B. Ripken, Milligan sign up for little R & R Rangers' injuries open door for 2nd baseman

February 02, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

There's a good chance Bill Ripken will be in the starting lineup at Camden Yards on Opening Day this year after all.

He just won't be in the only uniform he's ever worn in the major leagues.

The former Orioles second baseman agreed to a minor-league contract yesterday with the Texas Rangers -- with an invitation to spring training and the assurance he'll have a chance to win a regular job. If he's successful, Ripken's first appearance with his new team could be against his former teammates when the Rangers and Orioles open the 1993 season on April 5.

"I can go to spring training and then come home for a few days -- just like before," said Ripken, 28. If he makes the major-league roster, Ripken's contract calls for a salary of $200,000, part of which is guaranteed, plus incentives.

That is a free fall from the $715,000 he made last year, but that ended up being only a minor consideration.

"This is a real good opportunity for him," said Michael Maas, an associate of Ron Shapiro, who helped shape the Texas deal. "It may be this will be the best chance he's had to be an everyday second baseman."

Although he'd generally been considered the Orioles' regular at the position, Ripken agreed with Maas.

"That could be pretty accurate," he said. "For the 5 1/2 years I've been here, it always seemed like somebody else was going to play."

Ripken had been silent since the Orioles released him in December.

"Am I bitter?" he said, repeating the question. "Yes, I guess you could say at times I can go through periods of being bitter. I don't look back at last year and consider second base a problem," said Ripken. "I don't think we didn't win the pennant because of second base.

"Getting released doesn't feel good -- I can tell you that firsthand. But after I got over it -- and it took a few days -- I started to think more about what's going to happen next.

"After it set in, I really haven't given them [the Orioles] any thought. Obviously, it wasn't my choice. It was their choice to make.

"But you start to think that maybe you might be better off someplace else, and I'm pretty excited about the opportunity with the Rangers," said Ripken.

It took a series of injuries, one of them a freak jogging accident, to present Ripken with this opportunity. He had been talking to the Rangers and Oakland Athletics, and was undecided until Jeff Frye injured his knee while jogging a week ago today. The Rangers, who already had lost Jeff Huson until midseason, were counting on Frye to play second base and Julio Franco to serve as the designated hitter.

"It's unfortunate what happened to Frye," said Ripken. "I had gotten the feeling that he was definitely going to make their club, and now it looks like I'm going to be substituting for him.

"I talked to [general manager] Tom Grieve and [manager] Kevin Kennedy, and they seemed to make it clear that the opportunity was definitely there. It seemed they had somewhat of a sense of urgency to get somebody. I'm pretty excited about the possibility."

Before making a final decision, Ripken talked to his brother, Cal, and his father, Cal Sr., who was dropped as third-base coach by the Orioles shortly after last season.

"It wasn't a long discussion with either," said Bill. "The decision was mine, and it was more just to get a nod of the head yes. Both were in agreement that this was the best opportunity.

"You have to look at the number [of second basemen], and go where there is the best opportunity," said Ripken. "I don't think there's any doubt that the best opportunity for me in terms of a career move was to give Texas a try. I think things could work out where I could be No. 1 there, whereas it wasn't as clear-cut in Oakland.

"I'm excited with the opportunity to go someplace and have a chance to play a lot. The situation down there is very appealing."

A .244 lifetime hitter, Ripken batted .230 with 36 RBI for the Orioles last year. His fielding percentage of .993 was the best among major-league second basemen and third-best in Orioles history behind Jerry Adair (.994 in 1964) and Bobby Grich, who holds the major-league record of .995, set in 1973.

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