Save your change, $6 million is enough for Birds to pay Ripken

John Steadman

July 06, 1992|By John Steadman

Every night, with Ernest Tubb's immortal "Walking The Floor Over You" creating a mood, a lowly reporter paces the room, wringing hands and losing sleep over the Baltimore Orioles' chances of signing Cal Ripken Jr., the immensely gifted shortstop and finest all-around player in the team's history.

The Orioles, most assuredly, should find a way to keep him in their employ until his career is over. But no reason for panic. If it doesn't happen, and Ripken exits, the franchise will not terminate. You can have it on the best of authority baseball isn't ++ expected to die nor will it foretell the end of the world.

An offer of $6 million is on the table so Ripken can hardly claim managerial abuse. After all, $6 million is more than twice what the Orioles' franchise cost in 1954, including an entire major-league roster, a complete farm system and uniforms for all the players. Admittedly, these are different financial times.

Attention must be paid to the present, not the past, but $6 million is hardly pin money. Most of the American workforce carries a lunch bucket, punches a time clock and admires Cal Ripken Jr. Just because the Orioles are making money doesn't mean they have to give it to the players or even to a player. After all, professional baseball is a business, regardless of the 9-to-0 shutout the Supreme Court pitched in 1922 in deciding it was a sport.

Being portrayed as the most despicable skinflint since Ebenezer Scrooge -- or Branch Rickey -- seems unfair to Eli Jacobs, the Orioles' owner. A matter of perception. Never has a man been embarrassed to such a degree after extending a $6 million bid to retain a single player. Does more money, even at these prices, increase individual happiness or improve performance?

Jacobs is willing to pay Ripken Jr. $6 million and the reaction makes it sound as if its $6. Some fans are so irate they are sending contributions to John Eisenberg, columnist of The Sun, with the hope it will help make up the million that stands between Ripken and the Orioles. Will the next move be to pass the hat, as they use to happen in city parks and, instead of saying, "benefit of both teams," earmark the collection for Ripken?

That's the kind of passion existing among the public. Dan Rodricks of The Evening Sun expressed the opinion the club should open its vault and reward Ripken with whatever it is his heart desires. Such suggestions are applauded in the grandstand but, again, $6 million, even in these days of sky's-the-limit salary scales, isn't exactly an insult.

Athletes like to compare themselves with show biz performers but it's a bad analogy. Ripken isn't a one-man team, although sometimes he plays like it. Contrast his performance to Madonna, who allegedly makes $69 million, and Michael Jackson, who reportedly is paid $63 million. But they are single acts, using almost any kind of a backup. The president of the United States earns $200,000, and some of his critics claim he's overpaid.

Ripken needs eight other players around him or he can't take the field. Case closed. The Orioles have been fair to Ripken. The ticket-buying fans are allowing runaway emotions to rule their minds when they assess the situation. It's way out of perspective.

Right now, because the reaction is so pro-Ripken, the Orioles' negotiators find their backs to the wall. They are taking a public relations beating, even when $6 million seems to be a momentous proposal to keep Ripken in Baltimore. This, on the face of it, is preposterous but logic has never been a prerequisite of a partisan baseball fan.

The Orioles, no doubt, will work some kind of a tie-in with merchandizing Ripken's name and perpetuating all types of residual benefits to keep him here. But, if he takes a reluctant walk to New York or Los Angeles it would mean more glitz and even opportunities for his wife to pursue a modeling or movie career. And it would conceivably enhance his playing value.

Should he go elsewhere and is in a uniform other than the Orioles when he surpasses Lou Gehrig's longevity record of 2,130 consecutive games, it will be a serious psychological blow to dear old Baltimore. What it means, bottom line, is Ripken without evening trying has the Orioles' ownership with its back against the wall.

He's the one dictating the terms, not management. The bat is in his hands. Teammates, especially, want to see him score a record haul because it upgrades their importance, too. It sets them up for improving their own contracts as never before. Ripken will then become a pleasing point of reference for all other Orioles -- present and future.

Baltimore baseball will thereby escalate to an economic level beyond comprehension. No longer will it be a low-budgeted team and, of course, increased prices, per usual, will be passed on to the ticket-buying consumer, which, unfortunately, doesn't guarantee winning.

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