First-quarter score: Cal $17.25, O's $0

JOHN EISENBERG

July 05, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

On the matter of Cal Ripken's contract and this stack of quarters sitting on my desk, as Christopher Columbus said 500 years ago, "You have to start somewhere, right?"

Seventeen dollars and 25 cents is somewhere, if only barely, but when you throw in the free acupuncture treatment, see . . .

What, I didn't mention the free acupuncture treatment? Maybe I should back up and explain.

It recently was suggested here that the people of Mer-land make up the million dollars a year separating Ripken and the Orioles in their contract talks. The plan was for every ballpark customer to put a quarter in a container by the gate, or buy an extra soda, or return the squeeze bottle giveaway to the club with the stipulation that the money go to Cal.

As I saw it, in my role as a humble middleman, this "Cal's Million" drive satisfied everyone. The Orioles wouldn't have to pay that pesky extra mil a year -- they could give Cal the $6 million they want, Cal would get the $7 million he wants, and the fans would get their Hall of Fame shortstop for the price of a phone call.

So many people supporting the idea wrote to us here in The Sun sports bunker that the mail filled up a tall drawer.

Eric Jones, a 22-year-old from Havre de Grace, sent a quarter because he "remembered when Kiko Garcia was patrolling shortstop."

Tyson Kautsch of Abingdon, Ruth Boin of Columbia, Margaret Geeson of Baltimore and D. B. Winde of Severn were among those who also sent quarters. "Here is a quarter, please play a country song," Winde wrote, somewhat obliquely.

Scott Kohlhafer of Arnold, apparently a man of means, sent a dollar with directions to "keep the change."

Anne and Bill Sieling of Annapolis also sent a dollar, paying by check. "Is there a sucker born every minute? You bet," wrote Bill, truly a "contract guerrilla."

Doris Forster of Baltimore said she wanted to pay, but had not seen containers at the ballpark. "Of course," she wrote, "I also have not seen the end of Boog's BBQ line, either."

Thelma Nuttall of Cockeysville, clearly a meticulous financial planner, sent a check for $1.25 "for all five years" of the contract.

Anita Heygster of Severn, a confirmed altruist and unchallenged Mrs. Big of the operation, sent a check for $4 with a note promising "more to come next year."

And Florence Ruff, an 81-year-old from Columbia now living at a retirement home in Harrisonburg, Va., sent a dollar with specific instructions.

"If Cal doesn't get it, use it to shave off your beard," she wrote to yours truly. "You would look younger."

The humble middleman declines to comment. (And while we're on the subject, in the unlikely event that the drive does stall, all funds will be forwarded to Cal's literacy center.)

But you should think positively. Remember, everyone laughed at Mozart in the beginning, too. And remember, furthermore, no one has been asked to throw money yet and already there is $17.25 sitting on my desk. No, it isn't enough, but it's a start, perhaps even enough to pay for the white-out the lawyers use while revising the contract.

All that's needed is a million: baseball pocket change. And the "contract guerrillas" are a resourceful lot. John Zsittnik of Hanover suggested that Maryland's milk producers chip in, raising the idea of corporate sponsorship. Barbara Chesser of Catonsville said she would drink an extra beer instead of an extra soda. This provides a slight increase in funds. Way to party smart, Catonsville.

Then there is Jed Fischman of Baltimore, an acupuncturist, who volunteered not only to pay two quarters, but also to give Cal a free acupuncture treatment "worth $50."

This opens up a potentially bountiful new area of payment: goods and services. Yes! It would be like giving Cal retirement gifts, only he wouldn't retire. It's not money, but could Cal possibly turn down loafers, tree stump removal, tax preparation, iced-tea glasses, jewelry appraisal, front-end alignment, yoga therapy, boat repair, symphony tickets and much more -- free?

I will see what my financial advisers think, and, in the meantime, keep it up and maybe the Orioles and Cal will see there is enough money out there to feel confident about agreeing on a deal.

Oh, one last thing: Many wrote that they were not willing to give back the squeeze bottle giveaway. Not to meddle, but that's just not the right attitude. This means you, Ron Bounds of Columbia, Shirley Heintz of Harwood, Cecilia O'Briant of Baltimore and Al Friedman of Gambrills, among many others. You had better give it up. Every penny is valuable. Your squeeze bottle could be the one that saves Cal.

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