The Orioles opened the 1997 season with a victory yesterday, but not before they had reached an important compromise.
Minutes before the club took the field for yesterday's Opening Day matchup against the Kansas City Royals, the Orioles agreed to terms with third baseman Cal Ripken on a two-year, $15.1 million contract extension that includes an option for the 2000 season and substantial performance incentives.
The deal, in the works for several months, will pay a reported $6.3 million per year for the 1998 and '99 seasons, and would pay him the same salary if the club picks up the third-year option. If that option is not exercised, Ripken would be paid a $2.5 million buyout.
Ripken celebrated the agreement with an impressive offensive performance, hitting a home run and two doubles to lead the Orioles to a 4-2 victory over the Royals at Camden Yards. Then he applauded the club for giving him the opportunity to finish his major-league career in the same uniform that he began it.
"It's very rare that somebody gets to play a whole career for one team," Ripken said. "Don't think I don't think I'm lucky to have been able to do that. This is a very happy day. It [the contract] takes me to a point that very well might be the end of my career. I hope it isn't, but it could be."
It takes him to the point where he could be approaching 3,000 hits, which raised the question of why the team was so reluctant to guarantee the final season. Sources close to the negotiations said that owner Peter Angelos assured Ripken that the team would not let him go after the second year of the extension, but nevertheless would not budge on the club's desire to retain only an option for 2000.
"I don't know if that was a big sticking point," said general manager Pat Gillick. "I don't think anything's going to happen with Cal, so it will probably be a straight three-year contract, but you never know what's going to happen. The club has a right to be protected."
Ripken, 36, hasn't given any indication that his career, in his 16th major-league season, is winding down. His consecutive-games streak reached 2,317, and he is coming off a 1996 season in which he hit 26 home runs and had 102 RBIs. But the negotiations hung up for most of spring training over a fraction of the final value of the deal -- about $100,000 per year in annual salary and $500,000 of the third-year buyout.
"It took awhile," Gillick said. "There was a lot of give and take on both sides. We're just glad he's going to be in Baltimore, where he grew up and developed as a player."
There was speculation that the negotiations were more difficult because of friction between Angelos and agent Ron Shapiro, who tangled publicly after popular broadcaster Jon Miller left the Orioles to join the San Francisco Giants. Though never %o acknowledging a feud, Shapiro chose to step aside during the final days of spring training and allow Ripken to talk with Angelos.
"I've rarely seen a player and owner build a dialogue the way Cal and Peter Angelos did," Shapiro said. "It was a team negotiating effort. They contributed a lot. Everybody worked on this, but it might not have gotten done without the contribution that they made."
Angelos talked to Ripken briefly on the field before the game and said later that he was happy that the situation had been resolved.
"It's tremendous," Angelos said. "We're pleased and delighted. He's a key guy."
The negotiations went down to the wire, and actually went into overtime when Tuesday's scheduled opener was postponed. Ripken had set a Opening Day game-time deadline for his involvement in the talks, and said yesterday that he was prepared to play the 1997 season and then work on a new contract in October.
Ripken negotiated through much of the 1992 season to arrive at the five-year, $32.5 million deal that was to expire at the end of this season, but his offensive performance suffered badly.
In addition to Cal Ripken's annual base salary of $6.3 million starting in 1998, these are the incentives in his contract:
$1 million for winning the American League MVP award; $500,000 if he finishes second through fifth; $250,000 if he finishes sixth through 10th.
$50,000 for being the MVP of any playoff series or the World Series.
Pub Date: 4/03/97