Ripken has right to feel shortchanged

December 14, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Well, we have the statement. It consists of four sentences. Cal Ripken sounds happy.

But is he?

Well, how happy would you be if you were great at your job for 14 years, then got switched to another position?

It would be understandable if Ripken was upset -- he's a competitor, and doesn't like to lose. But as always, he's putting on his best public face, even if he's not showing it in public.

Ripken declined to comment Thursday night after the Orioles signed Mike Bordick. And he chose not to attend Bordick's news conference yesterday, apparently fearing he'd disrupt his new teammate's moment.

Instead, he issued his statement from Mount Ripken.

A vintage Cal statement.

Carefully devised. Perfectly stated. And a day after the fact.

"I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Mike to the Orioles," Ripken said. "He's a good shortstop and I am now going to assume the challenge of being a good third baseman. Together we'll try to make the left side of the infield the best it can be.

"I'm really looking forward to spring training and the chance to work with Mike."

Ripken wrote it, he believes it, he'll do it. But he also remains convinced he can play shortstop. Shortly after the season ended, he was adamant about that point.

"I heard and read the criticism -- I was a step slow, two steps slow," Ripken said. "I don't believe that for one minute."

How does he reconcile that opinion with the arrival of Bordick?

That's the question of the day.

Ripken will get over this, just as he got over the Orioles' firings of his father, Cal Sr. (twice) and brother, Bill (also twice).

Heck, Bordick never would have signed his three-year, $9 million contract if Ripken had indicated to him that he opposed the move.

"[There was] nothing flat-out, but in the conversation I think I got a good feeling," Bordick said. "I didn't think it was going to be that much of a problem."

That much of a problem?

It had better be no problem.

"My first thought is, Cal had to 100 percent sign off on the move," said Bordick's former manager, Tony La Russa.

"Otherwise, it would never work. It wouldn't be fair to a first-class, high-quality guy like Mike. Any kind of resistance from Cal wouldn't be fair.

"I know Pat [Gillick]. I know Davey [Johnson]. I'm sure they dotted their 'I's and crossed their 'T's on this. Cal must figure it's a good move."

No, Cal must figure he has no choice.

He wasn't going to tell Bordick no -- he's too professional to descend into such pettiness. But he's also human.

He's not going to embrace the move, not going to put his arm around Bordick, not going to hold third base high above his head.

Instead, he engages in passive resistance.

It's his way of expressing discontent.

He didn't comment the night Manny Alexander replaced him as a pinch runner. He didn't console Alexander after he got picked off. And he didn't talk much to Alexander after Johnson installed the longtime prospect at short and moved Ripken to third base.

Does all this fit Ripken's image as the ultimate team player? Of course not. But he never could have played 2,316 consecutive games without just a touch of stubbornness.

It runs in the family.

Naturally, Cal Sr. hates the move.

Whatever, Bordick is different than Alexander.

Bordick, at least, is a player Ripken respects.

"I would ask for help if he's willing to give it to me, and it seems like Cal is very much that type of player," Bordick said.

"Hopefully, we can develop a relationship where it's a working relationship and I can go to him and ask him questions.

"Obviously in my mind, he's the most intelligent player in the game, and hopefully I can tap him for some information and make myself better in that regard as well."

Hopefully, hopefully.

Bordick can't say definitely, because he doesn't know for sure. But he's showing the proper deference, and that's a start.

"I just think of it as we're playing the left side of the infield and possibly I could be a rover," Bordick said, joking.

Ripken, no doubt, wants the issue to pass, which might be another reason he's taking such a low profile. But by issuing only a brief statement, he leaves everyone to wonder:

What does Cal really think?

Perhaps it's enough that Ripken refused to stand in Bordick's way, just as perhaps it's enough that he leads by example, rather than assume the more vocal leadership role the Orioles sometimes prefer.

He's human.

He's hurting.

For one of the few times in his life, he just got told he wasn't good enough.

Pub Date: 12/14/96

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