Orioles ultimately are to blame for Ripken's isolation

John Steadman

June 04, 1993|By John Steadman

There's none of the prima donna in Cal Ripken Jr., who has unfortunately placed himself in a position that might cause the uninitiated to think otherwise. The general perception is he has estranged himself from the team. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If there's a fault to be found it's that his employer, the Orioles, permits Ripken to live in a hotel other than team headquarters while on road trips. It has occasioned an inquisitive reaction among other players, the press and public.

The cause of it all is that Ripken, a $6 million-plus shortstop, doesn't like fighting through the crowds congregating in lobbies, hallways and other places where they believe he might be.

Like actress Greta Garbo, definitely a prima donna, he wants to be alone. Ripken is catching criticism and is finding out, if he didn't know before, that it is indeed a front-running world. But separating himself from the Orioles to avoid the turmoil gives the impression he believes himself to be a notch better than the rest of the troops. Wrong.

The Orioles officials should have been looking out for Ripken and not allowed the granting of such a special privilege, which puts him in an untenable position. What hasn't been pointed out is such action establishes a precedent that isn't good for the organization. You win together, and lose the same way.

What happens when an Oriole has a better year than Ripken and insists he wants the same treatment? Suppose, hypothetically, 25 Orioles all want to go their individual ways. Does the team bus make stops at all the hotels in the area to gather players en route to the ballpark?

So the Orioles management, not Ripken, in what is now a cause celebre, booted the play. If the celebrity status Ripken attained is so difficult to control, from a crowd standpoint, the club should hire a security guard to see he's not annoyed.

There's no reason a private detective couldn't be stationed outside his room to keep fans from pounding on his door at all hours and to assure him an uninterrupted night of sleep.

Two men close to Ripken as Orioles public relations directors, past and present, are in total sympathy with his plight.

"Things have changed to a point that can't be compared to the past," said Bob Brown, for 35 years PR chief of the Orioles before assuming editorship of the "Orioles Gazette." "It's much different than the way it used to be. There's far more media around, autograph seekers and memorabilia collectors than even five or 10 years ago. The public has no idea what a problem it has become."

Rick Vaughn, current Orioles public relations head, feels the same way, ready to defend Ripken's desire to seek privacy while playing on the road.

"At an All-Star Game a couple years ago, my room was right near that of Ozzie Smith, the St. Louis Cards shortstop," he recalled. "All hours of the night and day, fans were outside his room. It was as if a parade was getting ready to form. When he came out, it was pleasing to see how courteous he was. He handled it extremely well but shouldn't have been subjected to such a condition. Cal will talk to bona fide reporters and returns calls when asked. I'm in defense of Ripken."

But the Orioles made a mistake in granting his request to room apart from teammates, manager, coaches, trainers and traveling secretary. Having to put up with the public goes with the territory. It's what country singers, actors and actresses deal with all the time.

Of course, they don't perform in a team concept. Golfers and tennis players also go it alone. Ripken, meanwhile, is being ripped by sportswriters and even a coach, Bobby Bonds of the San Francisco Giants, for not going to the bench while chasing the ghost of Lou Gehrig and his 2,130 consecutive game streak.

Jerry Green of the Detroit News wrote "...he could never match the performances of Gehrig, other than the consecutive game streak. Ripken is a talented ballplayer who could be a lot better. Right now, he's playing for quantity over quality. He's been overrated, overexposed and overworked."

The Orioles have tried to help Ripken but, in the end, are inadvertently doing him a personal and professional disservice.

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