Ripken deal again pits Miller foes

November 10, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

The Orioles just lost one institution, and now an even bigger one is entering the final year of his contract.

Ron Shapiro represents both Jon Miller and Cal Ripken.

So, it's not exactly comforting that Orioles owner Peter Angelos just called Shapiro a liar.

Oh, Angelos didn't exactly use that term. But he did call it "sheer dishonesty" to say that Miller was forced to leave Baltimore, as both the broadcaster and Shapiro suggested.

Shapiro was upset that he couldn't keep Miller in the city where he wanted to stay. Angelos was upset to be portrayed as the heavy in such an emotional conflict.

And now Ripken wants to negotiate a contract extension with his agent and owner -- two of the most powerful men in Baltimore -- seemingly at each other's throats.

Both Angelos and Shapiro declined to comment.

Maybe they're hoarse from trying to spin the Miller story. Or maybe they're not in the mood for another ugly public confrontation.

Whatever, they need to get over it, and soon.

Ripken's next contract would be a delicate subject under the best of circumstances. Angelos and Shapiro need to put Miller behind them. They need to reach agreement on Ripken by Opening Day.

At that point, Shapiro will postpone negotiations until the end of the season. Ripken grew so distracted by contract talks in 1992, he produced the worst offensive statistics of his career.

Either the Orioles sign Ripken this off-season, or he'll likely declare for free agency.

Angelos made the mistake of exposing Miller to the open market.

He would be even more foolish to do the same with Ripken.

Perhaps a 37-year-old third baseman wouldn't be in the same Ripken demand as a broadcaster in his prime, but who wants to find out?

The outcry over Miller was confined to Baltimore. If Angelos mistreats Ripken, he'll be a villain to an entire nation.

L Ripken must finish his career in an Orioles uniform, period.

That should go without saying, but anything is possible with an owner who didn't recognize the importance of Jon Miller.

Yet, even if Angelos charts the proper course, he could engage )) in a heated dispute with Shapiro. Ripken's value is that difficult to judge.

The Orioles likely would portray him as a veteran entering his twilight years. Shapiro likely would portray him as the most valuable marketing tool in club history. Both would be right.

One thing is certain: Ripken is worth more to the Orioles than he is to any other team. He earned $6 million this season. He might command that much as a free agent, but probably not.

Shapiro could argue that Ripken's pursuit of Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record created a financial windfall. But the Orioles could argue that they gave Ripken the latitude to continue the streak.

It's an intriguing question -- how much should a player be rewarded for distinguished service? -- but Ripken is coming off a season in which he batted .278 with 26 homers and 102 RBIs.

He isn't finished.

In fact, he's nearing another milestone -- 3,000 hits.

Ripken is at 2,549, so he probably won't get there before 1999. His .277 lifetime average would be the lowest of any player to reach 3,000. Still, it would give the Orioles another reason to sell, sell, sell.

So, what should Ripken get?

A two-year extension with an option at the same salary.

The Orioles could always re-sign Ripken if he was still going strong at the age of 40. But they'd also be protected if he suddenly declined.

As for money, a pay cut would be inconceivable for a future Hall of Famer who means so much to his hometown team.

But a raise would put Ripken's salary at such an artificially high level it might damage the Orioles' efforts to build a contender -- particularly if a luxury tax was in effect.

Thus, each side needs to give.

It's called compromise.

Business is business. Angelos has feuded with other agents. Shapiro has had other negotiations turn sour. Life goes on.

At least it did after the loss of Jon Miller.

The loss of Cal Ripken, that would be another story.

It was incorrectly reported in Thursday's column that the proposed baseball settlement included a loophole in which teams could depress the base salaries on long-term contracts the three years the luxury tax was in effect, then inflate them the two years when the tax was lifted.

Union chief Donald Fehr said the agreement would not allow teams to beat the tax in such fashion -- payrolls would be calculated by using a player's average salary under a long-term contract, not his individual figures each season.

Thanks to Fehr for saying he found "only one mistake" in the column.

Pub Date: 11/10/96

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