In an interview with ESPN 980 last week, Cal Ripken Jr. made it fairly clear that he is more than interested in the possibility of returning to a Major League dugout. The 55 year-old was strongly considered for the Washington Nationals’ job back in 2013 before he and Mike Rizzo decided it wasn’t the best time for Ripken to make his managerial debut. Now, with the Nationals underachieving on an historic level, Ripken’s name is back in the spotlight. The Nationals do seem to be sticking with Williams for at least one more season, but a September tailspin, with all the pieces finally healthy, could change their mind.
Ripken will manage in the Major Leagues before the end of this decade. He has done everything post-career but manage, and the time has come. He’s owned a minor league team and developed a sparkling stadium for it. The youth baseball complex Ripken has helped build is second-to-none, and he’s been well received as a studio analyst every Fall for the postseason. His son, Ryan, finished a successful college career and was drafted by the Washington Nationals. Now, it appears there is really only one final baseball job to tackle for the Hall of Famer, and that is managing.
There are only two logical landing spots for Ripken when he decides to make the leap to the dugout – Baltimore and Washington. Ripken is not going to leave the only region he has ever called home. Nor is he going to set himself up for failure with a rebuilding organization like the Philadelphia Phillies. Thanks to his lengthy list of accomplishments and place in the game’s history, Ripken gets to name his place and price, deservedly so. Without a doubt, Ripken will make a great manager, the only thing left to be determined is the location. Most in Baltimore would probably prefer it is with the Orioles.
The problem with that, is that the Orioles already have a pretty darn good manager in Buck Showalter. Showalter is also much beloved in Charm City thanks to the resurrection he has helped to lead in his five-plus seasons at the helm. Showalter is only 59 years old – just four years older than Ripken. The job in Baltimore is his for as long as he wants it. That Showalter has already lasted 830 games in Baltimore is impressive as it is. Earlier in his career, the hard-nosed Showalter often wore down organizations, but age appears to have mellowed the Florida native.
The Orioles themselves are also at a crossroads. The 2015 season has not gone as well as hoped following a division title in 2014. The lineup has underachieved, and Showalter himself has not been able to squeeze the results out of replacement level players in the same fashion as years past. General Manager Dan Duquette made a power play to get to Toronto last winter, but ultimately stayed in Baltimore. What happens if he wants out again, especially with so many big names entering free agency? The Orioles will have to find a way to take care of Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Wieters, and Darren O’Day or find suitable replacements. Then there are the looming extensions for Manny Machado, Chris Tillman, and Zach Britton. If the offseason goes poorly like last season, the Orioles could very quickly find their window for contention slammed shut. Showalter has been a master of the rebuild in his career, but he may not want another go around.
Ultimately, it would not make sense for the Nationals to fire Matt Williams after the season. The team’s poor showing is due to injuries and age rather than any fault of the manager. Williams will get at least one more year, and the Nationals should play much better in 2016 if healthy. With Williams solidly entrenched in D.C., the Orioles can begin setting the wheels in motion to make Cal Ripken Jr. their next manager. For starters, if Ripken wants to work as a manager one day, it would serve him well to begin working in Major League Baseball rather than the minor leagues. The Orioles can begin involving him with the operations of the franchise much like they have done with Brady Anderson. Then, when Showalter’s tenure ultimately ends, Ripken will be prepared to take the reins. This could, however, create an awkward situation if Ripken is seen as looming over the franchise, and is possibly the reason Ripken has not been more involved to date. Ripken and Showalter are both professional enough to develop a good relationship even if it is understood that the job will belong to the Iron Man when Buck steps down.
Perhaps a more appealing option to baseball fans in Baltimore would be Ripken leading an ownership group to pry control from the grips of Peter Angelos’ cold, Montgomery Burns-like hands. Ripken has already proven his worth as a business man with his complex in Aberdeen, and could also impact the Orioles in a big way from the owner’s box. Angelos has probably always viewed Ripken as a threat, which could help to explain his limited role with the team since retirement.
No one in Baltimore wants to see Cal Ripken wearing any colors but the orange and black. Even less desirous would be seeing him lead the Nationals, a team Orioles’ ownership has battled for years over cable revenue. Incorporating a legend from the past into the future of a franchise can be a difficult task, but it is not an impossible one. If the Orioles want Ripken to be their eventual manager, steps must be taken now to ensure that another team, namely the Nationals, does not swoop in.
Ripken has been away from the franchise long enough, pursuing other interests. The time has come for him to become a more public face in Baltimore Orioles baseball with an eye on eventually becoming the manager.