- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 23, 2015


Cal Ripken, in an appearance on my radio show, “The Sports Fix,” on ESPN 980 last week, ignited the flame that burned within some Washington Nationals fans two years ago about seeing the Baltimore Orioles icon in the Nationals’ dugout. It came close to happening.

I asked Ripken if he was still interested in being a manager, something that surfaced in 2013 when speculation centered on who would replace Davey Johnson with the Nationals at the end of that season.

“I’m always better off saying I’m happy doing what I’m doing right now, and then it puts an end to all the conversation,” Ripken said. “It’s been interesting where there’s been some interest and some talks, and quite frankly, the juices get flowing when you start to think about the prospects of it, because it’s what I know.

“I don’t know whether there’s some hope. I’ll be 55 this month. If you look at the stages of your life, that’s not old by any standards, so there’s an opening for a lot of things left in my life, and maybe that’s one of them.”

My co-host, Kevin Sheehan, asked specifically about the talks he had with the Nationals before the team hired Matt Williams.

“We had some serious discussions about it and never really got down to the point of choice and those sorts of things,” Ripken said. “I think the world of Mike Rizzo. I think he’s done a fantastic job. I like how he thinks, I like how he talks. If you’re looking at a potential position, who wouldn’t want their first managing job [to be] with a team built the way it was built? It was interesting discussions. With many things in life, it’s about timing, and so you have other considerations. I would say timing was an issue there, but it was fun talking about it.”

Well, it got real serious — serious enough to the point that if the Lerner family had been willing to shell out the bucks, the timing might not have been a problem.

As you heard from Ripken, he is a big fan of Rizzo’s — and vice versa. Even though Ripken has no managing experience, you’re going to have to pay him some major-league managing dollars to walk away from his multi-million dollar Ripken Baseball business to return to the game. It would have to be more than what the Nationals are paying Williams, and perhaps double the amount.

Sources familiar with the hiring process at the time said that the Nationals’ owners expressed concern about what might happen if things didn’t go well and they were faced with the prospect of firing Ripken. The primary reason those discussions didn’t go beyond serious was money.

For Ripken, the “timing” actually may have worked out.

As much as having Ripken manage the Nationals may seem pretty exciting for Nationals fans — particularly at this point, with team struggling — he would have faced the same problems Williams is now.

The preseason favorite to win the World Series, the Nationals are in second place in the National League East because they’ve lost Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Denard Span, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Wilson Ramos to injury. Combined, those players account for 28 wins above replacement this season.

There’s your answer.

Williams may not be the most electric presence in the dugout, but he isn’t the reason this team finds itself fighting to make the postseason — just like he wasn’t the reason this team won 96 games last season.

It’s the players — and what was lost on the playing field by their absence this season. Earl Weaver wasn’t going to change that.

Make no mistake, though — despite the “serious” discussions that took place with Ripken, Williams is Rizzo’s guy as well and is not going to be fired.
Ripken was not lobbying for the job. He was answering a question, and had nothing but praise for Williams in his appearance on our show.

“I can’t judge him from afar,” he said. “I can judge him as a baseball guy. He’s a fantastic baseball guy, a good student of the game and has instilled a way of playing the game for the Nationals that is admirable. Some of the discipline with Bryce [Harper] may have helped Bryce get to the point he is now.”

I’ve always felt that if you are going to bet on a former great player with no managing experience, like the Chicago White Sox and Robin Ventura, Ripken would be an excellent bet. Few players understand the game — and the business — from the ground up like he does, and one of those most important things a manager needs is some level of understanding of pitching. Ripken, a former high school pitcher who was nearly developed by the Orioles as a pitcher, had a better grasp of pitching than perhaps any position player I have ever covered.

But I still think his future lies in the B&O Warehouse in Baltimore. He has been part of a group that has been pushing to purchase the Orioles for years now — a group led by investment firm Legg Mason’s founder, Raymond “Chip” Mason — and sources said there has been a $2 billion offer on the table for the franchise and the MASN network that would come with it.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has been unwilling to sell, and I believe Ripken’s interest in managing is a result of a feeling that his opportunity to lead the Orioles may never happen, and time is running out.

But circumstances could change. Like Ripken said, “With many things in life, it’s about timing.”

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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