Monday, September 27, 2004


One by one they emerged from the Baltimore Orioles dugout: Boog Powell, Ken Singleton, Al Bumbry, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer.

The Orioles yesterday at Camden Yards celebrated the 50th anniversary of the St. Louis Browns’ move to Baltimore by presenting the 50 all-time favorite Orioles.

They were all there: Rick Dempsey, Mike Flanagan, Gregg Olson, Jim Gentile — and, oh, yes, Cal Ripken Jr., perhaps the greatest Oriole of them all and quite possibly the man who will shape the future of baseball not in Baltimore, but Washington.

If the notion of a team in Washington upsets Orioles owner Peter Angelos, imagine how upset he would be to find the icon of his franchise running the competition down the road. It is the very definition of insult to injury.

Maybe Angelos can make Ripken a bargaining chip in the talks with baseball about an indemnification payoff to relocate the Montreal Expos to Washington. You know: Give me a regional sports network, pay me $50million and, by the way, ban Cal Ripken from running the team.

Of course, Angelos could have avoided this embarrassment. He could have embraced Ripken. He could have put Ripken in charge of baseball operations, allowing him to be the face of the franchise.

But Angelos wouldn’t. Angelos would be made crazy if the Orioles succeeded under Ripken. Ripken, you see, would have gotten all the credit.

The Washington Baseball Club, the ownership group that holds an exclusivity agreement with the District for baseball, last year confirmed it discussed with Ripken representatives the possibility of Cal joining the operation should it be awarded the team.

Ripken said he was interested, but he has not aligned himself with the Washington Baseball Club or any other group. He likely won’t until the process of putting a team in Washington is completed.

Once baseball, as anticipated, declares the District the new home of the Expos, the process of selecting an ownership group begins. That likely will be a bidding process that includes suitors other than the Washington Baseball Club.

Major League Baseball is not bound by the agreement the District has with the Washington group. And it could get a little dicey if, as has been rumored, whoever purchases the Expos from baseball has to keep general manager Omar Minaya as part of the deal (though that wouldn’t preclude Ripken from being part of a baseball operation).

At the ballpark yesterday, after the ceremony honoring the greatest Orioles, one of the greatest said he still is interested.

“I always thought that at some time in my life, I would come back to a big league situation,” Ripken said. “Coaching appeals to me. Managing appeals to me a little bit, but those two things require you to live by the schedule that I did for all those years. But if there was an opportunity for shaping an organization and still maintaining some flexibility in my home life, I certainly would look at it.

“I’m smart enough to listen when opportunities come along and evaluate the opportunities for what they are. I’d be all ears, and I’d listen, and try to make my decision after that.”

When asked about Angelos’ battle against baseball in Washington, Ripken said, “As an interested fan, I am on the sidelines watching like everyone else. It’s interesting to me because I understand Mr. Angelos’ position very well. And then the Expos don’t have a home, and they go through this grand search around all these markets to find the right place, so it’s not an easy decision on either side.

“Both sides have valid issues and valid points. I’m watching it with curiosity to see how it is going to be solved.”

Ripken’s post-playing career has been a blueprint for other athletes.

He has made the Ripken name one of the most popular brand names in baseball. His name is on a division of Babe Ruth baseball. He has built one of the most successful minor league franchises in the country, the Aberdeen Ironbirds. And, with a jewel of a ballpark and the baseball academy he is building there, he is creating a baseball destination second only to Cooperstown.

He remains a highly visible commercial figure and a sought-after speaker at major corporate functions.

But he has made known that he would love to have an impact on a major league baseball operation, from player development to the major league roster. He wants to put into practice in the front office what he learned growing up with one of the all-time baseball teachers, his father, Cal Sr., and from being part of the Orioles in the days when it was a model franchise.

Of course, Ripken would have loved to do that in Baltimore, but, with Angelos in charge, the opportunity just isn’t there. It long has been rumored that Ripken would join a local ownership group to buy the Orioles should Angelos put them up for sale. That, however, doesn’t seem likely to happen soon.

That leaves Washington, because Ripken isn’t about to move to another part of the country. This is his home.

“A club that is close to the Washington vicinity would be close to where I live, so that would make it more appealing than, say, Portland,” Ripken said. “When the time is right, if there is an opportunity, I will be open to listen to what that is.”

The time nearly is right.

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