DETROIT -- Cal Ripken has managed to maintain his distance from contractual controversy that surrounds him. He said from the beginning that he would not allow his negotiations to become a distraction, and he has succeeded.
Take it from someone who didn't.
Catcher Mickey Tettleton played out the option year of his Orioles contract under the same kind of uncertainty in 1990, and says now that he let it affect his performance on the field.
"Yeah, I think I thought about it too much," he said. "It was the first time I'd been in that kind of situation. I didn't think about it when I was actually on the field, but I think it carried over."
The result was something less than a fitting encore to the 26-home run performance that made him a crowd favorite and one of the major players in the Orioles' "Why Not?" season of 1989. He batted .223 with just 15 homers the following year and had to settle for a one-year contract worth $1.6 million, then was traded to the Detroit Tigers in the deal that brought Jeff Robinson to Baltimore for one forgettable season.
Tettleton said at the time that it was not a distraction. He left the negotiations to agent Tony Attanasio, who tried to convince the Orioles to agree to a three-year contract worth about $6 million. They never did, but Tettleton would end up signing a three-year, $8.5 million deal with the Tigers last October.
Ripken's situation contains some parallels, but the magnitude of the controversy is so much greater that it is difficult to conceive of him keeping it entirely out of mind. Yet Tettleton is convinced Ripken will be able to play up to his capabilities regardless of what is going on off the field.
"I've just read a couple of things about it," he said, "but I know he's trying to concentrate on the game. Knowing the way he is, I believe that wholeheartedly. He doesn't let things off the field distract him. When it's all over with, he'll be where he is supposed to be."
Tettleton was talking about Ripken's numbers, but he raised an interesting question when he referred to them in a locational context. Does Tettleton believe Ripken could end up somewhere else next year?
"Not him," Tettleton said. "He's part of history there. He's right there with Brooks and Frank and people like that. When you think of the Orioles, you think of Cal Ripken Jr."
Tigers first baseman Cecil Fielder has to know what Ripken is going through, though he does not have the same kind of emotional link to Detroit. He has been trying to negotiate a long-term contract for a couple of years now, but it does not appear to have affected his performance.
He had an MVP-caliber season last year in spite of an uncertain contract status. He thinks that Ripken will be able to do the same.
"Cal's been through it before," Fielder said. "Once the season starts, you don't have time to think about that. You've got to go out and have another good year."
Fielder agrees that the situation will work out in Baltimore. From the outside looking in, it appears that the marriage of Ripken and the Orioles has been too strong for too long to turn sour now.
"He's been with the Baltimore Orioles his whole career," Fielder said. "He wants to stay with the Orioles. The Orioles want him to stay with them. Salaries are going upward and he's a player who's going to deserve a lot of money. It's a situation you hope gets taken care of. . . . You don't want to let one of those situations go to the limit."