`He was baseball ... baseball was him'

Colleagues, players recall Sr.'s commitment

Cal Ripken Sr.: 1935-1999

March 26, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles family drew near yesterday as Cal Ripken Sr. lost a fight with lung cancer. He was 63.

The definition of "a baseball man," Ripken helped script the Orioles' tradition of excellence which came to be known as "The Oriole Way" while serving as a minor-league manager, major-league third-base coach, and ultimately the Orioles' eighth manager. Along the way, he raised sons Cal Jr. and Bill to become major-league players, the elder a future Hall of Famer.

"He was baseball and baseball was him," said Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, who has spent 32 years with the club as player or coach.

Like many who knew Ripken during the 1970s and 1980s, Hendricks kept in touch with the lean, no-nonsense man who served as mentor to an entire organization. In the hours since Cal Jr. had returned to Aberdeen on Tuesday to be with family, Hendricks and several other coaches tied to the Orioles' past had reflected on their times with Senior. To Hendricks, his memories are of a man who knew only one way -- "The Oriole Way" -- and exercised an unyielding commitment to it.

"Rip loved to talk baseball. He had strong opinions but they were always informed opinions. You listened, that's for sure," Hendricks said.

Former players and colleagues remember an uncompromising taskmaster. There were no excuses for failure to properly execute routine, fundamental plays. Diligence was its own reward. But Ripken was also a man of integrity who never intended to shame anyone.

"A lot of people saw him as a hard man. But Rip Sr. was a baseball man. And in those days a baseball man was seen as a hard man," said Hendricks.

Ripken won 964 games as a minor-league manager, mostly at low-level outposts, in 14 seasons. Earl Weaver elevated him as his third base coach, where he remained until succeeding Weaver as manager after the '86 season.

Ripken became the first major-league manager to have two sons on his roster. But by then "The Oriole Way" had fallen into disrepair within the organization's crumbling minor-league system. As manager, Ripken suffered the fall for years of others' neglect when he was fired following an 0-6 start to the calamitous 1988 season.

Hendricks, one of those whom Ripken touched most deeply, remembers the firing as nothing less than an injustice.

"He deserved much better than that," Hendricks recalled. "He poured everything he had into this organization. It wasn't right."

Only Cal Jr., Mike Mussina Chris Hoiles and Brady Anderson remain from those who were active when Ripken returned as third base coach from 1989 to 1992. A close friend to Junior, Anderson is still influenced by the father.

"I'll never forget earlier in my career how Cal Sr. stayed with me, trying to help me become a better player when it might not have been the fashionable thing to do within the organization," said Anderson, who didn't blossom as a starter until 1992.

Ripken's legacy endures, impressing even those tutored elsewhere. Sam Perlozzo has served as a major-league third base coach 13 years -- virtually the same tenure as Ripken -- but he speaks in reverent tones about a man who defined the role.

"When you were around him, you didn't say much. One reason was out of respect. The other was because you could learn from him, no matter how long you had been in the game," said Perlozzo.

Though Ripken had eased away from Camden Yards since his firing as third-base coach after the 1992 season -- his attendance the Sept. 6, 1995, night his son broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak served as a rare exception -- Ripken never walked away from the relationships established during a lifetime. He was embraced during a visit to Philadelphia last June, when several members of the club noticed his loss of weight. Typically, Ripken waved off their concerns.

"I would say 99 percent of what I learned as a coach and a manager I learned from Senior," said Miller. "I don't think I've known one man with such a detailed but fundamental insight into the game as him. He was a father figure a mentor to thousands of young players and coaches. I consider it my privilege to have known him."

Ripken, a persistent smoker, was found to have lung cancer last October and had since undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Until recently, his third baseman son had maintained a workaday schedule as his father would have wished. However, word reached Cal Jr. in Jupiter on Tuesday morning that his father had suffered a downturn. He left the complex before the day's exhibition against the Montreal Expos, asking only that the media respect his family's privacy.

Hendricks paused late Wednesday night inside the team's clubhouse. He had frequently called Senior to discuss his frustrations. Looking around him but nowhere in particular, he wondered, "Now I don't know who I'll call."

Managing record

Cal Ripken Sr.'s record as a minor-league and major-league manager:

Yr, Team ---------- ---------- W-L ----- Pct.

'61, Leesburg, Fla. ---------- 37-36 --- .507

'62, Appleton, Wis. ---------- 61-63 --- .492

'63, Aberdeen, S.D. --------- 65-55 --- .542

'64, Aberdeen, S.D. --------- 80-37 --- .684

'65, Tri-Cities, Wash.-------- 81-58 ---- .583

'66, Aberdeen, S.D. --------- 47-22 ---- .681

'67, Miami ---------- ------------ 65-76 ---- .461

'68, Elmira, N.Y. ---- ---------- 77-63 ---- .550

'69, Rochester ------ ---------- 71-69 ---- .507

'70, Rochester ------ ---------- 76-64 ---- .543

'71, Dallas-FW ----- ----------- 82-59 ---- .582

'72, Asheville, N.C. ----------- 81-58 ---- .583

'73, Asheville, N.C. ----------- 71-69 ---- .507

'74, Asheville, N.C. ----------- 70-67 ---- .511

'87, Orioles ---------- ----------- 67-95 ---- .414

'88, Orioles ---------- ----------- 0-6 -------- .000

Totals ---------- ------------ 1,032-897 ----- .535

Note: Totals include one victory as interim manager before Earl Weaver's return in 1985.

Pub Date: 3/26/99

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.