Those who have managed and played with Cal Ripken seem to agree that the 14-time All-Star shortstop will become an All-Star at third base.
Ripken has spent almost his entire career at short after manager Earl Weaver converted him from third base in 1982. Since then, Ripken has played a record 2,316 consecutive games, and had a streak of 2,216 straight at shortstop that ended this year.
Now, Mike Bordick will be the Orioles' shortstop, with a new three-year deal, and Ripken is returning to third base. Not everyone agrees that Ripken was slowing on defense, but there is a consensus that the move gives the Orioles one of the best infields in baseball.
"I don't necessarily agree with the fact they needed a shortstop," former manager Cal Ripken Sr. said. "They didn't need a shortstop, they needed pitching. Mike Bordick is a fine shortstop, I'm not disagreeing with that at all. But when they're making up a ballclub, the people down there are not looking at what they need. That's just my personal opinion.
"Sure, [the move] will go fine, because Cal does whatever the club wants done. If they move him to third base, he'll play third base and play hard, and Cal playing third base will help Mike Bordick to no end, because he'll make plays on balls to his left that other guys can't make."
On July 15, Ripken moved to third for Manny Alexander's short-lived experiment at shortstop, and Ripken made six appearances at third base overall in 1996. He had made two prior appearances at third after becoming a shortstop, both in 1982.
Despite that layoff from the position, Ripken Sr. says his son will have no problem making adjustments. Ripken's terrific hands, reflexes, range and baseball instincts should make moving to third an easy adjustment.
"Now we've got a great shortstop that has agreed to go to third base, and another great shortstop to take his place," general manager Pat Gillick said. "Take a look at [Rafael] Palmeiro, [Roberto] Alomar, [Mike] Bordick and Ripken, and I think it's one of the best infields in a while. I think Ripken is going to be an All-Star at third base."
Palmeiro will be the recipient of throws from Bordick and Ripken at first base, and he's grateful for the opportunity to play with both.
"I'm really excited, man," Palmeiro said when learning of Bordick's signing. "I'm really looking forward to playing with those guys. Mike makes us better, because knowing Cal, he'll win a Gold Glove at third base. I think it's less of a load for Cal now. I think he'll be a better player, if that's possible.
"Bordick makes us better defensively, because now we have a great third baseman. To me, Cal is one of the best shortstops in the game right now, but with Bordick at short, we've got a great infield. We've never had a strong third baseman that could complement Cal."
The Orioles have used 39 different players at third base since Ripken became the everyday shortstop July 1, 1982.
The pitching staff should be the beneficiary of the improved infield defense.
Mike Flanagan, a former teammate of Ripken's and former Orioles pitching coach, said if the staff can keep the ball out of the air, this infield should be able to sparkle.
"I know I'd certainly want to be a ground-ball pitcher on this staff," Flanagan said. "They've got some pretty good fielding pitchers up the middle, and knowing [new pitching coach] Ray Miller really well, he's going to be preaching to them about keeping the ball down." Orioles who have played third base alongside Cal Ripken since July 1, 1982, when Ripken became everyday shortstop:
Floyd Rayford, Rich Dauer, Glenn Gulliver, Leo Hernandez, Aurelio Rodriguez, Todd Cruz, Wayne Gross, Ron Jackson, Fritz Connally, Tom O'Malley, Gary Roenicke, Jackie Gutierrez.
Juan Bonilla, Juan Beniquez, Kelly Paris, Larry Sheets, Ricky Jones, Ray Knight, Rene Gonzales, Ron Washington, Pete Stanicek, Rick Schu, Wade Rowdon, Craig Worthington, Tim Hulett.
Jeff Tackett, Marty Brown, Leo Gomez, Steve Scarsone, Mark McLemore, Mike Pagliarulo, Chris Sabo, Jeff Manto, Jeff Huson, Bobby Bonilla, B.J. Surhoff, Bill Ripken, Manny Alexander, Todd Zeile.
Pub Date: 12/13/96