$30.5 million worth of expectations, too


Being a $6 million man naturally has its comfortabl compensations. They are enormous. Cal Ripken Jr. will be able to live in any luxury that meets his approval. Hopefully, it may mean happiness, but there's no contract, written or otherwise, that can guarantee contentment.

His wants always have been modest so it's doubtful Ripken's lifestyle will change. Same ol' Cal. If he decides to buy a new, Marty Marion-model glove, he won't have to contemplate whether he can afford the cost.

But the harsh reality of this new affluence is an awareness that his performance expectations are going to be commensurate with what he's actually making, $30.5 million for the next five years.

Will he be able to field and hit like a $30.5 million prize? The answer is an emphatic no.

The ticket-buying baseball public, at least in this precinct, is going to be more discerning and demanding. He isn't going to have to hit home runs with the rapidity of Lou Gehrig, the man he's trying to surpass in the longevity league, but at 32 he is going to have to be better than ever.

This comes because he has moved into a higher financial league, where no man, not even Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb, ever remotely approached. Ripken is all alone. And when his playing career is ended, he isn't going to have to worry about whether the Baseball Pension Fund will cover his monthly expenses.

The Orioles have assured that he can come work for them -- hitting fungoes, scouting, coaching, having a position in the front office, whatever his interests -- at an income of $2 million over four years. It's a deal that sounds as if it was created in some fantasy land.

Now what did a previous Orioles administration do for Brooks Robinson when he retired? You'd never guess. It was a job making speeches at $1,000 an appearance. No wonder he elected, instead, to sell gasoline for Crown Central Petroleum Corp.

Anyhow, Eli Jacobs, the present owner, no longer can be accused of being the cheapest baseball employer since Branch Rickey.

That issue has been obliterated. Ripken sees Jacobs as a Santa Claus who came calling with a sack of money, millions of it, on a summer night in August at the ballpark. The Orioles, though, got tacky in their announcement. They put it on the PA system, like it was spelling out the details of how much the holder of a lucky lottery ticket had just won.

Where was the dignity and style of the organization? It was a case of taking a cheap bow for something costing so much. With Ripken receiving such an enormous amount, it certainly put the other Orioles players on notice that they can press for higher wage increases. They can play off Ripken and have him to thank, along with management, for a situation that is going to help them beyond all imagination.

The public, without question, may want the Orioles to pay for new seating arrangements in the new park. As it is now, the space between the rows is being criticized by some spectators. They are forced to find openings between those in front of them and then hope the vista doesn't close.

This problem, along with correcting the seats along the third base and first base lines, which face the outfield and not the pitcher, are flaws that need to be corrected, regardless of the cost. If the Orioles can afford to pay Ripken the sum that has been outlined, then it shouldn't bother them to address the matter of improving customer comfort.

On the Ripken front, let's offer another point. Just because he's a $6 million man doesn't mean he'll hit like one, or even attain the level he produced a year ago. That he has slumped because of not being signed for the future doesn't enter the mind of any hitter when he's at home plate. It's either concentrate or get his head knocked off.

The hypothesis that Ripken's failures this season were attributable to not having a new contract is infantile. That originated with media members who never played the game. Ripken hit well earlier in the year. Was that because he was happy then and unhappy later? If so, then with reason to be elated, he ought to be the next player since Ted Williams and Bill Terry to hit .400.

Salaries, even $30.5 million, unfortunately can't be correlated to performance, which Cal Ripken Jr., in his decent, honorable and self-effacing way, will admit.

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