Those twists bring Ripken more into the frame, but star appeal, local connection and fan fantasy gratification are relatively minor qualifications for a big league manager. Ripken shouldn’t start off ahead of either respected Matt Williams or Nats bench coach Randy Knorr, who knows the team already. If Ripken, who has never managed, wants the job, then compete for it like the rest.
When you listen to Ripken, who abhors looking foolish, you have to redact every conditional phrase — every “maybe,” “a little bit” or “at some point” — to translate his self-protective answers into some semblance of what he actually means. The truth is usually there, because he’s so honest. But if he’s speaking publicly, it’s always slightly concealed. That’s just who he is.
Here’s what he said on Rich Eisen’s podcast Sunday with all the hems and haws removed: “I’d like to come back to baseball . . . I’m starting to get an itch . . . but I haven’t been asked to do anything . . . I have thought about how cool it would be to manage. Donny Mattingly said there’s nothing like being a player, but managing is the closest . . . I’ve always thought that . . . and I am feeling that I’d like to get back in.”
What job is Ripken thinking about? The Reds won 92 and 97 games the past two years but couldn’t get over the hump with Dusty: Cal might fit. The Cubs need a skipper but are rebuilding: Not likely. The Orioles already have Buck Showalter, who has saved them. The Phils hired Ryne Sandberg. So, be serious: Ripken wants the phone to ring, but a 202 area code on Caller ID would make him happiest.
Because Ripken’s name causes excitement, let’s regain our balance by looking at the two most comparable current managers: Sandberg and Mattingly. Therein lies a tale.
Sandberg, 54, like Ripken a first-ballot Hall of Famer, proved himself by managing in the minors for six seasons; he was passed over twice by the Cubs but stuck it out, proving how badly he wanted to manage. Mattingly coached for years at Joe Torre’s knee to earn the Dodger job. Why should Cal waltz in untested?
Do you want to hire someone who couches everything in terms of getting the job he wants on the terms he wants and, by the way, ask nicely?
As a player, Ripken was off all competitive charts. But he has avoided the field for 12 years to spend time with family and businesses. He knows how managers suffer because he watched his dad do the job for 13 years in the minors and two in Baltimore. Being Senior’s son is at least as much an internship as a few years as an MLB bench coach. Does anybody really thinks Ripken couldn’t “run a game” from the first day? But does Cal burn to manage?