There’s been much speculation of late that former Baltimore Orioles’ great Cal Ripken Jr. might be a candidate to manage the Washington Nationals starting next year. If that happened, Ripken would be the third former Oriole to manage Washington; the others of course being Frank Robinson and the newly-retired Davey Johnson. (Both Robinson and Johnson are also former Oriole managers in their own right.) So first off, what would Orioles fans think of this if it happened? It would certainly be strange seeing Ripken in another team’s uniform; that goes without saying. But is there some gamesmanship of sorts here?
One thing we know is tha Ripken knows the game and so forth, but the fact is that he has no coaching experience in major league baseball. However here’s an interesting point that shouldn’t be lost on Orioles fans; Cal Ripken Jr. is one of the faces of sports in the 1980’s and ’90’s in the mid-Atlantic region. (One could also throw in Joe Gibbs and Darrell Green.) Back then of course, the Orioles and the Washington Redskins were the only franchises in the area in their respective sports. Now both cities of course have both sports; however as much as Washington fans might resent the Orioles (for varying reasons), they still love Cal. I can’t say how many times I’ve had people tell me how much they hate the Orioles but then they state their admiration for Cal Ripken Jr. I’ve had conversations via twitter with various readers over time regarding whether or not Nationals fans can or should claim Ripken as part of “their history.” (Click here for an interesting piece in the DC Sports Bog. It semi-transcribes an exchange between Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon on the TV show PTI; Wilbon seems to make a point of talking about the shadow Cal Ripken casts in Baltimore – AND Washington.) It’s an interesting argument if you think about it. For the record my point would be that if you’re going to make a clean break and root for a different franchise, you can’t take the traditions of your “old team” with you when you go.
Whether or not General Manager Mike Rizzo is seriously considering Ripken is another story. However given the history between the two teams and the two fan bases, it might come off as a sort of publicity stunt. Quite frankly, I think that would make the Nationals’ franchise look somewhat petty. In fairness, coaches end up in strange places all the time; legendary Maryland Terrapins’ basketball coach Lefty Drissell played at and graduated from Duke University, and of course former Yankee manager Joe Torre played for (and briefly managed) the NY Mets. But would such a hire be more of a ploy to get local fans (perhaps those teetering between two teams) to support the Nationals? It’s doubtful that you’d ever see Orioles lifers cease to support the Orioles simply because a beloved star becomes the coach of the other local team (or any other team for that matter – Yankee fans aren’t suddenly Dodger fans since Torre was there, and now Don Mattingly). I suspect that people might pull for the Nats on the side because they’ll want Cal to do well, but they’d never choose the Nats over the O’s. But while the Nationals’ organization hasn’t formally approached Ripken about the managerial job, what better way to “score points” against a local rival than by taking one of it’s most valued treasures and reinventing him as your own?
I think there are more than enough worthy candidates out there before Washington would turn to a former player that’s never coached to be their manager. But it would certainly add an interesting dynamic to the Orioles’ “rivalry” with Washington. All of the civic pride that Baltimore has held for so long in Ripken, might actually be transferred or at least shared with a franchise that views itself as being in direct competition with the Orioles. In the view of many Nationals’ fans, anything that sticks it to the O’s is a good idea. What would one make of the numerous orange #8 jerseys that still pack the yard on a nightly basis? Are those people Orioles fans, Ripken fans (and thus now Nats fans), or both? The Nationals have always been the ones interested in “competing” with the Orioles so to speak, whereas the O’s have tried to do their talking on the field. But would a move as such, stealing one of Birdland’s biggest (if not their biggest overall) treasures change that?
In fairness to the Nationals, Buck Showalter appears to have the managers’ job in Baltimore locked up for the foreseeable future. I think this would be a much different discussion if the Orioles were still a franchise flailing in the wind and without much leadership. If the O’s needed a manager and Ripken signed elsewhere, then I feel it would reflect poorly on the Orioles. If Ripken’s interesting in coaching, Washington would provide an immediate opportunity whereas the O’s cannot. So while I don’t foresee it happening, I would ask the Orioles fans…how would you feel about Cal Ripken Jr. managing Washington moving forward? Is this just a team looking for a manager, or is it perhaps something more than that?