Ripken and Orioles didn't miss a step in the modern-day negotiating minuet Protracted process inevitable in '90s

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SEATTLE -- In the aftermath of the Cal Ripken signing come the obvious questions.

Why did it take so long?

Why didn't the Orioles get this done a year ago, rather than have it drag through the winter, spring training and almost five months of a pennant race?

Why didn't Ripken and Ron Shapiro, his negotiator, read the situation sooner, before accepting an offer that wasn't drastically different from the one ($30 million for five years) that had been put on the table four months earlier?

As complex as these issues are -- and they can get very complicated -- the answer is simple.

Prolonged negotiations have become an accepted part of the baseball process. This is especially true when a team is trying to retain a player and the market value of a player can only be estimated, rather than tested.

In every form of labor negotiation, acrimony almost always precedes harmony. Contract negotiations are no different -- witness the sessions conducted before Ryne Sandberg signed; the ongoing sagas between Barry Bonds and the Pittsburgh Pirates, Andre Dawson and the Chicago Cubs, Wade Boggs and the Boston Red Sox, and the apparent breakdown that influenced the New York Mets to trade David Cone.

And don't overlook the influence of peer pressure. Ripken was looked upon as a standard bearer, one who could establish the market. In that regard, the Players Association is a vital player in the negotiating game.

The only way to determine true value is to have everybody on the open market. Without that common denominator, there is an appraisal system, with the Players Association assisting player representatives in establishing estimated values.

It is similar to the "slotting" technique used in amateur drafts by teams in all sports, and there is very little deviation. When considered in that context, it is understandable that it would take longer for the Orioles and Ripken to strike a deal than it would for, say, the Washington Redskins and their top draft pick, Desmond Howard.

There is a general perception that the Orioles could have saved themselves $5 million had they acted a year ago. But club president Larry Lucchino insists that is a false assumption -- and there is little evidence to dispute him.

With the kind of year Ripken had last season, there was no reason for Shapiro to push for a deal unless he could leapfrog the market, which is what Sandberg did last March. Shapiro has never been in favor of inflicting deadlines on negotiations, but he would have to acknowledge that sometimes they can be helpful in pushing two sides together.

Certainly that was a factor with the Orioles and Ripken, who unofficially set the shortstop's 32nd birthday last Monday as a terminating point to keep negotiations out of the final month of a division race.

Who knows whether both sides would have been better off had the deal been done sooner? Or later? Had the Orioles not been in an unexpected division race, it would not have been such a hot topic (although you probably would have read and heard even more about it, if that's possible).

The bottom line is that the Orioles and Ripken simply went through the process. What they learned was that it's almost impossible for either side to come away unscarred.

It's usually not pretty, and sometimes it's ugly -- but that's baseball in the 1990s.

Neon lights

Are you trying to figure out what all the fuss is about Deion

Sanders? If so, join the club.

He might be an All-Pro defensive back, but Sanders is still working on becoming a legitimate two-sport star, despite hitting .300 for his first 280 at-bats.

Going into this weekend, the Braves outfielder had one more extra-base hit than RBI (27-26). His ratio of stolen bases to runs scored (21-47) wasn't anything to write home about, either -- although it looks brilliant compared with that of teammate Otis Nixon, who stole 50 bases and scored only 46 runs for the Montreal Expos in 1990.

Among his first 84 hits, Sanders -- who entered the season with a .183 career batting average -- had 13 triples, six doubles and eight home runs. At this pace, he would finish with 17 triples, 10 homers, eight doubles, 27 stolen bases, 61 runs and 34 RBI.

The most interesting of those numbers is the ratio of triples to RBI. Only twice in baseball history has anyone hit that many triples with fewer RBI. In 1914, Max Carey had 17 triples and 31 RBI, and in 1904, Joe Cassidy had 19 three-base hits and 33 RBI.

Granted, Sanders hits behind pitchers most of the time, but that doesn't fully explain his limited run production.

Desperate measures

No one can argue that the Toronto Blue Jays took a bad gamble in acquiring David Cone from the New York Mets. They have been desperate for a starting pitcher since spring training.

With a roster that's likely to undergo radical change after this season, win or lose, the Blue Jays are also desperate to make their first World Series appearance. That became obvious last winter, when they committed $10 million to Jack Morris for two years.

But that's only part of the story. In the past two years, the Blue Jays have traded six young position players to get late-season pitching help.

Mark Whiten, Glenallen Hill, Rob Ducey, Greg Myers and Jeff Kent, all of whom played with the Blue Jays, have vanished from the roster. Outfield prospect Ryan Thompson will apparently be the next to go -- joining Kent as payment (rent?) for Cone, who can become a free agent after this season.

"They're renting a player for 5 1/2 weeks and not worrying about the long-term future," said Mets general manager Al Harazin. "It's a gamble, but it might pay off."

Some observers are inclined to question the direction in which the Blue Jays are headed. What they can't question is the quality and depth of a minor-league system that has allowed Pat Gillick to wheel and deal. It's hard to believe his nickname used to be "Stand Pat."

Toronto's farm system may finally be feeling the effects of the steady drain of talent, but the Blue Jays are certainly better armed for the pennant push. And if they can sign Cone (they were unable to keep Tom Candiotti a year ago), the Blue Jays will have a start on 1993 as well. Which do you question more about the Mets and the Boston Red Sox -- their judgment or fiscal responsibility?

The Mets, who, over the years, have quietly assembled the worst defensive team this side of the Los Angeles Dodgers, had the highest payroll ($44.4 million) this year. That was before they dumped the last $1 million of Cone's contract on the Blue Jays.

The Red Sox weren't far behind the Mets, spending $42 million on the team with the third-worst record in the American League (sixth overall). Do you think former Orioles execs Harazin, in his first year as Mets general manager, and Lou Gorman, who may be in his last in the same job with the Red Sox, have had a lot of fun this summer?

Orioles give Baltimore ball

Look for the Orioles to lend some visible support to Baltimore's bid to land an NFL franchise.

Last week, club president Larry Lucchino was host to several league and club officials in his sky box at Camden Yards on Wednesday night, the night before the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints played a preseason game at Memorial Stadium.

The Orioles are looking to back the effort to get a team by displaying a message to "Give Baltimore The Ball" during the final month of the season at Camden Yards.

Impertinent questions

* Couldn't Eli Jacobs just about pay off that loan with the Orioles' share of concession income at Camden Yards from this year alone?

* How come every time the Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers get close enough to smell the roses they come down with hay fever?

* Isn't the biggest difference between Pat Gillick and Roland Hemond that the Toronto Blue Jays general manager has the goods to shop at quality stores while his counterpart with the Orioles has to check out the factory outlets?

* Who has done a better managing job in the major leagues than the Montreal Expos' Felipe Alou?

* Haven't the Expos raised even more quality talent in their farm system than the Blue Jays?

* Why does Fay Vincent even want to stay?

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