Who's greatest in pecking order?

Sun Staff

Tony Muser called it an impossible task. Terry Crowley wanted no part ofit. Scott McGregor simply was appreciative for having such skilled playersbehind him, no matter who rated higher.

Will Cal Ripken be remembered as the greatest Oriole, putting him on top ofan impressive list of candidates? If he's not the leader, who rises above him?

Maybe a better place to look is beside him. Ties are allowed in thesedebates, which brought contradictions and a few cop-outs.

Muser, the Kansas City Royals' manager who spent three seasons with the Orioles in the 1970s, came up with this gem while changing clothes in thevisitors' clubhouse at Camden Yards: "There were some pretty good players inthe history of the franchise."

Nice try.

Names such as Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Eddie Murray most oftensurface when comparisons are made to Ripken's legacy in Baltimore. BrooksRobinson and Ripken forever will be linked for spending their entire careerswith the Orioles. Frank Robinson is credited with teaching the club how to winand bringing the first world championship to Baltimore in 1966. Murray was ahome-grown player who introduced his own style of leadership, along with 504career home runs and the most RBIs (1,917) for a switch-hitter.

"I played with Brooksie for a couple years and he's still revered here, butCal's No. 1 for what he's accomplished with this team and what he did duringthe '95 season following the strike," said Ken Singleton, an Oriole from 1975to 1984. "Not only for the fans here, but for all of baseball. He's No. 1.There's no doubt in my mind.

"Cal's a great player, but he's a great person, too. Brooksie might havebeen a little more outgoing. Cal was more of a quiet leader. Everything hedid, everyone wanted to follow his example."

So does that settle it?

"The greatest Oriole will always be Brooks Robinson," said bullpen coachElrod Hendricks, whose 33 years in the organization go unchallenged. "I was acatcher, but I marveled at Brooks."

Bold enough to go further, Hendricks added Frank Robinson, Ripken and Jim Palmer, in that order. "But if you're going just by today, it would be Cal andEddie in the last 20 years or so," he said, jumbling the list.

"It's Cal because he spent his whole career here. But they haven't wonsince Eddie left, so I'd have to run him up there with Cal. You could flip acoin either way. When Frank left, there was a little down period and then herecame Eddie in '77 and it picked up again until '83. He left shortlythereafter, and the [losing] records are there.

"Eddie was quiet but very powerful, very forceful. Cal is a lot likeBrooks. I remember watching Cal as a kid sitting in the dugout, focused onBrooks and [Mark] Belanger working out. His eyes were glued to these guys. AndI see the same work ethic in him. Not only did his dad teach him the rightway, he also watched Brooks and Belanger."

Ripken always will be defined by The Streak, the run of consecutive gamesthat eclipsed Lou Gehrig's and made him a legend in black and orange. Muser,who puts Ripken "very high on the list, near the top," hopes the record and acatchy nickname aren't all that people recall about baseball's Iron Man.

"You don't want to diminish The Streak," Muser said, "but if youinvestigate his other numbers, they're pretty good. Being the Iron Man is mostprominent and tends to overshadow his numbers. He's had a hell of a career.He's hit big home runs, meaningful home runs. He's an example of how timing iseverything. And they won't talk about his defense, either."

Lee May, a first baseman/designated hitter with the Orioles for six yearsand later their hitting coach, also wonders if 2,632 consecutive games havemade Ripken's other feats more easily forgotten.

"He's got to be up there with Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, for all thecontributions he made to the ballclub," said May, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays'first base coach. "Not only was he the Iron Man of the ballclub, it was RBIs,home runs, his fielding. He did it all. It's got to be rewarding for a managerto know that every day, one guy's going to be in the lineup, and that's Cal.And even on his worst day, he's going to do something to win a ballgame,either with his glove or his bat or just being in there.

"It's a shame that everyone will just say that he played in however manyconsecutive games. But how many games did he win with his bat? How many timesdid he get his team off the field with a great play? He complemented the team.I think everybody kind of rallied around Cal."

Just as they did with Murray, who joins Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as theonly players with at least 500 homers and 3,000 hits.

"Him and Eddie I put together," said McGregor, an Oriole for 13 seasons whogot the final out in the 1983 World Series. "I was very fortunate to play on ateam with Cal hitting third and Eddie hitting fourth, plus Singleton and allthose guys. Cal and Eddie have done things that you just dream about.

"Brooksie was at the end of my career. I don't know those guys as well. Butas far as me playing, there are no two guys I've ever seen before like Cal andEddie, what those two guys would bring to the ballpark every day. To play on ateam where you had those two guys who played all the time. Hurt? It didn'tmatter. They were just out there. What a leadership duo they were for theteam. It made it real easy for me to win. Real easy."

If Brooks Robinson, winner of 16 Gold Gloves, and Ripken are connected bytheir years spent in the organization and enormous popularity among fans,Murray and Ripken are joined by their friendship and contributions to theOrioles' last world championship in '83, when they finished 1-2 in voting forthe American League's Most Valuable Player.

"I played with two of the greatest, Cal and Eddie," said Royals third basecoach Rich Dauer, a second baseman with the Orioles from 1976 through 1985."Those two could do anything to help a team win, even if it was moving arunner over. They'd run through a wall, then go outside and take care of everyfan. There can't be two any better."

Unless Palmer enters the discussion.

"The two guys you categorize are Brooks and Cal," said Palmer, who goesunchallenged among Orioles pitchers with 268 victories and three Cy Youngawards. "As great as Frank was, he was here six years. The only two contendersas far as being No. 1 are Brooks and Cal, and they're from different eras.Today, there's more SportsCenter, it's more PR-oriented. Brooks wins the MostValuable Player and does a Vitalis commercial, even though he's losing hishair. Maybe that says something about Brooks that he was able to do somethinglike that, but the reality is that Cal's in a different era where they marketplayers much better. Cal will long be remembered for what he's done both onand off the field, probably a little bit more so than Brooks.

"Frank Robinson was the Michael Jordan of this organization. When he camehere, he made everybody a better player. When Cal got here in '81, EddieMurray was the best player on this ballclub. But Cal's local, Cal's fromMaryland. Fans can relate to him."

Frank Robinson's limited tenure in Baltimore hurts his chances of beingknown as the greatest Oriole, though he's widely regarded as the best playerto wear the team's uniform.

"I don't know about that," said Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, goingagainst popular opinion. "You've got Brooks and you've got Ripken. Who elseare you going to have? And who broke Lou Gehrig's record? You have stats andlongevity. Frank was Most Valuable Player in both leagues. Could Rip have doneit? Could Brooks have done it? They didn't have a chance. But Frank did that,so we've got some great players in Baltimore. There's a great tradition."

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