Schmuck: Cal Ripken Jr. knows what it's like to be on the worst team in baseball and feels Orioles' pain

Fifty-nine games into the 1988 season, the Orioles were in basically the same situation that they are right now.

They were wallowing at the bottom of the American League East standings, 22½ games out of first place after starting the season with a record 21 straight losses.

It would end up being the worst season in team history and Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. hopes the current Orioles won’t have to relive it over the next four months.

“I’ve been to a couple games and I’ve watched them a little bit on TV,” he said. “It does remind me of some difficult times when we had to go through rebuilding, where you lose a little bit and you try to figure out why you’re losing.”

That 1988 team never did figure it out and went on to lose 107 games, but the “Why Not?” Orioles of 1989 bounced back to reach the final weekend of the regular season with a chance to make the playoffs.

Ripken spent a few minutes reflecting on all that Tuesday after he took part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony at brand-new CSX Field at Baybrook Park — the latest youth development field completed by the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation in partnership with rail giant CSX, Under Armour and the Ravens.

“That’s the most challenging time and thank goodness they’re not going through an 0-21 streak, but it’s still the same feeling,” Ripken said. “Sometimes you have to regroup your goals. You come into the season thinking one thing and then as you start off, you’ve got to go, ‘OK, let’s focus on having a good week or having a good month and try to build on that.’

“It seems like when you get pitching, the hitting doesn’t happen. And when you don’t get pitching, the hitting tries to make up for it. It seems like they’re a little out of sync.”

That’s a bit of an understatement, but Ripken said he still thinks the Orioles have the nucleus of a solid club.

“I don’t know exactly what’s happening because I haven’t been watching that closely,” he said, “but I’m sure they’ll figure it out.”

In 1988, Ripken and Eddie Murray pretty much carried the offense, much like Manny Machado and Adam Jones are doing now. That team was also in transition, with Murray headed to the Los Angeles Dodgers the following winter and some good young players starting to come into their own.

“That year that [we] lost — we lost 100 games and we lost 21 straight games — it forces you to dig down and really focus on your day-to-day stuff,” Ripken said. “And, many times, you have to focus on how you can help other people on your team, so it’s a good learning process but it’s still a painful one."

That was the year Ripken befriended a young outfielder named Brady Anderson, who would play alongside him for the 14 seasons and remains a close friend.

Anderson, of course, has become a major player in the Orioles front office and figures to have a say in the direction the team takes as it tries to navigate through this period of uncertainty.

So it’s only logical to ask whether Ripken foresees a time when he might be of help to Anderson and the only organization he ever played for, but it’s the kind of thing Ripken is understandably tired of being asked about.

“It seems that I always get asked when these things happen and I don’t really have any information to report,” he said. “It all seems like hypothetical and rumors. So, for me, I don’t really like to contribute to the rumors.”

Ripken has been the subject of all kinds of rumors involving the Orioles since his retirement. He generally deflects them just like that, but he has never been one to say never. Given another moment to consider the possibility, he left the door open.

“I really haven’t given that much thought lately, but it would be fun to work with him,” Ripken said. “I like him. I like being around him. We’ve spent many hours together as teammates and, yeah, it would be interesting.”

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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