Weaver basics helped Ripken get grip at short


August 01, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Regardless of what he's done or what happens from here on, the most consistent thing about Cal Ripken is destined to be overlooked and underappreciated.

In any discussion of Ripken's career, defense will always run a distant third to The Streak and his run production in relation to the position he plays. Forgotten will be that he wouldn't have had the opportunity to set those offensive records as a shortstop had it not been for his extraordinary defensive ability.

It is one part of Ripken's game that unquestionably has improved with age. And what has made it so spectacular has been its pure simplicity. Its roots come from the first piece of advice he got after being informed he would make the switch from third base to shortstop.

When he walked into the clubhouse on July 1, 1982, he saw a 6 next to his name instead of a 5, and that's how he found out he was playing shortstop.

"At first I thought it was a mistake, because those things happen sometimes," he said in reference to baseball's numerical system to identify positions. "Lenny Sakata [who had spent most of the first three months at shortstop] was the first one to tell me -- and then my dad [former coach Cal Ripken Sr.] came over and talked to me."

When then-manager Earl Weaver made the move, one he now says would've resulted in a division championship if he'd done it sooner, he sat Ripken down for a prolonged discussion. "As I remember, he called me in about a half-hour before the game," said Ripken.

Weaver's advice did not stray from the basics.

"His words," recalled Ripken, "were, 'If they hit it to you, catch it, keep your balance, get a grip on the ball and make a good throw. If he [the batter-runner] is safe, it's a hit, not an error -- and he's on first base, not second.'

"I interpreted that to mean that it wouldn't be my fault," Ripken said with a wry smile. "But Earl was a stickler for making the other team get three hits to score a run, and keeping the runner off second base was important."

It is a style Ripken has perfected. "That guy [Weaver] didn't have many bad theories," said current manager Johnny Oates. "And if you watch Cal closely today, that's exactly how he plays. He never rushes a play unless he absolutely has to. That's why so many of the plays at first base seem so close."

That, plus another of Ripken's many defensive attributes. "He has perfected an uncanny knack for gauging the speed of every runner in the league," said pitcher-turned-TV analyst Mike Flanagan. "He always seems to know exactly how much time he has. And when he has to unload the ball, he does it better than anybody."

Four simple steps have paved the path Ripken is following on his way to Cooperstown. Not every infielder can make that journey, but they all could benefit by copying the style that will help get Ripken there.

Catch it, get good balance, grip it and throw it straight. It's right out of the Hall of Fame textbook.

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