Thanks to Rangers' revolving door, Cal is no longer only Ripken at short

June 09, 1993|By Simon Gonzalez | Simon Gonzalez,Fort Worth Star-Telegram

ARLINGTON, Texas -- From the Truth is Stranger Than Fictio department comes the saga of the Texas Rangers' shortstops.

The Rangers' regular shortstop is not the promising rookie, the ,, expensive free-agent signee or the steady veteran.

Instead, the shortstop is the second baseman.

Bill Ripken, a second baseman throughout his six-year major-league career, made his third consecutive start at shortstop last night. He was signed in the off-season as an insurance policy at second, but a series of mishaps and misfortunes have made him, at least for the moment, the regular shortstop.

Ripken, who led all major-league second basemen in fielding percentage last season, is doing a good job. He hasn't made an error at short. He has made plays in the hole, charged balls and turned double plays with aplomb.

"I feel confident with Billy there, because he's such a good infielder," Rangers manager Kevin Kennedy said. "He's a guy you can put anywhere and feel good about it."

Kennedy likes to say he does things by design, but this isn't one of them.

Manuel Lee, a free agent signed in the off-season, was supposed to be the shortstop. But he had a rib injury coming out of spring training.

That left the position to 20-year-old rookie Benji Gil. While Gil, a first-round draft choice in 1991, remains the shortstop of the future, he clearly wasn't ready to be the shortstop of the present. He hit .173 as a regular and was sent down to Double-A Tulsa.

The position belonged again to Lee, who had recovered from his rib injury. He didn't keep it, though. He suffered a thumb injury and went back on the disabled list.

Re-enter Gil, who was hitting above .300 at Tulsa. But again, he couldn't hit major-league pitching, and his average dropped to .123.

It was Jeff Huson's turn next. Huson returned from off-season shoulder surgery May 28 and took over at short. But in his seventh game back, he broke the big toe on his left foot.

Suddenly, the Rangers were out of shortstops. They didn't want to recall Gil, and they didn't think Triple-A shortstop Larry Hanlon was ready for the big leagues.

It didn't take them long to figure out what to do, though.

"Everybody knew Billy was a shortstop before, and that was the logical choice," said Perry Hill, the infield defense coach.

Ripken originally signed with the Orioles as a shortstop. He played the position his first four years in the minors, including 1985, when he played for a Daytona Beach, Fla., team that had Hill on the coaching staff.

He hadn't played the position regularly since then -- thanks primarily to his iron man brother Cal in Baltimore -- although he played it in the late innings a few times earlier this season. However, he had no trouble making the transition back to the other side of second.

"All in all, you get a ground ball, you field it, and you throw it," Ripken said.

There are a few subtle differences from second. The double-play pivot is different. The shortstop has to charge more balls. The shortstop has to have a strong arm for balls between short and third.

But stripped to its essence, Ripken's catch-it-and-throw-it theory about all there is to it.

Which is why a good-fielding second baseman is, for the moment at least, a good-fielding shortstop.

"He's got good hands, and he's got a good arm," Kennedy said. "I feel good with Billy out there."

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