I was watching the Orioles-Nationals game at home on Sunday, July 25 and the camera suddenly panned to a shot of Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. and Orioles general manager Mike Elias chatting. It happened to be at the end of what must have been a pretty busy and hectic period for Elias, who had just overseen a draft of 21 players, all of whom signed with the club.
The Orioles’ top two draft picks — first-rounder Colton Cowser and second-rounder Connor Norby — had already made the rounds on the Orioles Radio Network and MASN and had been introduced to the crowd during the game on Friday, July 23. It was one of the more hopeful days for the club since the pandemic pushed a huge pause button on Elias’ master plan.
As I watched this new wave of Orioles prospects and later saw Ripken and Elias, a light bulb went off in my head. More on that in just a minute.
Players who agree to terms with the club after the draft often travel to Baltimore to take their physicals, sign their contracts and make the media rounds before flying down to Sarasota, Fla., to begin their professional careers.
Given that we are coming out of the pandemic to some degree, Cowser and Norby’s introductions were orchestrated attempts to jump-start the perception that, “OK, we are really on the move.” Keep in mind this has also been a season that has seen a lot of positive developments at Delmarva, Aberdeen and Bowie.
Now back to that light bulb that went off in my head when I saw Ripken and Elias sitting and talking. It has now been 20 seasons since Ripken last put on an Orioles uniform, took the field for the team and drew a paycheck from the only organization for which he ever played.
On Aug. 24, Ripken will turn 61. He looks as happy and as comfortable as I have ever seen him.
If you Google Cal Ripken Jr., you get answers to certain questions like, “What is Cal Ripken’s net worth?” I don’t need to put the answer in print, other than to say his next career choices won’t have to be based on money.
I am sure Ripken burns inside to want to be part of this organization, but he has not held any meaningful roles with the team since retirement — likely for a variety of reasons.
For Ripken’s part, while he has loved and been loyal to this organization, it wasn’t always a two-way street. Remember, the club, then owned by Edward Bennett Williams, fired his father as manager of the team after 168 games — just six games into his second season.
A few years ago, the Orioles offered Brooks Robinson and Eddie Murray ceremonial marketing positions with the club. That was the brainchild of John Angelos, and it was a much-needed small embrace of the legacy that came with owning the Orioles. But why was Ripken not invited to do the same? Or had the club broached it with Ripken, who turned it down? Or did John Angelos figure Ripken would not be interested in a non-baseball position with the club?
Regardless, Elias appears to be supremely confident in his abilities to create a new Oriole Way by subscribing to the analytical way. But sometimes you have to put numbers aside and be creative in an old-fashioned way.
Save for serving as Elias’ boss or as an intimate adviser to the GM, is there a way to utilize Ripken, who could be one of the organization’s most valuable assets, for the betterment of the team?
My strongest advice to Elias comes from the mantra that is the title of Earl Weaver’s autobiography, “It’s What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts.” Court Ripken for a part-time but meaningful role as an immediate mentor and example to young Orioles draft picks.
Let Ripken be one of the first people new members of the Orioles meet on that initial trip to Sarasota. Let him talk to these players about the process they are about to embark upon. Let Ripken talk about how hard that process will be and tell them early on that not all of them will make it. Ripken can help prepare them for their time with the media and even share some personal anecdotes as he meets them.
Then Ripken can visit affiliates during long homestands after those same prospects start playing in games. He can watch the players and communicate his impressions about what he sees directly to Elias and director of player development Matt Blood.
Ripken wouldn’t be an equal to Elias, but this is not a trivial position I am proposing. It would allow Ripken to partake in the player development process in a meaningful way. It could even lead to something larger down the road, and it would be a huge first step in bringing home one of the Orioles’ most important players ever.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles