|Bricks from the Warehouse|
Should Cal retire?
What, you wanted more? Okay. Yes, Cal should retire. He's 40 years old, he's batting .176 (ahead of only Jerry Hairston and Brook Fordyce), he has a .197 OBP (last on the team), and he leads the team in grounding into double plays. (He's also tied for the team lead in home runs, but when your total is two and it's one month into the season, that isn't something to be bragging about.)
We're not Cal bashers here. We don't want him to go because we hate him; we don't. We're of the generation that grew up seeing Cal in the lineup every day, no matter what, when he was sometimes the only bright spot on the entire team. We don't want him to go because he's tarnishing his legacy -- it's his legacy, and who are we to tell him what to do with it? We don't want him to go because he's being selfish -- if the Orioles keep offering him contracts, we don't think it's selfish of him to accept. We want him to go because he's no longer helping the team. Not in any respect.
We're sure he doesn't want to retire, that he still thinks he can help the team. But he's wrong. And if he doesn't wish to retire, should the Orioles force him out? Painful as it is to say it, yes, they should. It would be better if he went gracefully, on his own terms, but either way, It's Time For Him To Go, to co-opt an old presidential campaign slogan. (Actually, it's long past time, but we never heard that as a slogan.)
Now, the normal arguments for letting an old player go are (1) money and (2) blocking prospects. Well, somehow, despite the decreased attendance in Baltimore, we don't think the Orioles are hurting for money. Heck, they saved about $24 million over the next three years on Albert Belle's contract alone, thanks to insurance. And prospects? What prospects? Ryan Minor wasn't a prospect, and he has been shipped off to the gulag in Montreal, wishing that he had practiced his jump shot a little more. Mike Kinkade? While he has some talent and we'd like to see him play, we can't argue with a straight face that a 28 year old player is a prospect.
So in theory, Cal could play without directly hurting the team. But come on. Now, we'd be the first to admit that statistics over a 3-week period don't mean anything. So, yes, Cal Ripken could turn things around. We've seen it happen before with him -- he's looked completely finished, with no bat speed and no power and no clue at the plate, and then after recovering from injury, he turns it on. It's not likely to happen again, but it could happen. Just because he has to be finished sometime doesn't mean this is the year. But what's the point of dragging this out? The Orioles need to make a clean break, and send the message that this time they're serious about starting over with the team.
That was what happened the last time the Orioles plunged to these depths, in 1988. They traded away Eddie Murray after the season. Murray was still a good player, but they didn't need a good player. They needed a fresh start. Personnelwise, you could argue that the trade was a bad one; they didn't even get very much for Eddie. (Ultimately, the trade netted the team Juan Bell, Brian Holton, and Phil Bradley.) But it sent the signal that things were different in Baltimore. That there wouldn't be any more Ray Knights and Fred Lynns and Lee Lacys and Rick Burlesons. That management recognized it wouldn't be a contender without drastic changes. And it worked. And it opened up playing time. The Orioles tried to give that time to Jim Traber, but when Traber proved inadequate, Randy Milligan won the job. He wasn't a star. He wasn't a prospect. But he was a good transition player until the Orioles were ready to contend. Sort of like Mike Kinkade.
The Orioles need to re-learn the lesson of 1988. (Of course, that implies that Ripken can't be the only one to go; Conine, DeShields, and anybody else who can be traded need to go, as well.) Because what's the alternative? Let Cal play out the season, and then let him retire?
No thanks. Here's a frightening thought: if the team could bring Cal back/let him come back in 2001, then what's to stop them from doing the same thing next year? Yeah, his contract is up after the season -- but it was up after last season, and that didn't stop the Orioles from re-signing him. Yeah, he's unproductive -- but he was unproductive last season, and that didn't stop the Orioles from re-signing him. Yeah, the Orioles need to rebuild -- but they needed to rebuild last season, and that didn't stop the Orioles from re-signing him.
No, he needs to go, and he needs to go now. If you had asked us two weeks ago, we would have said that, if he wanted, the Orioles could give him one farewell tour around the league before he goes, as a favor to the greatest player in the history of the Orioles. But more recent events have showed us how bad an idea that is. First of all, a mini-hot streak, or even a good game, starts up all sorts of foolish talk about how he's not really finished. And second, every time he's out of the lineup, a new controversy erupts, a new story appears about "Cal being benched." The Orioles sit around dithering over whether he's a part-time player, or a full-time player who's only playing part-time, or a regular playing as much as a part-time player, or a part-time player who's a regular, or whatever, when they should be working on fixing a roster filled with 19 catchers and 43 first basemen, but no middle infielders. So, thanks for the memories, Cal. Now, go.