Ripken sold on shopping spree, but not on title

February 25, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

SARASOTA, FLA — SARASOTA, Fla. -- Like most everyone else in Baltimore, Cal Ripken was curious about what off-season moves, if any, the Orioles would make this winter.

The perennial All-Star shortstop says there were times when he found it difficult to separate his feelings as a fan from those as a player.

"There was a lot of action, a lot going on," he said yesterday after the Orioles' first full-squad spring training workout. "There was a lot to get excited about.

"For a team that was already a contender, to add players like [Rafael] Palmeiro, [Chris] Sabo, [Sid] Fernandez and [Lee] Smith, it has to make you better. It gives you the idea there might be a chance to take the next step," said Ripken.

"I've been a fan of the Orioles forever, and a lot of times I look at things from the perception of a fan. You can't help but get caught up in it.

"As a fan, my expectation level is very high," said Ripken. "As a professional, I'm a little more cautious because there is no secret formula. There are no givens.

"Too much expectation sometimes puts added pressure on a team and individuals. You've got to stay focused. In order to win, you've got to have talent and you have to execute. If you do that, you'll be there in the end."

Without making any predictions, Ripken left little doubt he thinks the Orioles are capable of taking their game to the next level. What remains to be determined is if that level is high enough to dislodge the two-time World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays from the top of the American League East.

"I think there's been a general feeling the last couple of years, with the development of Brady [Anderson] and Devo [Mike Devereaux] that we were starting to get a good blend of experience and talent. You can see the benefit of having played big games, big series.

"We are young enough and talented enough. And there seems to be a good mix of youth and experience. In my mind, the last couple of years, we just came up a little short.

"It's not that big of a difference to turn three or four one-run losses into wins and move to the next level," said Ripken. And he said the addition of Palmeiro and Sabo to the lineup and Fernandez to the pitching staff could provide that impetus.

"On paper this is a very strong lineup and there's no question it has the potential to go out and score a lot of runs," said Ripken, who was reluctant to compare this year's offense to that of the Orioles' 1983 World Series champions. "Some things have to jell and some chemistry has to evolve. Everybody has to get comfortable.

"When an offense works together as a unit, it increases the potential for everyone in the lineup. If it's sputtering, then it gives [opponents] an opportunity to pitch around certain hitters."

During the winter, Ripken met the man responsible for the off-season signings -- new owner Peter Angelos -- and came away with a highly favorable first impression.

"We went to lunch," Ripken said. "I found him to be very likable. It was very clear to me that he has a lot of pride in the city and the

team. Two big things about him are he's been a supporter of the Orioles for many years -- and he wants to win."

That translates into a willingness to sign free agents such as Palmeiro, Sabo, Fernandez and Smith, or to acquire a player if one is needed late in the season. "That is very encouraging," said Ripken. "You always want to feel your club has the backing to get somebody if you need him.

"That isn't always a sure fix, but it's comforting to know that you have that kind of support. But it still comes down to the fact that there is no secret formula to putting together a championship season."

Having won a World Series, Ripken knows what it takes to get to that position. And having played 10 seasons since that 1983 Series, he is more appreciative than ever.

"We went to the last day of the season my rookie year [before losing to the Milwaukee Brewers] and won the pennant and World Series the next year," he said. "At the time, I don't think I fully appreciated what happened.

"Because I was so young, I probably took for granted that it would happen again. Some players go a whole career without playing in a World Series, and I'm fortunate to have played in one.

"But having played so many more games since, I'm in a better position to understand what it means. And after you've been there, the desire to get back is great."

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