The Baltimore Orioles are playing a dangerous game with MVP shortstop Cal Ripken, and the stakes are getting higher.
It is no secret that Ripken is about to enter the final year of his contract. It is no secret that he was the Most Valuable Player in the American League last year and is the most valuable person in the Orioles organization.
It also is no secret that the price of doing business in baseball has gone through the roof, which is why no one laughs when you hear talk that Ripken will become the game's first $7 million man.
There really is only one secret, and it is being kept by the Orioles, who are at a loss to explain why they have let the Ripken contract situation back up almost to spring training. Do they really think the price is going to come down before they have to ante up?
No one is saying. The Ripken negotiations have become a very sensitive issue in the Orioles front office, and why not? The Cincinnati Reds just poisoned the well by handing shortstop Barry Larkin a five-year, $25.6 million deal. If Larkin is worth more than $5.1 million per year to a small-market team, what price Ripken?
That's the $7 million question, and there is no easy answer. Ripken would figure to command $30 million-35 million over five years if he were to come to terms tomorrow, but there is growing speculation -- or could it be wishful thinking -- that the salary bubble is about to burst. (Argument against: Management has been saying that for years. Argument for: No one thought California real estate would go down, either).
If the salaries are topping out, the Orioles have little to lose by waiting as long as possible to re-sign Ripken, provided they do eventually re-sign him. But it would be one heck of a gamble.
The next free-agent filing period is nine months away, but spring training begins in 19 days. Ripken would not have to step out of character to suspend negotiations while the season is in progress. He wants badly to deliver a fitting encore to his outstanding 1991 performance, so he likely would not want his contract situation to become a major preoccupation during the season.
Ripken has delivered no public ultimatums -- he's not the type -- but there will come a point when it will be entirely to his advantage to wait and see what the market will bear. That's why the next few weeks are critical, both to the future of the team and to the public perception of the people who own it.
Manhattan transfer: Ripken will receive his American League MVP trophy tonight at the 69th annual Baseball Writers Association of America awards dinner in New York. Ripken will be joined at the banquet by American League Rookie of the Year Chuck Knoblauch and National League Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine. Longtime broadcasters Ernie Harwell and Mel Allen and Hall of Famer Duke Snider also will be honored.
The possible dream: Orioles first baseman Glenn Davis will open his Carpenter's Way Ranch for abused and abandoned children Thursday.
Davis has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars for the construction of the 5,200-square-foot facility, located on 20 acres of rural farmland in Columbus, Ga. The ranch will house eight to 10 boys (ages 6 to 15) and will be staffed by full-time house parents.
Maybe they should call it Fred Flintstone Stadium: The Milwaukee Brewers were hoping to break ground for a stadium later this year, but the project literally is on the rocks.
Geologists say that a rock formation at the stadium site dates back 400 million years and should be preserved, so the Brewers will have to wait to see if the area is accorded landmark status. In the meantime, the club can't take anything for granite.
It can now be told: The California Angels have taken some criticism for a series of moves that left them with Von Hayes and Hubie Brooks and left them without first baseman Wally Joyner, but the trade for Hayes apparently was not an attempt to undercut Joyner's bargaining position.
The Angels were talking about a Hayes deal long before the Joyner situation turned ugly. They were prepared to trade shortstop Dick Schofield to the Philadelphia Phillies for Hayes soon after the end of last season, but Schofield turned down a three-year, $6 million deal to test the free-agent market.
The club intended to acquire Hayes, re-sign Joyner and sign free agent Bobby Bonilla, but the best-laid plans of senior vice president Whitey Herzog went astray in a big way. Joyner signed with the Kansas City Royals, Bonilla signed with the New York Mets, pitcher Kirk McCaskill left to sign with the Chicago White Sox, and the Angels are worse off than ever before.
If things weren't bad enough already, first baseman Lee Stevens has spent the past month with his right wrist in a cast, recovering from a September sprain that has been slow to heal. His uncertain condition may force the club to consider signing free-agent first baseman Alvin Davis, though the Angels would rather talk the Phillies out of Ricky Jordan instead.