Rangers bring in trio with old Orioles ties Ripken, Lefferts, Kennedy return

April 05, 1993|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

The Ex-Orioles Factor adds a distinct flavor to Opening Day in Baltimore.

Bill Ripken, a fixture here for 5 1/2 years, will be roaming his familiar second-base ground -- in the uniform of the Texas Rangers.

Craig Lefferts, acquired by the Orioles on Aug. 31 for the pennant drive, will be starting an opener for the first time in his professional career -- for the visiting team.

And Kevin Kennedy, a one-time Orioles draft choice and minor-leaguer, will be making his major-league managerial debut from the opposing dugout.

Of the three stories, the return of Ripken is the most intriguing.

Separated from brother Cal and his hometown team for the first time in the majors, Ripken, 28, is starting what he labels "new chapters" in his career.

He made the Rangers as a non-roster player after the Orioles released him last December, leaving only Cal in the Baltimore organization.

What he has done for the Rangers, traditionally poor on defense, comes as no surprise to Orioles fans.

"I can't even count the number of diving stops Billy has made to prevent base hits and runs," said Kennedy. "From what I understand, Texas hasn't seen much of that kind of play."

But it wasn't his glove that caused the Orioles to jettison Ripken in favor of Harold Reynolds, who will start in his old spot.

"It took a player of Harold Reynolds' caliber to move him," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "Billy is as good defensively as you will find, but he had only one good offensive year [.291 average in 1990].

"We felt we had to upgrade our speed at second base. Harold hits from both sides, so you don't have to pinch hit for him, runs better so you don't have to pinch run for him and has three Gold Gloves.

"And I couldn't see Billy being happy as a utility infielder or backup."

Ripken declined to be drawn into a controversy about the parting yesterday, but implied that he was not happy to learn of the release from a local telecaster "three hours before they [Orioles] called me. I wasn't home when they called."

He said Texas' position shows "somebody else wanted me. There was interest. I guess it was time to move on. As far as I'm concerned, the way it was is a closed chapter."

Ripken pointed out that he and Mark McLemore had 63 RBI from the No. 9 slot last season, so he was "bewildered and confused" when the decision to release him came. "But I don't know that I was bitter. It usually depended on what mood I was in.

"I don't think the Orioles did what they did just to do something. I think they honestly felt it would make them a better ballclub."

He appears to have made a solid impact on the new Rangers field management. With Manuel Lee injured, he will fill in occasionally at shortstop, a position he has never played in the majors.

Lefferts is another story, a short-lived Oriole who went 1-3 with a 4.09 ERA in five starts while pitching in some tough luck.

He said he "thought I left on good terms" as a free agent. "They [Orioles] made me an offer and wanted to keep me."

Lefferts, 35, is getting the Opening Day honor because Kevin Brown, the Rangers' ace, is starting the year on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his ribs. The left-hander's 3-0 record and 2.08 ERA during spring training didn't hurt, either.

He said his first appearance against the Orioles is "really no big thing. I was going to have to pitch against them sooner or later."

Kennedy played for Orioles assistant general manager Frank Robinson at Triple-A Rochester in 1978 and was in the system for almost sixyears before being released.

"Frank was one of the first to tell me I should be a manager," said Kennedy. "I was 24 and my managers kept saying I should stay in the game. I think they were trying to tell me something [about his playing career].

"I enjoyed Frank's managing style and had a good relationship with him. I have a good rapport with him. He sent me a nice note when I got the job."

Kennedy, at 38 the second-youngest major-league manager, had been managing in the Los Angeles Dodgers system for eight seasons. He is a stickler for fundamentals and had the Rangers working overtime yesterday on cutoff plays.

He played half a season with Cal Ripken at Rochester before the Orioles released him.

Not only will Kennedy make his major-league managerial debut against his original organization, but he'll be doing it with President Clinton in attendance.

"Coming back to where I didn't get a chance to play is irony," he said. "But it's going to be fun. Maybe I'll get a chance to meet two presidents this spring [Clinton and former President Bush, whose son is the general partner of the Rangers].

"But once the game starts, it doesn't matter whether I'm here or in Bakersfield. The big difference up here is I have quite a big hotel suite."

Another returnee

A fourth ex-Oriole, Butch Davis, is back as a Ranger at age 34 with his fifth major-league team. He has played in 100 big-league games, 18 as an Oriole in 1988 and 1989.

"I had a cup of coffee here," said Davis. "But I have fond memories."

His last stop was one at-bat with the Dodgers two seasons ago.

"There I only got a sip, half a cup of coffee at the most," he said.

Remember me

@4 Pitchers facing one of their former teams today:

Pitcher.. .. .. .. ... Team.. .. .. .. .. .. Opp.

Craig Lefferts.. .. .. Texas .. .. .. .. .. ..Orioles

Mike Moore .. .. .. .. Detroit.. .. .. .. .. Oakland

Charlie Hough .. .. .. Florida .. .. .. .. .. L.A.

Greg Maddux .. .. .. .. Atlanta.. .. .. .. .. Chicago

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