Succeeding Cal Sr. isn't toughest road Ferraro has traveled

USED TO THIRD DEGREE

February 24, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Mike Ferraro, the new man in the third-base coaching box, knows he's in an unusual and awkward position with the Orioles.

Replacing the father of the team's All-Star shortstop and recently departed second baseman isn't easy.

But if there is one thing Ferraro has learned during his 32 years in baseball, it's how to deal with situations far more difficult than his present assignment: succeeding Cal Ripken Sr.

It was 10 years ago, at age 38, that Ferraro began what many thought would be a bright career as a major-league manager. He'd been hired by the Cleveland Indians after surviving four tumultuous years as a New York Yankees coach.

He admits now that he wasn't ready to manage in the big leagues then -- especially under the circumstances. Shortly after he got the Cleveland job, Ferraro developed a kidney problem.

"They told me it could be a hole, a stone, a cold -- or a tumor in the kidney," Ferraro recalled yesterday after the Orioles' fifth day of spring training. "I didn't tell anybody about it, and in January I went on the Indians' winter press tour.

"We had 19 engagements in 10 days -- and after the fifth day I passed a blood clot. It scared me, but I stayed three more days before asking if I could go home early."

Ferraro's condition subsequently was diagnosed as a malignant tumor, and on Feb. 9 his left kidney was removed. Ten days later, Ferraro was in Tucson, Ariz., directing the Indians' camp from a golf cart.

Looking back now, he knows he made a mistake. "One of the things I learned was that when you have a major organ removed, it takes a lot out of you -- it takes the body a long time to adjust," said Ferraro. "But I was so excited and anxious to get going that I felt I had to be there."

The experience proved to be grueling -- and short. "I never really recuperated. It wasn't fair to me and it wasn't fair to the players," Ferraro said. "When it was over, I remember saying to myself 'I don't care if I never do this again.' "

Ferraro had a 40-60 record when he was fired July 31. A little more than three months later, his father died after a long bout with cancer. "I don't think he ever realized I was managing in the big leagues," said Ferraro.

They were 12 terrible months for Ferraro, but two good things did happen. He recovered from the effects of the operation -- and he went back to work for Dick Howser.

"Dick called me the day after I got fired and told me not to worry about anything -- that I could come to work with him in Kansas City the next year," said Ferraro. "I had only spent that one year with him [with the Yankees in 1980], but the second time I was with him I was more aware of managing and Dick did a good job preparing me."

But not for what would happen next. After leading the Royals to their only World Series championship in 1985, Howser developed a brain tumor. Ferraro took over as interim manager after the All-Star break and compiled a 36-38 record. He was fired at the end of the year.

It could be said that Ferraro's big-league career has been unspectacular, but nobody could suggest it has been uneventful.

In New York, he was publicly chastised by George Steinbrenner after the second game of the 1980 American League Championship Series, when Willie Randolph was thrown out at home on a bizarre relay play.

"To this day people still recall that," said Ferraro. "It was very, very embarrassing for me and my family."

Despite the furor, Ferraro remained on the Yankees coaching staff for two more years.

After Ferraro was let go by the Royals in 1986, the Yankees rehired him. He stayed with New York through the 1991 season, when he was bench coach. Last year he was a roving instructor for the San Francisco Giants, then asked for permission to look around after turning down a Triple-A managing job.

"When the Orioles first called me, I didn't know this job was coming open," said Ferraro. "[General manager] Roland Hemond DTC called and asked if I would be interested in joining the organization.

"I told him I would, but I expected he wanted me to do special assignment scouting."

It wasn't until manager Johnny Oates set up an interview that Ferraro found out Cal Ripken Sr. had not been asked to return for this season. "When you've been in this game as long as I have, you don't like to take anybody's job," said Ferraro.

"But I have to approach it like I have a job to do. It was either me or somebody else."

Oates, who played for the 1980 Yankees, also was a teammate of Ferraro's at Triple-A Rochester in the early 1970s. He said that the Howser influence was a factor in his decision to hire Ferraro.

"You're always comfortable with people you know," said Oates, who admits he was greatly influenced by Howser. "The fact that he worked for Dick twice is good enough for me."

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