Will Ripken take his act south to Washington?

October 10, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

PETER ANGELOS might consider more negotiations with Major League Baseball.

How much more compensation is the Orioles' owner entitled to if the new baseball team in D.C. gets a slew of Orioles to join the fun?

This just in: Frank Robinson, Pat Gillick and Cal Ripken are all willing to lend their names, services and/or legacies to the Orioles' nearest, but not dearest, rival.

To make matters even more spicy, the former owner of the Ravens might even go fishing in the bid process for ownership of the Expos.

"We did it once," said David Modell, son of Art Modell.

Modell did not say if he was serious, but he had a glint in his eye, not to mention access to some of the millions Art Modell made in completing the sale of the Ravens.

The Modells were pretty successful the first time they relocated a professional team, renaming it the Ravens, giving the franchise new colors, new uniforms and, most important, paying for a Super Bowl-winning roster.

D.C. could be a gold mine - if handled the right way.

"My feeling is that after the first two years, when the shine is off, you should have a product on the field that can compete," said Gillick, the former Orioles general manager.

"The Wizards, Capitals and Redskins haven't had a winning product in a while. I think if you had a game plan and stayed on target, you could draw and take advantage of that market."

It has been 33 years since the Senators left town - for the second time. The city's will to fund a $430 million stadium demonstrates a municipal resolve to bring back baseball. More is needed, like a familiar, trustworthy face and name that could further propel the new franchise past many initial hurdles toward competitiveness.

Enter Ripken?

"It's been repeated to us [by several bid groups] that they would have interest in talking to Cal," John Maroon, Ripken's spokesman, said Friday.

"Cal has repeatedly said that at some point, if an opportunity were to present itself to run an organization and shape it from top to bottom, he would be interested."

The Baseball Club of Washington, headed by former Texas Rangers partner Fred Malek, has worked five years to bring a team to D.C. Maroon said this group is one of several interested in Ripken.

"There are a lot of ifs. If the bid is accepted. If they bring Cal in and he thinks it's a good opportunity. If it's something he wants to discuss with [his wife] Kelly and his family," Maroon said.

"I would imagine any baseball organization would be interested in a bright mind, someone who grew up in baseball and is such an identifiable, trusted name. Certainly, the regional connection [between Ripken and the greater D.C./Baltimore market] makes a lot of sense to them."

Forget the Washington Senators. We're talking Orioles South - chock full of Hall of Famers.

Robinson, the best all-around player to ever wear an Orioles uniform, also wants to follow the team to D.C. He might feel differently when he hears that Gillick might be the GM.

Robinson was ousted as Orioles assistant general manager when Gillick took over after the 1995 season - a sore point that prompted Robinson to wonder how come, after 19 years with the Orioles, he was so easily pushed out the door.

Now he and Gillick are in the same orbit, again.

When the New York Mets hired Expos general manager Omar Minaya, it cleared the way for Expos president Tony Tavares to hire a new GM. Gillick's name is at the top of the list - and he's ready.

"I like challenges. I like to build things," Gillick said from Peoria, Ariz., where he was attending organizational meetings for the Mariners.

Gillick, 67, serves as consultant for the Mariners, where he was GM from 1999 to 2003. Gillick has been rumored to be en route to retirement ever since he high-tailed it out of Baltimore, but his escape from the warehouse was more about Angelos than hanging out with his wife in her Toronto art gallery.

Gillick is still one of the most accomplished and sought-after franchise architects in the game. His Toronto teams won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and '93. The Orioles and Seattle both reached the playoffs with Gillick in command.

That he's the last Orioles general manager to lead the club to the playoffs - before the franchise fell into an abyss that it's only starting to emerge from - only heightens the intrigue of his resurfacing in D.C.

"I personally would have loved to stay in Baltimore. I thought the fans were terrific. They are wonderful, blue-collar baseball fans," Gillick said.

In other words: He wants back to the cauldron of the East Coast. That would pit Gillick against Orioles vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan in a battle of the mid-Atlantic.

The only development more intriguing would be Ripken wearing another team's cap.

The Iron Man is somewhere between his retirement from playing baseball his entire career for the Orioles and being enshrined in Cooperstown. We in Baltimore still live in Cal's World, as evidenced by No. 8's ubiquitous presence here in Charm City.

He owns an Orioles minor league affiliate, making him the king of Aberdeen.

He glows at us on billboards: Yes, that's Ripken working the mouse in a billboard over the Jones Falls Expressway. He's the face of Comcast.

He appears on TV, pitching senior golf tournaments by using his baseball bat to sink putts. He's all over the baseball postseason telecasts, hawking Chevy trucks while spouting "Senior-isms," sayings his father, Cal Sr., taught him.

"Stick with what works," Ripken says in his polished pitch-man persona.

This is the same voice we hear hawking Esskay products. Who knew that Ripken could take to the radio airwaves and invoke the image, scent and taste of a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich made fresh from Eastern Shore tomatoes and Esskay bacon?

Add some of those Lay's potato chips he used to promote and we've got ourselves a picnic - in D.C.

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