Miller manages only to mishandle Ripken situation

April 08, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

Ray Miller left himself an out. And with a player listed as "day-to-day," he's certainly entitled to change his mind.

But by sitting Cal Ripken last night after saying he would start him, the Orioles' manager created the impression that the Iron Man might have asked out of the lineup.

And by making the switch after owner Peter Angelos advised a cautious approach with Ripken's lower back, Miller created the perception that he might have bowed to ownership's desires.

Miller said he made the decision to give Ripken a day off after speaking with him yesterday. And he made the right call, regardless of whether he was influenced by Angelos.

Still, his public reversal turned a simple issue into something murkier, and renewed questions about his ability to handle a job of such magnitude.

The sad part is, Miller is no Davey Johnson, confronting Ripken in the media. He wanted to do the right thing by the future Hall of Famer, and talked himself into a corner, anyway.

It was all so unnecessary, considering that Miller said, "In the back of my mind, I figured he wasn't going to play."

If that's the case, why didn't he say so initially? As it turns out, he might have annoyed two of the people he wants to please most -- Ripken and Angelos.

"I don't think [Ripken] should push it," Angelos said Tuesday. "I think he should take whatever time he needs to get back to 100 percent."

Miller said much the same thing before last night's game, but bristled when asked if the decision to sit Ripken was "managerial" or "organizational."

"Managerial," Miller said. "The owner had nothing to do with it. I haven't talked to the owner since I've been" back from spring training.

A little sensitive, Ray? No one had even mentioned Angelos. General manager Frank Wren and trainer Richie Bancells were among those who might have given their input on the decision.

If Miller was trying to appear strong, it backfired.

Ripken, 38, left Monday's season opener in the third inning. After speaking with him Tuesday, Miller said he was persuaded to write Ripken's name in the lineup, and adjust if necessary.

Why Miller even drew encouragement from that conversation is a mystery.

Ripken said his feeling Tuesday was that there was "no chance" he could play last night, even after a day off. His condition improved yesterday, but he doubted he could have played.

Miller eventually reached the same conclusion.

He again grew optimistic when he saw Ripken moving "like a 20-year-old" at the Greater Baltimore Committee's Welcome Home Luncheon. But after speaking with Ripken, he decided to start Willis Otanez at third base.

Otanez went 2-for-5 with a double and his first major-league home run in the Orioles' 8-5 loss to Tampa Bay.

"I was really pleased to see Cal come bouncing across the floor and up the steps [at the luncheon]," Miller said. "He told me that it was 90 percent better than it was two days ago. I said to him that if I was going to err, I was going to err on the side of caution.

"We're not involved with The Streak right now. I didn't put him in the lineup. I told him, just take it easy today, continue whatever treatment he has and re-evaluate it tomorrow. He has tremendous recuperative powers. It really looks good. He said he feels great."

Great? Ripken said his spasms and stiffness were "greatly reduced," and that he was "very optimistic" that he would continue to recover. But he sure did not sound ready to play in last night's game.

Ripken said his back "totally locked up" Monday, to the point where he couldn't move his left leg for two seconds. He added that his movement was never that restricted in 1997, when he suffered from a herniated disk in the second half of the season.

"I've had some history of back problems, my back being out, back stiffness and tightness that I've been dealing with my whole career. I assumed this was the same," Ripken said. "It never reached the point where I couldn't deal with it, couldn't play."

Well, it reached that point Monday, and if it doesn't improve soon, Ripken might need to go on the disabled list for the first time in his 19-year career.

A reporter asked Ripken if he was "90 percent," misinterpreting Miller's account of their conversation. Miller had quoted Ripken as saying he was "90 percent better."

"I think that's wishful thinking at this stage," Ripken said. "If I was 90 percent, it would be a no-brainer."

He's not 90 percent. He's not certain whether this injury is related to his herniated disk. But the day before, his manager had said that he would be in last night's lineup.

In Miller's defense, he often is forced to be the day-to-day point man for an organization that is growing increasingly secretive about injuries.

Bancells, the Orioles' trainer, has known Ripken since 1978 and is the club official best qualified to discuss his condition. But Wren, the first-year GM, insists on being the spokesman on all injuries.

"[With Ripken], it's one of those things where you really don't know," Wren said. "We want to see if he continues to make progress. If he does, then certainly you consider putting him in the lineup. If not, you have to consider other things, I guess."

That, of course, is what Miller should have said in the first place -- and what he finally said after last night's game.

"I'm not going to write a lineup until he gets in here and we talk," Miller said.

Good move, Ray.

Pub Date: 4/08/99

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