Idea to retire Ripken Sr.'s number gains support

Inside the Orioles

`What more could this man do for the organization?'

May 09, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

DETROIT -- Elrod Hendricks has considered it but hasn't volunteered it. Only when asked would he admit to assuming it would one day happen.

Looking toward the north end of the B&O warehouse, Hendricks says without hesitation, "Senior should be out there. No question."

Six weeks have passed since Cal Ripken Sr. died. To Hendricks and virtually everyone else who played for him or coached alongside him, a period of mourning should give way to a celebration of the man who embodied The Oriole Way: No. 7 -- Ripken's number -- should be retired.

"What more could this man do for the organization?" says Hendricks. "He did it all and he did it with pride. Everybody talks about Tommy Lasorda. He was the kind of guy who wanted to hear all that crap about Dodger Blue. Well, Sr. bled orange."

Such talk has yet to reach the front office's upper reaches, said executive vice president John Angelos, but would receive a hearing.

"I think any occasion to retire a number would go throughout the organization," said Angelos. "Something like that typically isn't even a decision. I think all the numbers the Orioles have retired were decisions that made themselves. I think this would be an idea without precedent."

Since Ripken was diagnosed last autumn with lung cancer there has been quiet conversation within the warehouse about placing his number alongside those of Brooks and Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver and Eddie Murray. The 4-foot silver numbers represent touchstones not only for an organization, but to a city that has long viewed players as not only part of a team, but also part of a community.

"I think they should put No. 7 next to No. 8," manager Ray Miller says. "You put his 35 years with Jr.'s time here and you've almost got 60 years in this organization."

To have known Cal Ripken Sr. is to know Cal Ripken Jr., according to those who have had the chance. On the eve of Ripken's death, Miller fought his emotions when relating how he sees the father in the son.

"If you came into contact with Rip Sr. it was obvious why Cal has accomplished what he has accomplished," Miller said.

Few, if any, within this team's 46-year history have so embodied the attention to detail that served as foundation for the Orioles' 20-year period of dominance (1966-85), a span in which they had 19 winning seasons, including 18 consecutive.

Along with Paul Richards and Weaver, Ripken constructed The Oriole Way, the codified method of instruction as well as an organizational philosophy regarding continuity, work ethic and professionalism. Sadly, free agency, expansion and organizational turnover have transformed the creed into cliche.

"Rip was certainly an organization man," Weaver says, "part of what the Orioles stood for and what they should stand for today."

Weaver's relationship with the club is more distant now given the sweeping turnover that has occurred the last five years. Hendricks, Miller, traveling secretary Phil Itzoe and several other longtime employees are his only connections to an era that Ripken helped define.

"He was it. He did everything," said Weaver. "I spent 20 years in the minor leagues and he was close to it. Rip's entire career was spent with the Orioles -- from player to manager. That's a remarkable thing."

Said Hendricks: "Appreciation for the type of things he did will diminish over time. That's why it's important for it to happen sooner than later."

The Orioles have rightly maintained a stratospheric standard for retiring numbers. Induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame is not a guarantee, as Luis Aparicio and Hoyt Wilhelm could attest. A career also must be identified with this team. Ripken served for more than three decades.

"I think his number should be retired," says former Cy Young Award winner, pitching coach and current broadcaster Mike Flanagan. "I don't think anyone showed the commitment to the Orioles that Senior did. He represented what this organization represented."

No short cuts. No politics. No bull.

Before serving as a major-league coach or manager from 1976-92, Ripken spent 15 years helping renovate the organization. Outposts such as Leesburg (Fla.), Appleton (Wisc.) and Aberdeen (S.D., not Md.), served as the introduction to his managerial career. There was Tri-City (Wash.), Elmira (N.Y.) and Asheville (N.C.), places no longer connected to the franchise except by memory. In 1964, Ripken managed Aberdeen to a Northern League championship when its dugout contained Palmer, Andy Etchebarren, Eddie Watt, Dave Leonhard, Lou Piniella and Mark Belanger.

"He influenced thousands of people. About every Oriole that played here in the 60s, 70s and 80s all came through Cal -- the coaching staff, the managers, as well as the players," says Miller.

Asked about the possibility of No. 7 (or No. 47, which Ripken also wore) being placed near his No. 33, Murray puts it succinctly, "That would be nice. Yes, it would."

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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