Ripken's negotiations, streak separate issues

On Baseball

March 02, 1997|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Cal Ripken and Orioles owner Peter Angelos may be the two most dogged, stubborn competitors in Baltimore, which is why the future Hall of Famer's contract negotiations may prove fruitless.

Ripken wants a three-year extension, the Orioles are offering two years and an option for a third, and they've been entrenched in these positions for almost two weeks now. One side or the other is going to have to make a major concession to get this deal done and prevent Ripken from becoming a free agent.

Ripken wants a deal that would pay him around $7 million annually through the year 2000, when he'll be 40. The Orioles want protection against the possibility that Ripken, who turns 37 in August, won't age in a such a manner that his skills erode dramatically.

But no matter what happens in negotiations, Angelos said Friday, the discussions won't affect Ripken's consecutive-games streak, which stands at 2,316. No way, no how, Angelos insisted, after being asked if a break in negotiations would change the relationship between Ripken and the team this summer.

"That streak has been extremely important to baseball," Angelos said, "and there is no way it will end for that reason, for anything other than baseball-related reasons.

"If it did, that would be entirely out of spite, and we absolutely will not do that."

The team's vested interest in Ripken would end if it became apparent he was headed for free agency, a dramatic shift in the relationship between player and team.

For years, each side had an infinite long-term interest in the other. Ripken played hard and played every day and built a reputation for integrity that has served him and the Orioles well. The Orioles, on the other hand, have deferred to Ripken's stature. Manager Davey Johnson once remarked that you don't want to step on Ripken's toes, and the Orioles, by and large, have tried to avoid doing that.

Despite having a precious few position players in their farm system, they essentially allowed shortstop Manny Alexander to rot away on their bench, rather than ask Ripken to rest or occasionally play another position. Alexander had a terrific training camp last year and deserved a chance to play at least two or three times a month. Instead, he sat and waited and didn't start another game at shortstop until July. (And Ripken, who espouses the need for preparation, can certainly understand how difficult that would be.)

After last season, general manager Pat Gillick and former pitching coach Pat Dobson voiced an opinion shared by some in the organization, that before Ripken rebounded in the final weeks of the season, he wore down in late August and early September. Whereas other veterans would've been benched for day or two, Ripken continued to play every day.

You don't step on his toes, and the Orioles won't this summer, even if it is Ripken's last with the team.

Ripken and the streak

Kevin Malone, the Orioles' assistant general manager, says ++ Ripken has a better chance of continuing his streak at third base than at shortstop. "I don't think [third base] is as strenuous a position as shortstop," said Malone. "It's still a strenous position, but the demands of shortstop aren't as much as third base."

Malone said he doesn't foresee Ripken's streak ending in 1997. "No, not unless he's really struggling and needs a day off," Malone said. "If a day off will help him and help the team, it should be considered."

Echoing Angelos, Malone said the contract talks won't affect Ripken's streak. "We wouldn't do that," said Malone. "I don't see any value in doing that. If you're talking about Peter Angelos, Pat Gillick and Kevin Malone, you're talking about men of integrity. To even consider doing something like that would show a lack of character and integrity."

Anderson-Mussina deal

Brady Anderson walked up to fellow potential free agent Mike Mussina at the start of spring training. "We're going to be a package deal," Anderson said, smiling. "I go where you go. When we sign, we'll be at the same press conference with the same team."

Anderson illuminated his scheme Friday. "If a team needs a center fielder," he said, tongue firmly planted in his cheek, "and they don't need a No. 1 starter -- tough. They'll have to make room for him.

"If they need a No. 1 starter, and they don't need a center fielder, tough -- they'll have to trade their center fielder. We're going together, we'll get paid together. Same paycheck."

How will they split the money?

"Hmmm," Anderson said. "I'd say 60-40. In favor of me, of course. Once every couple of weeks, we'll have a competition, and the winner would get the whole paycheck."

What about Ripken?

"Cal is in the deal, too," said Anderson. "We just haven't told him yet."

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