Ripken would be perfect prescription to revive O's

Rick Maese

Pennant fever returns to Camden Yards tonight, once again unpacking its bags and filling the cramped quarters of the visiting clubhouse. The New York Yankees' September series against the Orioles has turned into an annual celebration of the Haves and the Haven't-A-Clues. In the visitors' dugout tonight, they'll be talking about next month, and over on the first base side, talk is already geared toward next year.

Sad, isn't it?

You tie your skeptical optimism to a promising outfield, a couple of young arms maybe, the recurring promise to make the next offseason the best ever. Cut and paste everything you heard, thought and said last September.

What's needed is the kind of hope that translates to returning the Orioles to their glory days. And we heard it this week from Cal Ripken's mouth, muffled, hidden and garbled.

"I like Mr. Angelos, and I don't know what's going to happen to his club, but if it were for sale, it would be interesting to explore," Ripken told The Sun's Jeff Barker.

And then angels started singing, babies cooed and flowers bloomed.

No, the news didn't significantly move the needle on the Richter scale, but at least it was voiced aloud; at least this tiny bit of information is now a part of the historical record of mankind.

And now it's time to do something about it.

Cal's interest is an integral part to the two-part strategy to fix the Orioles. You know the plan, right? It goes like this:

Peter Angelos sells the team.

Someone else buys it.

Wait-till-next-year doesn't mean a whole lot for the Orioles. (Don't we always know what next year brings? Fourth place in the American League East.)

With three weeks still remaining before the Orioles' ninth straight losing season is official, Angelos' time as a baseball owner has been a failure. He has become emblematic of the Orioles' bigger problem. There's a culture of losing that's so pervasive that it completely chokes any progress this franchise attempts to make.

The blame is running uphill with more momentum than ever before, but it's important to note that Angelos does care about the Orioles and he does care about this community. That's why he bought the team in the first place, and that's exactly why he should let go of it.

Earlier this week, the owner was just as careful as Cal in choosing his words. The relationship is an important one for both men to maintain. "If such a day came and he was the person playing that role, I would say you couldn't find a better guy," Angelos said.

Sounds good, right? No, sounds empty. It's great that the two might exchange holiday cards every December, but enough talk. These two men have made plenty of money off each other. It's time to make some more.

If Angelos really grasps Ripken's importance to the franchise - and if Ripken is sincere about wanting to run a major league team - the two should start talking business right now.

Of course, the reality is that the team isn't for sale, and Angelos loathes the idea of selling the team in its beaten-down state - just another reason to invite Ripken into the fold ASAP.

Why isn't he a minority owner? Why isn't he a team president? Why isn't he helping with player personnel and scouting, which he says is where his true passion lies?

You'd think Ripken would want to position himself for an easy transition into a bigger office. And you'd think Angelos would realize how much of an impact the addition of Ripken could have on his decrepit franchise.

If something doesn't happen soon, Ripken will end up with some involvement in another team (Don't forget: He was at least entertaining talk with groups interested in purchasing the Washington Nationals), and that news would be crushing to Orioles faithful.

If Ripken cares about the Orioles as much as everyone thinks he does, he should get his foot in the door right now. The longer he waits, the more it could cost. Many think that the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network deal not only keeps Angelos on board for the indefinite future (while the network establishes itself and raises the value of the ballclub), but many also think Angelos will eventually price the team too high to include solely local money.

In the visitors' dugout tonight, you'll find the blueprint. The Yankees are a big-spending ballclub that enjoys the fruits afforded to it by its cozy cable network deal. The Orioles aren't the Yankees, and though Angelos' deal with MASN could prove very profitable down the road, the immediate windfall doesn't afford the team a $100 million payroll. There are startup costs - a new building, bigger staff, new programming. Even those in the warehouse don't seem to know what offseason spending will be like.

And so the Yankees come to town and face an Orioles team that's riding a four-game losing streak, one that plays 20 of its final 23 games against teams with winning records. The forecast: more futility. Indefinitely.

You don't change a losing culture by flicking away the small parts at the bottom. You start at the top. There's a successor beloved by the fan base who's ready for the reins. It's time the two switched seats: Ripken into the owner's box and Angelos into retirement.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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