- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

BALTIMORE. — Cal Ripken seemed to be content Thursday as he unveiled the name and logo at the B&O; Warehouse of the Class A club he has purchased to play in his Aberdeen Stadium this summer.

"It's been a very exciting and interesting process to look for the right name," he said as he introduced the Aberdeen IronBirds and the logo featuring an airplane with big blue eyes and a smile. It was all very symmetrical: Aberdeen, the name of the town; Iron, after the Iron Man himself; Birds, the connection to the Orioles; and the plane symbolized the town's identity as the home of the Aberdeen Proving Grounds.

The IronBirds will be playing in the New York-Penn League, a short-season circuit, which gives them something in common with their parent club, the Baltimore Orioles. They are playing a short season, too, although it's a bit shorter than that of the IronBirds pretty much from April 1 to April 3.

While Ripken was making his announcement, his old team was just outside taking batting practice. Few people noticed, including Ripken, who left that life behind when he retired at the end of last season.

He has entered a new phase in his life, and he fully admitted that he has been looking for ways to fulfill his professional career. "I'm willing to admit that I've busied myself so I could focus on other things," Ripken said.

So he has been involved in the construction of the stadium and the selection of a logo and team name. But the stadium is nearly complete, the logo and name have been picked, and come June 18, the team will take the field. Then what will Ripken do? Monitor hot dog sales? Audition novelty acts?

Owning a minor league baseball team has its limitations, and they begin right on the field, where Ripken truly has expertise. You don't hire the manager to run the team. You don't pick the players, and you don't decide how they will be developed.

All those decisions are made by the parent club. That means no matter how much baseball Cal Ripken knows, whether his team will be any good or not will depend on the expertise of Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations.

Talk about a novelty act.

The minor league experience will be very limited for Ripken, and, even with the investment he is making in youth baseball with the Cal Ripken League, one itch will remained unscratched running a major league team.

It's no secret that Ripken wants a shot at doing so and seeing his ideas implemented throughout an entire major league organization. He has made that clear a number of times, and he is not the kind of man who casually makes such statements. So it is not just a passing fancy.

This is what Orioles owner Peter Angelos should be worried about not whether a team is coming to the Washington area but whether Ripken will be running it.

Angelos' franchise has sunk to the bottom of the major league barrel. Its crimes are far worse than those of hapless teams like the Kansas City Royals and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, because, unlike those teams, the Orioles had the resources to be good but squandered them so much so that some people have accused them of fielding lousy teams on purpose. Personally, I don't think the decision-makers in the organization are smart enough to have purposely wrecked the franchise this much.

But the fact that those questions are even being raised illustrates the alarming lack of credibility that is threatening to destroy the once-proud Orioles organization beyond repair. If Angelos has any hope of saving the Orioles, he needs to do one thing: turn over the operation of the club to Ripken.

Bringing Ripken into the organization as a part-owner and president of baseball operations a la Michael Jordan with the Wizards would go a long way to restoring the credibility of the organization. No one knows if Ripken can do it, but if any player could step into that role, it would appear that he would have the best chance of success.

Ripken grew up surrounded by minor league baseball and spent 21 seasons in the major leagues. His father helped teach generations of players who helped form the success of the franchise for many years. Putting Ripken in charge is certainly worth the risk, given the alternative for Angelos Ripken running a Washington franchise.

What a disaster that would be for the Orioles to have the most identifiable player in the history of the franchise just down the road running a competing team. Let's face it, Ripken isn't going to move to Tampa or Texas or anyplace else to fulfill his desire. This is where his family is, and this is where his name carries the most weight and has the most value. That leaves the Orioles and whatever major league franchise lands in Washington or Northern Virginia, where Ripken would be welcomed with open arms by the groups seeking to bring baseball to the area.

I don't see Ripken and Angelos co-existing. I don't care what kind of promises the owner would make, his track record in baseball is that sooner or later, the relationship will sour. But Angelos had better make an effort to sell Ripken on the deal, or else the new logo for the Baltimore Orioles will be an empty ballpark seat.

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