For the Orioles fans who still dream of Cal Ripken returning to manage the team and lift it to heights unseen since he caught the final out of the 1983 World Series, the thought of him returning to the major leagues as the manager of the Washington Nationals has to be, well, unthinkable. But it’s not impossible.
Ripken has been saying for quite some time that he has an “itch” to get back into the game at a management level. The kids are grown and the competitive fire that he has channeled into his various business ventures still burns brightly enough that those who know him are sure he will be back in a big-league uniform at some point. None of that is breaking news.
Whether he actually gets invited to interview in Washington, Cincinnati or whereever during this particular hiring season remains to be seen, but now would be as good a time as any. In fact, now might be just the right time for one big reason:
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The Orioles aren’t in play.
Buck Showalter has already rescued the organization and recently signed a contract extension that could keep him in the job for the next five seasons. That doesn’t mean he’ll actually be here that long, but he certainly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, which absolves the Orioles and Ripken of the obligation to consider each other or any possible fan backlash that might result from him being hired somewhere else.
And if he does want to bypass the traditional managerial proving grounds and jump right into a major league job, it probably would make more sense to do it somewhere he isn’t putting his sainthood at risk.
The Nationals are a good team looking for a good manager. So are the Reds. There are plenty of candidates out there with more experience than Ripken…plenty who have paid their dues as minor league managers and major league coaches. There aren’t many, however, who have the “Wow!” factor of a slam-dunk Hall of Famer who chased Lou Gehrig out of the record book.
It’s fair to question whether Ripken’s playing career and terrific reputation necessarily translate into him becoming a successful manager, but he really is more than just a baseball legend. Nobody spent more time – in his case, almost from birth – learning every nuance of the game. Nobody has seen the sport from more angles. No one has more baseball street cred.
The proof of that credibility among the current generation of players came in the form of a strong endorsement from Nationals star Jayson Werth, and it was easy to surmise from Ripken’s public reaction that he certainly wouldn’t let the call go to voicemail if the Nats decided to put him on their short list of candidates.
He wants to get back in and he made it pretty clear in his reaction to Wednesday’s managerial speculation that his focus right now is on the field instead of the front office.
The time might be just right, since it isn’t often that multiple jobs come open involving teams that are ready to win right away. The window of opportunity might never be open wider.
Maybe someday Ripken will stand on the top step of the Orioles dugout and the circle will be unbroken, but it really makes more sense for him to cut his teeth as a manager somewhere his legend will not totally overshadow his team.