraltar-like game at shortstop every day. He was the greatest of the stars in the All-Star Game last week and everyone seems to agree he's going to wind up in the Hall of Fame. That's quite a swing in 13 months.
The key to Ripken's offensive turnabout -- he didn't have a thing to turn around defensively -- is so simple it's hard to believe.
After listening to too many people last year and experimenting with too many different strokes, Cal merely went back to basics, back to the swing that had made him the American League's Rookie of the Year in 1982 and its MVP in '83.
* Staging an All-Star Game, as the Orioles will in 1993 at Camden Yards, calls for the handling of a zillion details, including keeping all the players happy. In that regard, Rick Vaughn did a smart thing last week when he got back from scouting the All-Star bTC production in Toronto.
Vaughn, the O's public relations director, had Kelly Ripken, Cal's wife, come in to the office to tell him what the club can do to be sure the players' wives enjoy the All-Star experience. Who would know that better than Kelly, whose husband has opened at shortstop for the AL for the past eight years?
* Speaking of All-Star games, we're going to have one right around here next week. The Carolina League All-Star Game will be played in Frederick a week from Wednesday. Seven Frederick Keys players will be in the game. Tickets are on sale at Grove Stadium at 301-662-0013.
Long before President Bush's testimonial on the All-Star telecast last week for minor-league baseball in Frederick, I was told by a dozen people -- the first was former TV newsman Rich Hollander -- that the 5,200-seat ballpark is delightful.
I finally went up there over the weekend and discovered for myself that all those people -- including the president -- were right. The shiny, 16-month-old park is clean, the diamond looks great, general admission tickets are priced right ($4 adults, $2 for children and seniors), and so are concessions. Hot dogs are $1. If you take the kids have them bring a mitt and position themselves on the grassy slopes in foul territory in leftfield or right to try to catch a ball.
* Randy Milligan is playing very well for the Orioles and he's one of the most popular players on the club, but he obviously didn't realize how it sounded when he told Keith Mills in an interview on Channel 2 over the weekend: "This is a big year for me because next year I can go to arbitration." Please, Randy -- tell us it's a big year because you've established yourself as a team leader, or because you think you can help the club to a good second half that will provide momentum for next season. Your salary arbitration is not high on the list of things we want to hear about.
* Bruce H. Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said something at lunch at J. Patrick's the other day that no doubt will meet the approval of a lot of baseball fans. He pointed out that the Camden Yards park's downtown location will lend itself to more day games. Next year, he speculated, the Orioles probably will play three or four day games instead of one. It doesn't hurt that the one weekday game here this year drew 40,000-plus.
Another thing Hoffman threw some light on is that while the new park will have a smaller seating capacity than Memorial Stadium's 53,371, something that still puzzles many people, a sellout crowd at 33rd Street is 49,000-50,000. At Camden it's 48,000 -- and the new park has 1,000 more good seats than the old one.