Ripken needs to lead way by more than just example

June 30, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

NEW YORK -- Cal Ripken stood in front of his locker yesterday holding the offending document, a fax of the Sun article that so disturbed Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

He called the account of his remarks "totally inaccurate," and later said, "I can't believe I'm spending this much time talking about it."

He doesn't get it.

Or he won't admit that he does.

The issue isn't the media, or Angelos' reaction.

The issue is leadership, just as it has been with the Orioles for the better part of the '90s.

Angelos was looking for an opening to challenge Ripken, and he would have found one sooner or later.

Perhaps Ripken will take a more vocal approach after speaking with Angelos for one hour yesterday morning, but he's making no promises.

"To understand what the expanded role is, to be more visible, to use your stature, I'd have to fully understand what that means," Ripken said.

Granted, Ripken is one of the game's most analytical players, but is this really so complex?

It means chiding teammates who don't hustle.

Reminding them of their accountability.

And patting them on the back if they make mistakes -- yes, even when their name is Manny Alexander.

It isn't Ripken's style to be out front -- as he put it, "standing on top of the dugout waving a towel." But whether he likes it or not, his stature puts him in a unique position.

If he refuses to confront an out-of-line teammate, he should realize that he's not only condoning him, but that his stoicism effectively undercuts the authority of his manager.

Angelos wants him to be more aggressive, that's all.

And if it happens, something good would come out of all this, something that could transform the Orioles into a true American League power.

They're not one now, haven't been since their last postseason appearance in 1983.

And yes, a lack of leadership is one reason.

Indeed, the point Angelos made Friday is no different from the point others have made about this team for several years.

Three years ago, Johnny Oates tried to turn over the post-game spread in Texas, shouting, "Who's going to lead us?"

Last season, Phil Regan scolded the players in Detroit, yelling, "We're pathetic. We've got to start caring about winning, because I do."

And this season, Pat Gillick said, "This team hasn't won since '83. I'm not so sure the nucleus here knows how to win."

That's two former managers and the current general manager. The new manager, Davey Johnson, also has questioned the Orioles' emotional makeup. So have some veteran players.

Jesse Orosco: "We need someone to kick us in the butt."

Rafael Palmeiro: "Something is missing with this team. I don't know what it is, but something is missing."

It's an undefinable quality, but it's something that might help Bobby Bonilla and Brady Anderson run out balls, make Kent Mercker think twice about ripping Johnson, prevent David Wells from quitting on the mound.

It's leadership.

Some of this is Johnson's responsibility, but he can yell at his players until he's blue in the face, and it will mean nothing unless he's supported by his future Hall of Fame shortstop.

Just like a general needs his captain, Johnson needs Ripken.

The manager can do only so much right now -- most of the Orioles are playing hard, and he doesn't want to look for trouble when there's still a chance to win the division.

Also, he can't start yanking Bonilla or Anderson out of games when his outfield depth is so limited.

Thus, a player must take control.

Ripken And the only candidate is Ripken.

As one of Regan's former coaches told the Boston Globe's Peter Gammons, "No one had a quarrel with the way Cal went about his work, but he had his little circle of worshipers that wouldn't move until he moved."

That Angelos seized on a seemingly innocuous remark should indicate to Ripken the depth of his concern, and the questions throughout baseball about the character of this team.

All Ripken said was that the team needed to jell with so many new parts. It was hardly a novel thought, or a headline-grabbing comment.

But Angelos used it as his launching point.

Just as Johnson told the media of his plan to move Ripken to third base, the owner decided that going public was the only way to scale Mount Ripken.

The owner said the team was "in desperate need of leadership" and challenged Ripken to accept that role.

"The way I understood it was, he's not questioning any leadership capabilities that I have or I do, but I think he would like to see it in a more visible manner," Ripken said.

"He thinks because of the stature of who I am, who I've become, I have significant other contributions to make. He's totally entitled to his opinion."

But does Ripken agree?

"I think it lends itself to personalities," he said. "We are who we are as people. We handle things and do things the way we think things should be done. I've always approached the game to be helpful to anybody at any time.

"People's definitions of leadership can vary. Some people think being a leader is standing on top of the dugout waving a towel. I personally don't believe that.

"But I am who I am as a player. I know my contributions as a player, and my contributions as a teammate. I will continue to try and be better at that, do things to try and help the team."

He's a great player, and an even greater example, but the Orioles need more.

The issue is leadership.

Cal Ripken is smart enough to grasp what Angelos is saying, and important enough to make a difference.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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