CELEBRATING IN STYLE On birthday, Ripken signs for $30.5 million


Cal Ripken and the Baltimore Orioles took a major step toward assuring their futures last night by agreeing to the biggest guaranteed contract in baseball history.

The announcement was made last night at Oriole Park during a brief on-field ceremony just before the Orioles game against the California Angels. The deal was formally signed 50 minutes before game time and came on Mr. Ripken's 32nd birthday.

The agreement calls for Mr. Ripken to be paid $30.5 million over the next five years and also provides a $2 million option for post-career employment for four years after his retirement.

Mr. Ripken will receive a $3 million bonus, spread over the first two years, and annual salaries of $4.5 million in 1993, $4.8 million in 1994, $6 million in both 1995 and 1996 and $6.2 million in 1997.

The contract also provides Mr. Ripken with a unique "reopener" clause after the third year (1995). It means he has the option of filing for free agency at that time, if salaries continue their inflationary spiral. The team doesn't have the same right to reopen talks.

It is the largest guaranteed contract in baseball history, surpassing the five-year, $29 million deal the New York Mets handed outfielder Bobby Bonilla and the complex four-year, $28.4 million package that Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg received.

With the announcement, Mr. Ripken moved toward fulfilling his goal of playing his entire career in Baltimore, and the Orioles made a strong commitment to their future.

"I never pictured myself in another uniform," Mr. Ripken said. "I'm from here. I'm an Oriole and that's all I ever wanted to be.

"I couldn't say that for awhile," said Mr. Ripken, "but now I can."

"We think Cal Ripken is a first-ballot Hall of Famer," said club president Larry Lucchino. "He personifies the best of the Baltimore Orioles organization, and we are pleased and proud that he will be performing for the organization for many years to come.

"Make no mistake, this is a long-term commitment to Cal, to the city and the region -- and it is a commitment to winning that should not be overlooked," said Mr. Lucchino. "We're excited, pleased and relieved that this is over."

Although negotiations at times appeared to lag, Ron Shapiro, who handled negotiations for the player, said Mr. Ripken's desire to remain with the Orioles was the overriding factor. "I think I know in my heart that this had to happen, and Cal had to stay here," said Mr. Shapiro.

"Now he tells me," quipped Mr. Lucchino at a news conference.

"There is a certain amount of excitement about becoming a free agent," said Mr. Shapiro. "But beyond that there was the clear realization that Cal wanted to stay here."

What made the negotiations difficult at times, according to Mr. Shapiro, was trying to strike a deal that fit into baseball's salary structure, but without being able to completely test the marketplace.

"There was a temptation" for Mr. Ripken to become a free agent at the end of the year, Mr. Shapiro said. "It's much easier [to negotiate] if you make up your mind to go on the market. But I knew in his heart that Cal didn't want to give in to that temptation.

"The best thing about what happened today was Cal's smile in Larry's office" after the papers had been signed, said Mr. Shapiro. "Reaching an agreement with the Orioles was a continuing objective of Cal's -- and a truly unique and harmonious relationship between a club and player has now been cemented."

Mr. Ripken, who acknowledged that contract talks had become a distraction, expressed relief that negotiations had been concluded, but wouldn't blame his problems on the field to off-field activities.

"I feel very uncomfortable using it as an excuse," he said. "I don't want to hide behind excuses. Everyone has problems in life, but you're supposed to come out and do your job.

"It was a learning experience," Mr. Ripken said. "I did feel a sense of urgency to get it done. It had become a distraction, and lately I thought maybe it was becoming a distraction to the team, and I didn't want that to happen.

"Right now I have a lot of mixed emotions," said Mr. Ripken. "The frown is because of tonight's game [a 5-2 loss to the Angels], and yesterday's game and the game the day before.

"Inside I'm very happy. Deep down I'm glad that it's over and I'm overjoyed to be an Oriole."

Mr. Ripken, who enjoyed his best year in winning the American League MVP award for the second time last season, is currently struggling with the lowest numbers of his career. While not totally denying that the contract might have had a bearing, Mr. Shapiro downplayed the significance it had on negotiations.

"We didn't give in to that fact," said Mr. Shapiro. "In the end we [he and the club] both moved. The time had come to stop playing the game of negotiations and start playing the game of baseball.

"In the end it came down to the fact that I don't think Cal ever even thought about leaving. He grew up here watching Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer play their entire career with the Orioles. It has been his dream to follow in that tradition, and we weren't going to disturb that dream."

Mr. Lucchino said that, contrary to some perceptions, the Orioles started negotiations almost a year ago. "I pulled out my file when Cal was in the office," said Mr. Lucchino. "And the first entry was dated Sept. 26, 1991.

"One of the things that disappointed me was that some people thought we were sitting on our duffs on this thing -- and that wasn't true. I wish we had gotten it done earlier, but the proof is that we got it done -- without going into the free-agent market."

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