If this Cal Ripken-Washington Nationals manager dance is going to move forward, someone’s going to have to pick up the phone. Either Ripken is going to have to call the Nationals, or the Nationals are going to have to reach out to Ripken. As far as I can determine, neither has happened yet.
I think it will, which is a somewhat surprising development for Ripken.
No ballplayer, certainly none from Ripken’s era, has been as successful as building a post-playing life surrounding baseball as Ripken has. His career since leaving the field following the 2001 season has been a blueprint for others to follow: Building up the Ripken Baseball name into a brand through the minor league baseball franchises he owns, the youth baseball camps and clinics, the series of books, his Cal Ripken World Series, and Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Md.
He is also in demand as a high-priced motivational speaker, and, if you’ve been watching him on the TBS baseball shows, he has become an excellent baseball analyst.
It has been well known that Ripken’s desire has been to put his stamp — his sets of baseball beliefs — on a major league organization, as a general manager/team president and/or part owner of a franchise. In his case in particular, the franchise he played his entire 21-year major league career with, the Baltimore Orioles.
But all of a sudden 12 years have passed by since Ripken left the game, and now he’s 53, his kids are grown, and the dream of running a baseball operation doesn’t seem any closer for him. The clock is ticking, and though he has made a living around baseball, he is not in the game. The dugout is now an option he is considering.
It would be a major change in lifestyle for Ripken, who now oversees a multi-million dollar business on his terms. But no one has to tell Ripken about the demands of being a manager. This is someone who grew up in a baseball family, whose mother Vi played catch with him while his father, Cal Sr., was away managing in the Orioles minor league system.
This is why I’ve always believed Ripken, as much as any great player with no actual job experience, would be successful in running a baseball operation. He grew up in the Orioles farm system, learning the game from the ground up and how it is run. He’s always been curious about learning, and he’s learned his business lessons well.
Managing is a different kind of cat, though, particularly today, with the outside pressures and demands. Everyone is a baseball manager in the basement of their homes, sitting in front of their computers managing their fantasy baseball teams and crunching numbers as if they are the next Billy Beane.
A popular sports icon can turn into a social media object of ridicule very quickly — see Michael Jordan, who, for those fans who have grown up in the last 10 years, is known as the basketball executive who runs the worst franchise in the NBA.
The Nationals job is a good one. Despite falling short of the postseason this year, many observers still believe this is one of the most talented rosters in baseball, and still poised for playoff contention for years to come. But it’s not the only job out there.
The Chicago Cubs — one of baseball’s storied franchises — are looking for a manager as well. There is no reason to believe that Ripken’s interest in managing is limited to Washington just because of the proximity. Let’s face it, Chicago by plane may be just as close to Baltimore as Washington is by car on many days. If Ripken is in play as a managerial candidate, I don’t believe it is just in Washington.
The two other names in the mix right now for the Nationals job are Randy Knorr, the Nationals’ bench coach, and Matt Williams, the former five-time All-Star third baseman who is now part of Kirk Gibson’s coaching staff in Arizona. Knorr has been with the organization as a coach and minor league manager since the team came to Washington in 2005. Nationals president and general manager Mike Rizzo got to know Williams when they were both in the Diamondbacks organization.
Based on numerous interviews, it would seem as if the Nationals players are going to vote on their next manager, as players publicly weigh in with their favorites. That’s not going to be the case. Rizzo, not the players, will pick the Washington Nationals manager to succeed Davey Johnson.