Suddenly, Cal Jr. is only Ripken left Bill joins dad Cal Sr. out of Orioles picture

December 12, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The Ripkens. They had become as Baltimore as the Bromo tower and as visible as that big old clock that smiles down from it. They were the Orioles when the Orioles weren't much else, but they didn't figure to stay together forever.

The club tried to reassign third-base coach Cal Ripken Sr. in October, but he chose to resign instead. The team announced yesterday that it had waived second baseman Bill Ripken for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release to make room in the lineup for free-agent second baseman Harold Reynolds.

And then there was one.

Shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. remains to carry the family name further into Orioles history, but it will never be quite the same in the Orioles clubhouse. Cal Sr. had become a fixture in one corner. Billy in another. Cal Jr. was in the center, of course, and he will remain there through the next five seasons.

The Orioles signed him to a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension on his last birthday (Aug. 24), all but guaranteeing that he will be wearing the club's colors through out his run at Lou Gehrig's record for most consecutive games played. But there are those who predicted that the contract would impact more than one Oriole's future in Baltimore.

There had been speculation for the past two years that Bill Ripken and his father would not be long for the organization once Cal Jr. was locked into a long-term deal. Orioles officials insist that there is no connection -- and there is no evidence to the contrary -- but the timing of the Ripken breakup remains curious. Less than four months after the contract was finalized, both father and brother are looking for work.

"People will surmise whatever they choose to," said general manager Roland Hemond, explaining the decision to replace Bill Ripken with Reynolds, "but I've said many times that one of my goals is to add speed to this ballclub.

"In regards to the Ripken family, I continue to have the utmost respect for the contribution they have made throughout the years."

The Orioles made history when they hired Cal Ripken Sr. to manage a 1987 team that would include two of his sons.

He was born in Aberdeen and had worked in the organization since sometime before the Bronze Age. He had brought up his boys in the Oriole way to play baseball and had watched Cal Jr. become American League Rookie of the Year in his first season and AL Most Valuable Player in his second.

Bill Ripken did not have the same kind of physical ability as his older brother, but he came to the major leagues in 1987 and quickly endeared himself to Orioles fans with his hard-nosed style of play and his sometimes off-the-wall personality.

Cal Jr. and Bill were the fifth set of brothers to form a shortstop/second base combination in major-league history, and they stayed together longer than any other. If there was room early on to wonder whether the youngest Ripken had taken undo advantage of his family ties to reach the major leagues, he proved to be a slick-fielding second baseman who could turn the double play with the best of them.

The filial relationship had nothing to do with it in 1990 when Cal and Bill combined to make the fewest errors (11) of any shortstop/second base combination in major-league history. The solid middle infield alignment also helped the Orioles set a major-league record with a string of four seasons in which the club committed fewer than 100 errors.

Bill Ripken finally emerged from his brother's shadow in 1990, when he led the club with a .291 batting average and Cal Jr. slipped to what then was the worst offensive performance of his career.

It was not always easy to be the Orioles first family. When Cal Ripken Sr. was fired as manager six games into the 1988 season, it hit on the home front the hardest.

When Cal Jr. insisted on only going to his father for hitting advice during a lengthy slump in 1990, there were whispers in the clubhouse about the possible negative impact of the Ripken connection. But to their credit, they always acted as individuals.

Sometimes, it was difficult to believe that they were related. Cal Sr. can be crusty and irascible. Cal Ripken Jr. long ago cultivated a quiet, stately image. Bill seemed to go out of his way to be just the opposite, never passing up a chance to make a joke or playfully shout down a teammate.

But the one thing they had in common, besides their heritage, was an intense desire to compete. From now on, they will have to do that as individuals.

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