- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

One month removed from watching his team collapse to the worst finish in franchise history, Syd Thrift continues to serve as the Baltimore Orioles' vice president of baseball operations, overseeing offseason roster moves, including yesterday's re-signing of pitcher Pat Hentgen to a one-year contract.

But there have been strong indications that Thrift, 73, will not hold his position much longer, and one name that has surfaced as a possible replacement is Orioles legend Cal Ripken.

Ripken, who has maintained a relatively low profile since retiring at the end of the 2001 season, has several times recently reiterated his desire to one day run a major league ballclub, and the Iron Man's first choice would be the franchise he has been a part of his entire life.

At a Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation event two weeks ago, Ripken, 42, said he would be interested in taking a front office position with a major league team and would look to the Orioles before talking to any other franchises.

He echoed those sentiments at the World Series last week, stressing that he is currently contemplating front office opportunities, not managerial ones.

"If there's an opportunity to shape an organization, then I'd certainly be interested," Ripken said before being honored at MLB's Memorable Moments ceremony at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco. "And it's kind of interesting lately, it's kind of grown a little more true, and I'm starting to get more specific questions. I think there might be a time and a place, I guess once we get back to Baltimore. I kind of want to keep my comments to that."

Though Thrift hinted on the final day of the regular season, as the Orioles lost their 32nd of 36 games, that he does not expect to return as the club's de facto general manager, he has carried on for the last month as usual. And with yesterday's re-signing of Hentgen, Thrift resolved one of the few pressing questions about Baltimore's starting rotation.

The move, an expected one, should free up several million dollars from the Orioles' 2003 payroll. Hentgen, who turns 34 next month, could have had his $6million club option picked up for the coming season, but Baltimore instead chose to exercise a $600,000 buyout clause and renegotiate a new deal with the right-hander for less money.

Terms of the contract, which include a new club option for 2004, were not available. Hentgen originally signed a two-year, $9.6million contract with before the 2001 season but has spent most of that time on the disabled list after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Though he went just 0-4 with a 7.77 ERA in four September starts upon returning from the injury, Hentgen showed the Orioles enough to warrant re-signing him at a lesser price. He'll provide a much needed veteran presence in a rotation that should include young right-handers Rodrigo Lopez, Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson and veteran Scott Erickson.

"We wanted Pat back, not only for his ability on the mound but for his leadership and work ethic," Thrift said. "We expect him to be back in full form next year."

Hentgen, the 1996 American League Cy Young Award winner with Toronto, had a 2-3 record with a 3.47 ERA in nine starts at the start of the 2001 season. But he tore a ligament in his right elbow in late May, underwent surgery in August and spent the next 13 months rehabilitating.

He was adamant about returning last fall, wanting to prove to the Orioles that he was worth re-signing, even if it was at a lesser price than he made the last two seasons.

"I was so excited when I first signed with Baltimore, to be able to play at Camden Yards, so it was really frustrating when I got hurt," Hentgen said. "I really wanted to re-sign with the Orioles because Baltimore is a fantastic place to play and I think there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this team."

Hentgen has a career record of 122-95 with a 4.22 ERA in 12 major league seasons.

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