ATLANTA -- Seated within the same hotel ballroom as Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn and Willie Mays, Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken commanded the most lasting stream of media and occasional autograph-seekers. The attention associated with his recognition among the century's 100 greatest players "humbled" Ripken but forced him to sidestep persistent questions about the inclusion of banned all-time hit leader Pete Rose and the state of the Orioles' managerial search.
Ripken was honored before last night's World Series Game 2 as a shortstop on the 30-man Major League Baseball All-Century team; so, too, was Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson. Ripken was one of only four active players -- St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire, Seattle Mariners center fielder Ken Griffey and New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens were the others -- to be recognized by commissioner Bud Selig as among "the special few who transcended the years in which they played."
Reminded that his opinion holds significant sway within the organization and the city, Ripken said, "I don't know if that would be a prudent use of that influence or power, if that's what you call it."
The Orioles are more than two weeks into an extensive series of interviews they hope will lead to their finding a successor to Ray Miller by Oct. 31. Ripken said he has not offered his input nor has his opinion been solicited by majority owner Peter Angelos or an advisory committee led by executive vice president John Angelos, chairman's representative Louis Angelos and chief operating officer Joe Foss.
Asked for his preference among the known candidates, Ripken declined. He did dispute descriptions of the clubhouse as a factionalized, mutinous place.
"I disagree with the description of the clubhouse and the things that have been written. I thought last year's group of guys was one of the best groups I've ever been around," Ripken said.
Added Ripken, who suffered through two stays on the disabled list before undergoing September back surgery: "The job is to go out there and do the best you can -- win games. The manager's job is to provide the direction to do that. Whether you have a team that's a little older sometimes you automatically assume the energy and the ability to play every day is part of being youthful. But the attitude of the guys was to come to the park every day to play. It's a good group of guys. I would imagine the challenges and responsibilities [of a manager] are different with this type of club."
Ripken did not elaborate on those differences; however, earlier this month right fielder Albert Belle emphasized a need for better communication from the next manager.
The Orioles are expected to notify the finalists this week of follow-up interviews with the majority owner, who ultimately will make the call.
Industry sources indicated yesterday that former Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove, Boston Red Sox bench coach Grady Little and Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo are likely to receive final consideration. Perlozzo interviewed for several hours with Angelos on Oct. 9, as did first base coach Marv Foley on Oct. 16.
Meanwhile, Ripken remains reluctant to construct a timetable for the rest of his career. He turns 40 next August and will be playing in the option year of his contract. Having appeared in only one World Series, Ripken refused to attach any greater sense of desperation for team accomplishments.
"Every year is urgent from that standpoint. The fact that I've won a World Series and know the feeling definitely puts me in a position at this stage of my career to appreciate it a lot more," Ripken said. "The goal is always to win. I'd like to play until I'm 80. That's impossible. Fifty is probably impossible. I want to get back to the World Series. But it doesn't get any more urgent."
Ripken said his surgically repaired lower back still gives him occasional pause but insisted that there are also days when he is never reminded of the stenosis that twice sent him to the disabled list before ending his season on a Cleveland operating table. He will undergo a follow-up examination this week and hopefully receive clearance to begin rehabilitating.
After an afternoon news conference to announce the All-Century team, Ripken tried to evade questions about the appropriateness of Rose's presence at the event despite a lifetime ban for gambling.
"When I think of Pete Rose, I think of him and his accomplishments as a player. I don't know all the facts about [his banishment] so I really can't make a statement about that."
Hours later Rose had no problem speaking on his own behalf. Appearing at a pre-game news conference behind a Major League Baseball microphone and in front of a Major League Baseball backdrop, Rose spoke forcefully, sometimes profanely and often self-indulgently about his attempt to gain reinstatement and, as a result, enshrinement into the Hall of Fame.
Rose may attend games at major-league facilities but, until last night, could not be officially recognized. His status as a pariah has kept him away from games except for isolated occasions, such as his oldest son's call-up in 1998.
"It's not worth it to me. I drive so many people crazy," said Rose. "When I go to the game they're paranoid about me being there."