On Saturday afternoon, as I was taking in another wonderful Baltimore Orioles’ loss, I got into a discussion with a fellow Orioles’ blogger Eric Arditti (@BarstoolRDT) about the future role of Cal Ripken Jr. with the franchise. Ripken has already expressed a desire to return as a manager. He thought about the Washington Nationals job in 2013 when Davey Johnson was stepping down, and though the city of Baltimore is in love with current manager Buck Showalter, it’s hard to believe there would be a more highly favored candidate than Ripken when Showalter’s tenure ultimately ends. As we were discussing Ripken’s future within the organization and professional baseball, the two of us came to a conclusion — we don’t really want to see Ripken manage.
There is a much better role for Ripken with the Baltimore Orioles.
Not wanting to see Ripken manage hinges on the belief that he would most likely come up short in many ways, fair or not. The Orioles are not exactly set up for success in the future. The farm system is bare, the young pitchers drafted in the first round seem to break down annually, and the front office has its hands tied by an ownership group that is increasingly reluctant to spend the money it takes to field a competitive team in the American League East. If Ripken comes into manage, his tenure will likely end with unmet expectations for a franchise icon. Ripken should be best-remembered in Charm City for his play on the field, not tarnished by an unsuccessful stint as manager, but that seems to be the reality that would be staring him in the face if he took a job in the dugout.
The ideal place for Ripken in the Orioles’ organization is the owner’s box. Since retiring, Ripken has built himself a baseball empire in Aberdeen. He has a minor league team that is flourishing, a beautiful stadium for it to play in, and a youth baseball organization that is second to none. This has all been built from the ground up by the Hall of Famer. Ripken has all the experience necessary to make the successful transition to Major League owner, but getting a chance to do it will be hard.
For starters, Ripken’s net worth is listed at just $75 million. Unfortunately for Cal, his career did not coincide with the massive explosion in contract value thanks to the TV deals. The most money he ever earned in a season was $6.9 million in 1997. Those are a lot of 1997 dollars, but they do not buy a baseball team in 2015. Ripken earned just under $71 million in 21 years. That doesn’t even buy you a mediocre starting pitcher in today’s market.
To make a run at the Orioles, Ripken would need a partner, or several. He could have a perfect one in Under Armour’s Kevin Plank. Plank’s net worth is now estimated at $3.5 billion (yes, with a b), and will only continue to grow as UA greases the skids to expand into footwear and international markets. Plank is uber-competitive and loves Maryland sports. Years before his company was a globally recognized brand, its logo graced billboards in Camden Yards. The company’s headquarters overlooks Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Plank could have uprooted his company for greener pastures, but Maryland is a part of his roots, just like Ripken’s. This is all pure speculation, but with Plank fronting most of the capital and Ripken handling the operations of the club, the Orioles would seem to be in pretty strong hands. It’s hard to imagine a man as competitive as Plank being willing to lose a player like Nelson Cruz over a fourth year on a contract.
The only problem with all of this speculation is that it will be difficult to pry the team away from the cold, wrinkly fingers of Peter Angelos and his family. Angelos has owned the Orioles for over 20 years. While he initially was happy to pump his own money into the team (check the 1997 MLB salary list if you don’t believe me), the club now seems to be more of a money-making operation for Angelos. He has grown increasingly tight-fisted every time a free agent signing has not worked out. Angelos is now 86 years old, but his son John is firmly entrenched in the operations of the team. I don’t know how many more years Angelos will grace the Earth with his wonderful presence, but he has shown very little willingness to move on from the Orioles. Whether there can actually be any validity to the notion that Cal Ripken could emerge as a triumphant hero to lead the Orioles will depend on how willing John is to step aside when dear old dad goes.
I have actually always felt that the possibility of Ripken making a run at the owner’s box has scared Angelos. When Cal retired, there was very little sign of the team embracing his legacy. The ballpark is adorned with very little Ripken memorabilia save a statue in the outfield and a retired number. Every time Ripken is invited back to the park, it seems like an afterthought. Most franchises would have made it a point to trot out an icon as frequently as possible after his retirement, especially during the dark years of losing, but not the Orioles. Angelos seems to realize he is not the most-loved figure in Baltimore.
Who is? That would be Cal Ripken Jr.
In the end, Cal Ripken buying the Orioles is probably just Internet speculation between two fans debating the future of the franchise, but it makes total sense. A partnership between Ripken and Plank works to perfection with Plank supplying most of the up-front capital and Ripken running the club and ballpark as team president. Plank has the cash, and Ripken has the business experience in baseball gained since retirement in his own endeavors. The two Maryland natives could be a match made in heaven, but any hope of that duo ever pairing up to run the Orioles depends on the wishes of the Angelos family.
Cross your fingers, Baltimore.