Ripken's MVP year isn't golden ... yet

November 20, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

It's not quite over yet.

There's still a piece of gold to fill in Cal Ripken's jewel of a season.

Next week it will be announced that the Orioles' perennial All-Star shortstop has won his first Gold Glove award, which will put an overdue finishing touch on one of the best all-around years in baseball history.

In what has to be considered a mild upset, Ripken yesterday won his second Most Valuable Player award.

There is no comparison between the two awards -- a lot of guys have won Gold Gloves without getting an MVP vote, but only a few have won both. Joining that elite group will give Ripken a special stamp of acceptance.

Last night, in a unique and spectacular setting under the glaring lights of the new and almost completed Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Ripken reflected on the award he had just won -- and the one he will get next Tuesday.

"I'd be very happy to win it if only because in my head I know I'm a good shortstop," Ripken said when asked about the Gold Glove. "It would be an acknowledgment. I don't need that, but it would be nice. I'd like very much to win it."

In what has been a magical year, it seems only natural that this would be the season when managers and coaches, who vote for the Gold Glove awards, recognize the defensive excellence they have taken for granted the last 10 years.

What makes the Gold Glove so significant this year is the fact that Ripken's defense (and let's not forget durability) is undoubtedly the reason he became only the ninth American League player (19th overall) to win a second MVP award since the Baseball Writers Association of America initiated the honor 61 years ago. His banner offensive year, a .323 average, 34 home runs and 114 runs batted in, would have been lost in the ballot box because of a team that won only 67 games -- except for the fact that he plays shortstop like he invented the position.

Jimmy Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Hal Newhouser, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Robin Yount are the American Leaguers who have repeated as MVP. Stan Musial, Mike Schmidt, Carl Hubbell, Ernie Banks, Hank Greenberg, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Willie Mays and Dale Murphy did it in the National League and Frank Robinson won in both leagues.

Ripken listened to the list of names and was asked what it meant to him to be included. "It makes me feel successful in that aspect," he said after a few seconds. "But I don't deserve to be in that company."

Indeed, Ripken appears to have the ability to put good and bad things out of his mind, yet remain aware of what's going on around him. "Some people thought I should have been a candidate for 'Comeback of the Year,' " he said, "but I didn't perceive those years as bad."

Ripken set such high standards early in his career (he was Rookie of the Year and MVP in back-to-back seasons) that what became "average" performances fell below lofty expectations. Yet, he is one of only eight players in history to hit 20 or more home runs in his first 10 years, has averaged 94 runs batted in, been a model of consistency while setting defensive records at shortstop, and quietly maintained his stature as one of the best players in the game.

Of the 19 players who repeated as MVP, only Willie Mays (1954 and 1965) went longer between awards than Ripken, who won his first in 1983. And he, at 31, is still in the prime of a glorious career.

Some day Ripken will understand the company he's keeping, but for now he'd rather not think about it. "I don't consider myself one of baseball's greatest players," he said. "Maybe that's one of my ways of keeping things in perspective.

'. . . "I've very excited. I didn't think I'd be as excited as I am. I tried to downplay it . . . ' Ripken admitted that, although this award didn't have the same meaning as the first, because that came in a World Series championship season, he probably can appreciate it more. "The first time, I was young and everything was so exciting. It happened so fast I don't know if I could fully appreciate it," he said.

"Now I've experienced some low points, I've had some ups and downs. This time around it's very special. I appreciate it very much."

But don't expect him to rest on his laurels. "I don't like to look back to the past," he said. "Right now I'm looking ahead to next year."

Then he walked out onto the new turf in the new park for the benefit of photographers. He marked his spot at shortstop, went through a few motions and surveyed the scene as he walked back to the stands.

"This place looks fabulous," said Ripken. Was he thinking about what club president Larry Lucchino said in remarks opening the news conference? "We hope you'll spend your entire career with the Orioles," Lucchino said by way of introducing the American League's MVP.

When do negotiations start?

"We're smart enough not to start them tonight," quipped Lucchino. "This is a night for celebration."

"We're ready when they are," said Ron Shapiro, who represents Ripken in negotiations.

The coming season is the last one on Ripken's existing contract. By today's standards he was grossly underpaid last year.

The events of yesterday mean he will be even more underpaid (about $2.5 million) this year. They can call Oriole Park at Camden Yards anything they want, but if Cal Ripken doesn't finish his career there it won't matter.

Let the celebration continue -- and the negotiations begin.

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