For Orioles, word to wise means asking Cal's advice

On Baseball

September 24, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

The turnover could be massive in the Orioles' organization this off-season. There could be a new general manager, a new assistant general manager, a new manager. There will be many new players, certainly.

Whenever the Orioles decide who will be the general manager -- whether it's Roland Hemond, Frank Robinson, Randy Smith, Dan O'Dowd or someone else -- and then determine whether Phil Regan will return, the GM should solicit advice from one of the most astute minds in the game, someone already on the club payroll.

Cal Ripken.

The reasons are twofold. First, Ripken possesses a deep knowledge of players' strengths and weaknesses, and, some within the organization say, he has strong ideas about how a winning team can be put together (although he's always been reluctant to share these with the media).

The second is that, simply put, Ripken stands tall on this team. Whether he wants to do so or not, this is a fact. Other players look up to him more than they will ever look up to any manager, coach or other teammate. Tacit approval from him means immediate approval from a large contingent of his teammates, whether it's regarding defensive signals or personnel moves.

Naturally, there would be limits on what kind of input the Orioles should get from a player, even of Ripken's stature.

If they look for another manager, should Ripken be put in a position of giving approval to a specific replacement for Regan? Absolutely not. You can't have a manager beholden to a player for his job, or a manager chosen in spite of a player's objection. It won't work.

But Ripken could be asked for general input.

What kind of manager does he think the Orioles need? One who is firm with players, or more of a players' manager? Does he think a manager inclined toward a running game would be better, or a power game? Does Ripken think a manager should be one who relies heavily on starters, or one who uses his bullpen a lot?

Ripken's input would be helpful in player personnel moves. If Bobby Bonilla is going to be the third baseman, the GM could ask Ripken for the names of backup possibilities. He could give Ripken the names of three free-agent pitchers and ask him about the strengths and weaknesses of each, relative to Camden Yards and the Orioles' defense. Ripken could be asked about how he thinks certain free agents might mix in the Orioles' clubhouse.

No situation should be presented to him so that he's asked to make a final decision -- that's the GM's job -- but his suggestions could be taken under advisement.

Smith has worked this way in San Diego with Tony Gwynn, who, like Ripken, commands the respect of his teammates. In '94, Smith gave Gwynn a list of pitchers and asked which ones he liked, and Gwynn recommended Willie Blair -- who was acquired this year by the Padres and has done a decent job as a middle reliever/spot starter.

The Orioles pay scouts thousands of dollars to watch other players and offer recommendations. Why not use their $6 million man in the same capacity?

A bid for La Russa?

A prediction for how the Orioles will conduct business in the first week of the off-season:

Hemond will be moved into a different role, something such as chairman of baseball operations. In the first days that follow the regular season, the Orioles will ask for permission to talk to Oakland manager Tony La Russa, who has a contractual option that can void the final year of his contract with the Athletics in the first 10 days of the off-season. Hemond, who gave La Russa his first managerial job in Chicago, will help lure La Russa to Baltimore.

(Which would cost the Orioles significant dollars; La Russa's 1995 salary was $1.25 million, and he probably would be looking for a three-year contract from his next employer.)

La Russa would replace Regan, who would be offered a special assistant's role in the scouting department. The Orioles could be trying, simultaneously, to hire a general manager, who would be given assurances that he would work in concert with Hemond, rather than under Hemond.

If the Orioles do, in fact, look for a general manager to replace Hemond, assistant GM Robinson deserves consideration. He has put in the time with the organization, he wants to be a general manager and he has been the No. 2 man to Hemond for the past year.

Caminiti takes a hit

The first real indication of the coming depression in salaries is the contract extension that the San Diego Padres' Ken Caminiti will soon sign.

Here's a switch-hitting All-Star third baseman who will finish this year with something close to a .300 batting average, 25 homers and 90 RBIs. He's regarded as one of the finest defensive players at his position, and despite all that marketability, he'll take a cut from $4.35 million for '95 to $3 million for each of the next two seasons.

Keep that in mind when the Orioles make their decisions on Ben McDonald ($4.5 million) and Kevin Brown ($4.225 million).

'Running out of room'

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