Ripken shows nice form in fielding move He handles switch to 3rd with composure, humor

Sidelight

July 16, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Cal Ripken pulled on a T-shirt before last night's game and turned to face the army of reporters that waited to hear his reaction about moving to third base.

Would he endorse the move? Would he be angry? Nobody knew.

But before anybody had a chance to ask him about third base -- the so-called hot corner -- Ripken had a statement to make: "Yes, I will be playing third base tonight and it is against the wishes of my nose doctor," Ripken said in a serious tone, "who deems third base a whole lot more dangerous than shortstop."

Humor. Ripken may prefer shortstop, but he was circumspect and composed and joked about moving from a position he had played for the Orioles for 2,216 straight games.

"It's not really a sad day for me," he said. "I'm playing a baseball game. I'm going to be in the lineup like I always am. I'm going to look at it as a challenge to me to see if third base is as comfortable as it was years ago."

In May, Orioles manager Davey Johnson raised the idea with Ripken, then waited a week before tabling it. This time around, Johnson started Ripken at third the day after telling him, leaving the veteran and his replacement, Manny Alexander, with little time to prepare.

"I don't want to be discussing this for three days with you guys," Johnson said, "and I know during those three days I would have long discussions with Cal about third base. If you're going to do it, then be done with it."

In talking to Alexander before the game, Johnson didn't bring up the pressure Alexander faces filling in for Ripken, a certain Hall of Famer. "I just hope he doesn't realize what he's walking into," Johnson said. "I told him, 'Don't try to be too fancy. Just hustle your butt off and enjoy yourself.' "

Johnson declined to put any kind of a time frame on Alexander's audition, but acknowledged the fact that Alexander hasn't played regularly since spring training. "I'm not going to be real quick to judge him," Johnson said, "and I hope the people in this room [the media] don't judge too quick, either."

Alexander said: "I don't feel any pressure playing shortstop. I get a little worried when I have to play third. I thought [Johnson] was joking when he told me I was playing. I started laughing. We've been talking about it a little bit lately, but I thought he was joking when he told me."

Johnson called Mike Mussina and Bill Ripken into his office, among others, to explain the move. "I want everybody in that room [the clubhouse] to understand why decisions are made here," Johnson said.

"We should have one goal in mind -- to strive to be the best. Maybe this is a step back, but maybe you have to take a step back to go forward. I wanted some of the leaders on this club to understand why I'm doing this."

Mussina wouldn't comment on the change. Nor would Bill Ripken, or Brady Anderson. Chris Hoiles said: "It's not my decision, so I really have no comment on it. I have no idea if there are more changes on the horizon."

Bobby Bonilla said: "I don't think anyone should expect much [from Alexander]. He hasn't played in, what, three months? It'll be like spring training for him."

Roberto Alomar said he didn't know how Alexander would fare because he's rarely seen him play. "You don't see him that much when you have Cal here," Alomar said. "I wish him the best. He has a lot of talent. But there's a lot of pressure there for a young kid."

Toronto third baseman Ed Sprague heard the news that Ripken had been switched to third, along with his millions of All-Star votes. Sprague knows that if Ripken stays at third, he'll never be voted onto the All-Star team again. "I'm going to shortstop," Sprague joked, "to counter the move."

At the All-Star break, former Orioles manager Earl Weaver was asked about Johnson's proposed move of Ripken to third in May.

"I thought he was a born shortstop myself," Weaver said. "He made a lot of errors coming out of high school and in Bluefield, but I knew he was a shortstop. To me, he's best at shortstop, but Davey knows his team way better than I do."

Pub Date: 7/16/96

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