And for the O's next move . . . Bill Ripken?


The Orioles are finally showing life, and another shot of adrenalin might be on the way.

Would you believe Bill Ripken?

Ripken's agent, Ron Shapiro, said last night that the Orioles are interested in reacquiring the second baseman from the Cleveland organization.

The Orioles likely would pursue Ripken only if they first could deal Bret Barberie, who is the $985,000 backup to Manny Alexander.

Could it happen?

Club officials have yet to approach the Indians about Ripken, but apparently they are discussing him internally.

General manager Roland Hemond declined to comment.

No doubt, reuniting the Ripken brothers in time for Cal's final pursuit of Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record would be a public-relations coup.

However, the move also would raise a new set of questions for a team that continues to turn over its roster at a frightening rate.

For starters, it would make little sense for the club to abandon its commitment to Alexander, who is playing regularly for the first time in his career.

The only justification for this move would be if manager Phil Regan is dissatisfied with Alexander's defense.

But Regan didn't say that last night.

"I think he's played well," Regan said. "I think he's getting better each time out. He's learning the position in the major leagues."

So, even though the move would be wildly popular -- Bill is far more valuable to the Orioles than any other club -- it would also be unfair.

What about Alexander's speed?

His improved hitting?

And the fact that the Orioles didn't trade him when he was one of the game's top shortstop prospects?

Uh, never mind.

It's no secret that owner Peter Angelos loves to reacquire former Orioles. That almost certainly makes him a Bill Ripken fan.

Indeed, there's no question that Ripken would solidify the infield defense, enliven the clubhouse and add competitive fire.

Cal has said that Bill is the best double-play partner he has ever had. They were Orioles teammates for six seasons, from 1987 to '92.

Why didn't the Orioles sign Bill as a Triple-A free agent last winter to serve as a right-handed complement to Mark McLemore?

Never mind that, either.

Ripken, 30, entered last night's play batting .311 with 21 doubles, two home runs and 31 RBIs at Triple-A Buffalo, where he is playing shortstop.

His contract situation is believed to be similar to Gregg Olson's -- he could ask to leave the Cleveland organization if offered a major-league opportunity.

The deadline for such a move is believed to be within the next 10 days, and it's doubtful the Indians would promote Ripken to avoid losing him, the way they did with Olson.

"I believe the Orioles have interest in Bill Ripken, and I believe other teams have interest in Bill Ripken," Shapiro said.

"If Billy had a preference, it would be to be in Baltimore. But he can't turn a deaf ear to other opportunities."

In other words, the Orioles might need to act quickly, but first they would need to trade Barberie, who has started only one of the last 14 games.

Barberie and Leo Gomez are buried on Regan's bench, and they are virtually useless as utility players. But to trade Barberie, the Orioles likely would need to pick up part of his salary.

Andy Van Slyke, Matt Nokes, now Barberie -- why'd the Orioles even bother reshaping their roster last off-season?

Two months into the season, they're tearing it up again.

The addition of Ripken would be a slap at Alexander, but the Orioles no longer wait patiently for their prospects to develop.

Produce or perish, that's their philosophy.

Not just for the young players, for everyone.

Alexander, 24, has batted .297 since moving into the starting lineup two weeks ago. Last night, he beat out a ground ball for an infield hit -- but also made his sixth error after dropping a pop-up in foul territory.

Regan professes to want speed, and he's getting it with Alexander and Curtis Goodwin in that lineup. Ripken, a .243 lifetime hitter, would be another plodder.

Alexander, Arthur Rhodes, Damon Buford, Brad Pennington -- at one point, all of these players had strong trade value. But the Orioles kept them all, and to what end?

The club would say it still values Alexander. The club would say it's only trying to improve. The club would say it needs Bill Ripken.

You can justify this move.

But at some point, this madness must end.

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