MIAMI, MARCH 4 -- In Cal Ripken Sr.'s second spring as manager of the Baltimore Orioles, the answers have been shorter, the temper quicker and the patience thinner.
He has answered simple questions with long, rambling lectures, and complex questions, the ones about third base and his job security, with occasional flashes of temper. Asked last week if Craig Worthington or Rene Gonzales weren't the only real candidates at third, Ripken bit off his words.
As he and the Orioles begin the 28-game exhibition season with a 1:35 p.m. Saturday game in Fort Lauderdale against the New York Yankees (WTOP-1500), Ripken says he hasn't spent "one second" thinking about the possibility of being fired.
Whether he has been told his job is in jeopardy remains unclear. Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams said here today he has never threatened Ripken with loss of his job, but in two meetings since last season ended, Williams did emphasize his unhappiness with last season's 67-95 record. That leaves a very clear message, even if it's an unspoken one.
"I'm not going to get into evaluating the manager," Williams said. "He's back. He managed last year, and he's back this year. You can draw whatever inference you want from that."
The Orioles are coming off their worst season in 30 years, and Ripken is trying to improve the team with an unproven pitching staff and an everyday lineup that could include four players with one year or less big league service.
"I don't think at all about getting fired," he said. "If it happens, it happens. I just think about tomorrow and the work we need to do. Getting fired never enters my mind. I come off the field every day thinking about what we've got to get done the next day.
"We're getting a lot of good work done here. We've got a lot accomplished, and we've got to keep it up. You've got to keep working. That goes for the players, the coaches and me. We feel we're better than last year, but we don't know that yet."
So Saturday, the Orioles begin their odyssey toward opening day. It will take them to places like Vero Beach and Lakeland and, finally, RFK Stadium, where they end the exhibition season with an April 3 game against the New York Mets. Somewhere between Saturday's game and the one at RFK, the Orioles will try to answer more questions than they've ever faced before in spring training.
"There's never been this many open positions," Ripken said, "but the Orioles haven't lost 95 games too many times. If we'd won 95, we wouldn't be coming down with many spots open."
Among the spring decisions:
Third base: With Ray Knight's departure, Worthington and Gonzales will compete for the job. There's little question the job will become Worthington's at some point, but whether he gets it this spring remains to be seen. He has played only one season above Class A ball. Gonzales has slightly more big league experience, but has never hit consistently enough to win a job.
Left field: The club would love for rookie Pete Stanicek to win the job, and with Ripken hesitant to have him make his outfield debut on a strange field, he will start Sunday's game at Miami Stadium. If the conversion from the infield is successful, Stanicek could be the franchise's best leadoff hitter since Don Buford. If he can't do it, the job most likely will go to Mike Young or Jim Traber.
Backup catcher: Terry Kennedy made 17 more starts than any other AL catcher last season and was worn out by the end. He batted only .224 after June 8 and Ripken admits that 135 starts were too many. The club hopes rookie Carl Nichols can win the job.
Pitching staff: All the other questions are trivial compared with this one. Mike Boddicker and newcomer Mike Morgan have starting jobs locked up, and about a dozen others are competing for the remaining three spots. Jay Tibbs, John Habyan and Eric Bell appear the frontrunners, but veteran Scott McGregor also has looked good. Youngsters Oswald Peraza, Jose Mesa and Jeff Ballard may be headed to Rochester, although they'll all have chances to win a job.
The bullpen is more set, but its effectiveness will depend on Don Aase's recovery from shoulder surgery and a sore back.
"We'll just have to see how things go," Ripken said. "When I left here last year, I felt we could compete. The thing is, I wasn't smart enough to know how many people were going to break down. I'm not blaming injuries, but no matter how you look at things, we had more than our share of them. We had to replace a lot of people, and we weren't able to do it. Since then, we've acquired some new pitchers, so if we break down again, we ought to have more to bring up from Rochester."
Williams, at least, says he's optimistic. He says he's especially encouraged the Orioles have more power pitchers -- Mesa, Peraza, Tibbs and Morgan.
"I expect a major improvement," he said. "I think we have a better club and a better attitude than we had last year. We have better pitching and a better infield. I don't think using young players is inconsistent with being able to win. Other teams have done it.
"But really, I haven't seen enough. I've seen them fooling around out there. I saw the pitchers throw their seven minutes or whatever. But I know the coaches are pleased, and I just want to see some victories now."
Outfielder Ken Gerhart won't start because of a sore ankle, so Ripken's lineup for the first exhibition game is: Lee Lacy, right field; Bill Ripken, second base; Cal Ripken Jr., shortstop; Eddie Murray, first base; Fred Lynn, center field; Larry Sheets, designated hitter; Young, left field; Kennedy, catcher, and Gonzales, third base . . . Boddicker will start and pitch two or three innings and will be followed by Peraza and either Tom Niedenfuer or Dave Schmidt . . . Aase will remain in Miami Saturday and throw a round of batting practice . . .
Gonzales and Gerhart signed one-year contracts today, leaving only Bill Ripken and reliever Mark Williamson unsigned . . . Williams said the Orioles have to decide "in the next two or three months" if they're going to keep their spring-training facilities in Miami. St. Thomas College, the headquarters for the minor league camp, wants the Orioles to help make improvements on its athletic facilities, and Williams says he won't do it if the club will move somewhere else. Williams almost signed a contract to move the club to Melbourne, Fla., last winter.