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  •   Orioles Fire Cal Ripken Sr.

    By Richard Justice
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, April 13, 1988; Page A1

    BALTIMORE, APRIL 12 -- The Baltimore Orioles, off to their worst start in 33 years, fired Manager Cal Ripken Sr. this afternoon and named Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, one of the franchise's most popular and respected players, to the position.

    In a tense news conference at Memorial Stadium, Orioles General Manager Roland Hemond said he decided Monday to make a change in managers, and that after discussing the matter with owner Edward Bennett Williams, he offered the job to Robinson, who had been serving as a special front-office assistant. {Related stories on Page C1.}

    Hemond also announced he'd asked Ripken, who had a 68-101 record, to consider remaining with the organization's front office, a move probably designed, in part, to assuage the feelings of Ripken's two sons -- shortstop Cal Jr. and second baseman Bill.

    Robinson went quickly to work this afternoon, meeting with his coaching staff and players, then managing tonight as the Orioles lost, 6-1, to the Kansas City Royals to fall to 0-7 this season.

    In turning to Robinson, the Orioles became the fifth team in history to hire a black manager. Robinson has held three of those five jobs, and has managed 84 percent (917 games) of the 1,086 major league games managed by blacks.

    The Cleveland Indians made Robinson the game's first black manager in 1975, and he spent parts of three seasons with the Indians and parts of four more with the San Francisco Giants (1981-84). His career won-lost record is 450-466, but in both Cleveland and San Francisco, he took over awful teams and made them respectable.

    Major league baseball's only other black managers were Larry Doby, who managed the Chicago White Sox for 87 games in 1978, and Maury Wills, who managed the Seattle Mariners for 82 games in 1980 and 1981.

    Robinson, one of the team's biggest stars for six of their best seasons (1966-71), becomes the ninth manager in the Orioles' 35 years, but their fourth in the last four.

    In making the switch, the Orioles couldn't have found a more drastic change in style. Robinson owns a home in Beverly Hills, Calif., and has a taste for expensive clothes, flashy jewelry and nice restaurants. His ego is not a small one, and like other great players who have become managers, he admits to sometimes expecting more of players than they expect of themselves.

    But at 52, with a peppering of gray in his hair, he says he has mellowed. At the same time, he says he won't be afraid to confront people he believes have made mistakes.

    "I really have mixed emotions about this because it means a person I feel close to and have a lot of respect for had to lose his job," Robinson said.

    He also admitted to being excited about the chance to manage again, saying he took the job over the wishes of his family. "They think I'm crazy," he said. "They think the team might not do well and they don't know how it'll affect me."

    Of once more being the only black manager, he said, "I'm aware of the position, but going through life I've never put that kind of pressure on myself, being the first black this or that."

    He warned against people expecting him to wave a magic wand and turn the Orioles into a winning team, saying, "I don't profess to be any superman or anything like that. I do have ideas about the way things should be done, and I'm an aggressive-type manager. I think the players will be more fundamentally sound and execute the fundamentals better. If they don't, we'll be out there working on them. I'm going to meet with the players and let them know how I like to run a game. They've never been around me when I'm in charge, and that'll take some adjustment."

    Robinson rejoined the Orioles as a coach in 1985 and was promoted to the front office last November as part of Williams' front-office overhaul. Robinson said he considered the job as training for one day becoming a general manager, but when Hemond offered the chance to manage again, "I said, 'Yes,' before I knew I'd said it. I thought about it and told Roland he'd better let me think about it awhile."

    When he accepted, he said he believed his experiences had made him better. He was the player who conducted postgame kangaroo courts to fine players for mistakes when he was with the Orioles.

    Robinson said he has learned "that no matter how you handle players, you're going to have some problems. I'm not as abrasive as I was. I was more diplomatic in San Francisco than I was at Cleveland, and hopefully, I'll be more diplomatic here."

    "But," he added, smiling, "you can be too diplomatic."

    Ripken, 52, was none of those things. When a young player wanted to borrow $400 to buy a blazer last summer, the kid was scolded and told Ripken's cost only $40. That was an image he was proud of, that of a working-class guy from Aberdeen, Md., who played most of his career in the low minors and has drawn a paycheck from the Orioles for 31 years.

    When the Orioles hired him after the 1986 season, they believed they were getting a stern disciplinarian and a stickler for doing things right. He had told friends he wouldn't accept some of the silly mistakes the Orioles had been making, but when he finally took over, he seemed to accept almost everything.

    "He turned into a player's manager," a club source said, "and no one thought that was possible. With Rip, you accepted certain things. We all thought he was a hothead and that he'd be a hothead in a lot of ways. But with one exception {Alan Wiggins last year}, I don't know that he ever confronted a player. He was really loyal to the older guys like Fred Lynn and Terry Kennedy, and those guys let him down."

    Ripken got the news a little after noon when he arrived at Memorial Stadium, put on his uniform and began writing out a lineup card. He had returned from a Towson, Md., courthouse, where he pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in February and was put on probation.

    "I didn't have any indication it was coming," he said, "and I'm very disappointed to be let go after six games. I talked about us being better this year {they were 67-95 last season}, and I think we will be. I told Terry Kennedy on the flight last night that we'd wind up being 12-12. I felt we were going to win 12 of our next 18. We just didn't hit, and who knows if a team is going in a slump at the beginning of a season. But when the ball club doesn't win, that contract you sign has some very small print about being fired if you didn't win."

    He said Hemond told him to take "a couple of weeks off" then consider staying with the organization. Ripken said he preferred to be in uniform, but added, "Why should I be bitter? I spent 31 years in the Baltimore organization, and I've been treated outstanding. Why should I be bitter when someone has treated me so outstanding."

    Robinson's hiring appears to finish the organizational overhaul that Williams began last October with the firing of General Manager Hank Peters. For the first time since Williams bought the Orioles in 1979, the three top baseball positions -- general manager, manager and farm director -- are filled by men personally hired by Williams.

    Hemond said he made the decision so early in the season because "I just saw some things I didn't like. It was a difficult task. It's not always the manager's fault, but the manager pays a dear price. I talked to Mr. Williams yesterday and I said my feeling is that we should make a change. He said, 'It's your decision.' I'm patient, but I felt for the good of the Orioles and of the fans, I shouldn't let it continue. I didn't like the ways things were going in spring training, and I just kept hoping we'd win two or three."

    © Copyright 1988 The Washington Post Company

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