October 07, 2009
He lived "the baseball life" from the moment he was born in 1960, so Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr. has enjoyed something of a lighter schedule since he retired after the 2001 season. All he's done is become a best-selling author, organized youth baseball leagues in his name, bought three minor league baseball teams, been appointed as special envoy to China by the State Department and taken turns each of the past three seasons as studio analyst for TBS' coverage of baseball's playoffs. On the eve of this season's postseason, the Iron Man took another breath to check in with Answer Man, letting folks know what might be next.
David Brown: You made nearly 13,000 plate appearances in your career — how many different batting stances?
Cal Ripken: Maybe 15,000 [laughs]. I really have no idea. I tinkered with my stance all the time. I was always searching for a feel and a way to get back to where I was, so I would change the starting point.
DB: When you run into Orioles fans, how often do they ask you to buy the team?
CR: I'm flattered with that question most ... all of the time [laughs]. I look at it as flattering because they care about their team. I think some good things are happening with the Orioles right now, but I think some of the old faithfuls want a return to the Oriole Way.
CR: First, I guess Mr. Angelos would have to sell the team. At this phase in my life, I need to be flexible and be able to be home. I have a sophomore in college and sophomore in high school. When I retired from baseball, I made a promise to myself that I was going to get my kids off to college and then I would think about doing something else. I'm still about three years away from that.
DB: Along the same lines, being a manager. Growing up in Chicago, I always put you and Ryne Sandberg in a similar class and now he's on the verge of managing in the majors. You're not on that path. How come? For the same kinds of reasons?
CR: Yeah. I lived the baseball life as a kid, with my dad in it. And I lived the baseball life as an adult, because I was in it. When I retired, I wanted the opportunity to be a little bit more flexible and home-based for my kids. There's definitely an allure of the big-league baseball scene, but I'm very comfortable with my choice.
DB: Who's closer to a World Series — the O's or the Nationals?
CR: The O's. Just because I like the O's [laughs].
CR: I think Nick Markakis is a perennial All-Star and nobody knows about him. I think people are learning about how good he is. He puts up strong numbers, but he does it in an unassuming way. Good, quality player.
DB: Do you study Charles Barkley to help you interact with Ernie Johnson?
CR: No [laughs]. Charles Barkley is a man to himself. Charles Barkley and Ernie Johnson attracted me to that type of show, made me interested in analyzing baseball in a way that they do it. But there's no way that I could watch how Charles Barkley answers questions and then emulate him. I just try to do it and be myself.
DB: How are you guys going to kill time during commercial breaks without "Frank TV" commercials taking up all that space?
CR: I guess we'll have to do a little bit more fill. It's like a rain-delay, I suppose.
DB: You went gray early, then you lost it — but you pulled off both very well. That said, how much would you give to have Eckersley's hair?
CR: I don't care about Eckersley's hair [laughs]! I just have to play the game with what I got.
DB: How has the recession affected your minor league teams?
CR: I think everybody's affected by the recession, but thank goodness that we're an affordable, family entertainment value. I think our price points have kept the fans coming out to the ballpark. We've had to be a little more creative in the sponsorships, but we're down just like everybody else.
DB: Do you like being an owner?
CR: I like learning about business and I'm familiar with baseball, so being a minor league owner is a good learning experience. A very comfortable one.
DB: Who's the best second baseman you ever played with?
CR: I'd have to say my brother, Billy. Just because we thought alike and we turned some of the tougher double plays that require working together at that level. But I tell you, one of the most talented second basemen had to be Robbie Alomar. From a physical standpoint, there wasn't much he couldn't do.
DB: How many of your double-play partners can you name?
CR: Two [laughs]. I can name a few more than that, but I had a lot of different second basemen over my careers and a lot of different third basemen play to my right. I have a pretty good memory, but I couldn't name ‘em all.
(Editor's note — here is, we believe, the full list of second basemen: Rich Dauer, Lenn Sakata, Bobby Bonner, Todd Cruz, John Lowenstein, Vic Rodriguez, Kelly Paris, John Shelby, Alan Wiggins, Juan Bonilla, Jackie Gutierrez, Rex Hudler, Ricky Jones, John Stefero, Billy Ripken, Rick Burleson, Juan Bell, Rene Gonzales, Pete Stanicek, Ron Washington, Tim Hulett, Rick Schu, Marty Brown, Jeff McKnight, Shane Turner, Harold Reynolds, Steve Scarsone, Mark McLemore(notes), Manny Alexander(notes), Brett Barberie, Jeff Huson, Roberto Alomar, Aaron Ledesma, Jeff Reboulet.)
DB: How long did it take you and Billy to write "Orioles Magic"?
CR: We're getting credit for writing that song?
DB: I'm giving it to you now.
CR: OK. It is kind of corny, in many ways. But it does make you feel ... good. Like you're part of the O's. As corny as it is, it's our corniness.
DB: What was your parents reaction when Billy's obscene baseball card came out?
CR: I don't know, I didn't talk to them about it [laughs]. Billy made a mistake. It wasn't a joke that anybody pulled on Billy. It was just his zany sense of humor, in order to find a bat. There's no way in the world he ever thought it was going to show up in a picture.
DB: How could you stand your dad being manager? The criticism?
CR: Well, you learn as a player not to listen to the criticism. Many of the people who put out that criticism might not be as accomplished, might not understand the game as well from the inside-out. We realized that it was all part of the job, but it doesn't make it constructive criticism, and it doesn't make it all accurate. I never paid too much attention to that, but when my dad got fired, the personal side of the relationship came out and I was angry for a good long time. But time heals all wounds.
DB: What did you think when you found out about those guys stole your No. 8 statue?
CR: I laughed [laughs]. Just like that. You look at it two ways: It's flattering. And the other way: What was going through their minds when they thought they could get away with it?
DB: First, Richard Nixon went to China, then special diplomatic envoy Cal Ripken. Did you enjoy being an ambassador?
CR: I did enjoy that trip. The purpose was to build relations and do it ... it wasn't Ping Pong Diplomacy, but we used baseball. Spreading baseball and getting it in front of the kids to show goodwill and have the Chinese culture understand American culture through sport. It made me realize with my teaching methods that I couldn't rely on the words but I had to rely on actions — and get on hands and knees to do it. It was very gratifying.
DB: Do you want to see your ironman record broken someday?
CR: Mmm, I guess anybody who has a record doesn't really, down inside, want to see it broken. But my feeling is, if I can do it, somebody's going to come along someday and could do it. Hopefully, they'll let me have it a while.
DB: Do you ever wish you could relive Sept. 6, 1995?
CR: No. It was such a wonderful thing that was unscripted. It wasn't choreographed, it just happened. It's one of those great moments that you'd like to preserve. For the longest time, I wouldn't look at the tape. I just wanted to remember it and recall it through my own lens. But I have looked at the tape and discovered other things about it. It was a wonderful experience that ... I have no desire to go relive.
DB: One of those things you found on the tape was what?
CR: Good question. That other things were going on at the same time. People were celebrating it in different ways. I only saw it through my eyes, from the field looking out. If you look at the tape, it shows other people enjoying it as much as I was. I got a good look at my dad. I saw him from the field but seeing the replay, I was really able to see his facial expressions and see his wave way clearer than from where I was seeing it on the field.
DB: Can you imagine playing as many consecutive football games as Brett Favre (272)?
CR: No [laughs]. I was at second base turning a few double plays and we had a few people coming after me in that regard, but nowhere near what Brett Favre has to go through. They're all gunning for him all the time. No. I can't imagine myself playing that many football games in a row.
DB: I remember Orioles fans booing Eddie Murray before he left; Did you ever hear hometown fans boo you?
CR: Yes. I never tried to take it personal, although sometimes you do, when you get booed. But a boo is just a reaction to something that happened on the field. If you can convince yourself it's temporary, then you can get over it. There were times when I struggled at home and, for the most part, everybody was on my side and supportive. But I heard the boo birds a few times.
DB: The shooting incident where Doug DeCinces grabbed you and got you under cover — did they arrest the guy who shot into the ballpark?
CR: I think so, yeah. It was a young teenager with a low-caliber rifle. I think they shot one or two shots in. I didn't know what was going on, but thank goodness Doug DeCinces did. He grabbed me and took me to safety.
DB: But one of the shells really landed close to you?
CR: I think, probably within 30 or 40 feet. It was almost like there was a really fast bee or insect flying through the air. You could hear a sizzle or buzz and then it hit in the dirt area around home plate. I was closer to the dugout.
DB: Mustaches are becoming more prevalent again in the major leagues; Is this a tribute to the great DH Larry Sheets (right)?
CR: Let's give him credit [laughs]! Yes.
CR: Was he ... ?
DB: An orange residue. Like Cheetos.
CR: Oh, I gotcha. I just didn't get the joke [laughs].
CR: I don't know where to go with that answer [laughs]. I've enjoyed knowing Alex. Fortunately, Alex looked up to me in many ways. But from time to time, he has a way of exaggerating. Certainly that was an exaggeration.
CR: I kind of want to root for Colorado, but I think Philly will edge 'em out.
DB: What about L.A. and the Cardinals?
CR: I think the Cardinals are going to be too strong for L.A., unless L.A. flips the switch on full power — which, Manny Ramirez(notes) has the ability to do. It's going to take that to beat the Cardinals.
DB: Angels and Red Sox?
CR: All that hinges on Josh Beckett's(notes) back is fine or not. If it is, and Jon Lester's(notes) fine, the Angels are going to have another tough time. But a big part of me feels the Angels are going to solve the mystery this time and win.
DB: Yankees in two over the AL Central champion?
CR: Yankees in two? That's pretty interesting. I think the Yankees are so strong — but I wouldn't want to be facing the Tigers because of Verlander. (Editor's note: No problem there.)
CR: Because of the enormity of the game and the outcome of the game, it was a real gutsy performance. We were all on the edge of keeping ourselves sane. It was a great performance, but I'm glad it ended the way it did.
DB: If that series goes to five, does La Marr Hoyt shut you guys down?
CR: I was really scared about that because La Marr Hoyt was unbeatable. He beat us 2-1 in the first game and it wasn't even that close. I got a jam single in the ninth inning to make it look like it was close, but La Marr Hoyt hadn't been beaten in 15 or 16 games and I was scared the series might be put in his hands. It wouldn't have been good.
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