It's hard to blame Orioles fans for their recurring dream that Cal Ripken will suddenly appear on a white horse and carry them back to a brighter future. Who wouldn't want to believe that the crown prince of the Oriole Way would make things all better?
That's why the story that broke on FoxSports.com on Friday night asserting that Cal offered his help to owner Peter Angelos — and was rebuffed — had fans jamming the phone lines of the local sports-talk shows and burning up the message boards with their predictable reaction to the Angelos' reported villainy.
Never mind that Angelos publicly rebutted the story and unequivocably denied that any offer from Cal had been made or refused. This really isn't about who actually said what and when. It's about a set of preconceived notions — some accurate, some not — that reached a hazardous intersection at the same time and caused another collision between fact and fantasy.
The most damning aspect of Ken Rosenthal's story Friday was the revelation that Angelos told Ripken in a private conversation that he wouldn't hire him because he didn't want Ripken to get too much credit when the Orioles return to prominence. Whether he actually articulated it that way or not (and it's hard to believe that a lawyer of Angelos' repute would trap himself with his own words like that), it's not hard to believe that he might feel that way.
I'm pretty sure that the last thing Angelos would want to do right now, when the team just might be a year or two away from being decent again (please hold your laughter until the end), is to bring in one of the franchise's beloved legends and let fans believe that he made the difference after well over a decade of dysfunction. If Angelos has any hope — however faint — of salvaging his baseball legacy, it rides on the current management team and the final years of Andy MacPhail's rebuilding plan.
Angelos all but confirmed that in an interview with The Baltimore Sun on Saturday.
"Andy MacPhail is in charge of the baseball operations for the club,'' Angelos said. "There has never been any interest on my part or discussions where his authority in running the baseball operations would be shared with anyone."
That's not what the fans want to hear, of course, especially when the team is off to its worst start since 1988 in a season that was supposed to be judged on wins and losses. They want Angelos to let down the drawbridge for their knight in shining armor.
And why not? Ripken is perhaps the greatest player in the history of the franchise and does represent a link to the old Oriole Way, but during the course of this long-running organizational nightmare, he has been idealized to the point where it would be next to impossible to live up to the expectations he would face if he rejoined the Orioles in a management capacity.
No one has heard from him on the subject yet, but I'm pretty sure if he were offered the chance to replace Dave Trembley as manager next week, he would run for the hills. He has long said that he's more interested in an ownership or baseball operations role, but even that would put his terrific reputation at great risk, and you can be pretty sure he realizes that.
No matter how much Orioles Nation romanticizes Ripken, he has no experience running a major league baseball franchise, and he certainly has no experience in the kind of crisis management necessary to turn around this particular organization. What he has to offer is his status as one of the game's truly iconic players, which would instantly improve the Orioles' tattered image.
Unfortunately, that would not change the harsh realities that face the organization at this developmental crossroads — from the credibility gap that has formed over the past 12 years to the competitive Everest that is the American League East. It might simply force fans to face an even harsher reality — that even Cal Ripken cannot save the Orioles.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and with Brett Hollander on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.