It's official: Ripken has option picked up

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Gets 19th year, $6.3M

star is `glad it's done'

July 10, 1999|By Roch Kubatko and Joe Strauss | Roch Kubatko and Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- The Orioles finally made the announcement yesterday that had been expected for almost a week: They will pick up the $6.3 million option on Cal Ripken's contract for next year, assuring that baseball's Iron Man will play his 19th season in Baltimore.

The decision wasn't a foregone conclusion in April, when Ripken was on the disabled list for the first time in his career and hitting .179. Back pain had slowed his bat, limited his range and mobility at third base and left his status in doubt, but he entered last night's game hitting .308, with 11 homers and 34 RBIs. He'll make his 17th consecutive All-Star appearance next week as more than just a sentimental choice.

"It makes you realize how hurt he was when you look at him now because we're seeing a different player," said general manager Frank Wren. "We're seeing a different explosiveness at the plate, we're seeing different movements in the field -- diving plays and all those types of things that Oriole fans are used to. It's like he rolled back the clock five or six years."

Ripken, 38, expressed relief yesterday that his contract situation had been resolved, saying he was "glad it's done and over."

"A few years ago, when the contract was signed, I was hoping for three years guaranteed and it turned out to be with an option, and I was never really that comfortable with an option in the middle of the year, but it seemed to be a compromise," he said.

"As it got closer, I'm someone who would rather concentrate on the baseball side during the baseball season."

It was more difficult for Ripken to do that in the season's first month as he also coped with his father's death.

"At the start of the season, I had a number of things hanging over my head and the contract situation was one of them. And it was an uncomfortable situation," he said. "But after I started getting myself physically set and getting my focus back mentally, the contract thing took care of itself. I wasn't overly worried, but there was a lot of uncertainty at the start of the season."

Ripken tried not to look at his first-half performance as dictating whether the option would be picked up. "I kept it out of my mind, kept it away," he said.

"I'd never been on the DL, so there was a lot of uncertainty over how I was going to react and how I was going to feel and how long it was going to take before I'd feel comfortable. But things came along really quickly and I'm very pleased with the results."

As Ripken struggled at the beginning of the season, Wren said the club took a "wait-and-see attitude" regarding whether to exercise the option.

"I wouldn't say there was a lot of doubt, but from a business perspective you have to evaluate everything," he said. "In the end, you look at the contribution Cal's made. He's a special Oriole."

Though the decision had been made on Ripken's contract in the middle of June, the club passed on the chance to make the announcement at Camden Yards, where Orioles fans could have shared in the news.

"I don't think there's any reason one way or another why it wasn't done," Wren said. "It wasn't contemplated that way. We wanted to get it done prior to the All-Star break and it just happened to happen today."

In a statement released by the club, owner Peter Angelos said: "We are very proud to have an individual of Cal Ripken's stature with us throughout his illustrious career. His accomplishments are unparalleled and he will always be thought of as one of the greatest Orioles of all time. His performance in 1999 is inspiring and the Orioles' organization is pleased to have Cal return in 2000 to provide our fans and baseball fans all over the world with more memories and thrills."

Hairston short-timer

Despite three precocious weeks with the Orioles, second baseman Jerry Hairston is destined to return to Triple-A Rochester whenever Delino DeShields (hamstring) exits the disabled list.

General manager Frank Wren conceded as much yesterday after the subject of Hairston was broached with manager Ray Miller. Despite Hairston producing a pair of four-hit games in the last two weeks, the organization believes he is not served by sitting on the bench.

The rookie has started 15 times since being promoted on June 22. The Orioles have been most impressed with his aggressive base running and relatively nerveless defense, something that was missing when he was promoted last September.

Miller attributes the converted shortstop's improvement to being more familiar with his new position.

Hairston turned in a brilliant dive-and-throw in last night's sixth inning to rob Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling of a base hit.

"He needs to play," said Wren. "He's opened our eyes some since he's been up here. He's played very well. That's the report we got from Triple-A. About three weeks prior to us calling him up, he started playing like he's playing now.

"It's almost like he started figuring out some things offensively and defensively and raised his game another notch."

Pressed on whether a way could be found to keep Hairston, Wren said: "I think it would be very, very difficult. He needs to continue to play."

Around the horn

Except for pinch-hitting in the seventh for Juan Guzman, Brady Anderson sat out last night's game to rest his strained hamstring, which he hurt during Thursday afternoon's game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Rich Amaral took his place for the ninth time this season. Anderson is in a 12-for-57 (.211) funk since June 20. Jesse Orosco stands 11 appearances shy of tying Dennis Eckersley's all-time record of 1,071. For all his recent problems, Arthur Rhodes has allowed only six of 30 first batters he's faced to reach against him. Entering last night, first batters were hitting only .111 (3-for-27) against him.

Pub Date: 7/10/99

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