Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. makes no secret that his desire to get back into the game is at its highest level since his playing days ended.
But for Ripken, a homegrown kid who became as identifiable with Baltimore and the Orioles organization as the bird itself, following any desire to get back into professional baseball would likely mean wearing a uniform other than that of the Orioles for the first time in his career. Then there's the idea of possibly joining the Washington Nationals, the Orioles' regional rival to the south, with whom he has been linked recently despite saying that he hasn't been approached yet by the team.
Ripken, in a phone interview with The Baltimore Sun, said Thursday morning that the idea of joining another organization would be "strange," but he tried to separate his time as a player with his days in retirement — when he wanted to spend more time with his family (both of Ripken's children are now out on their own) — and with any future endeavor in baseball.
"In a way, it would be really strange," Ripken said. "I kind of look at it as that was a part of my life that God gave to me, and the second part of my life was something away from professional baseball, and then the next stage of your life, you just look at it as another stage of your life. I guess when you try to piece it all together, you really try to place it in some kind of historical realm, people want to remember me as just in that uniform. In many ways, that's how I remember me. Realistically, I have to look ahead and life is full of changes. And I don't think anyone has figured out life all the way through. I know I haven't.
"It comes back to the same thing. You leave yourself open, and sometimes it's a matter of timing in your life. If it fits you at that point, you act on it, and I don't like to think about it any more than that, and I don't think hypothetically what people would think if that happens. I just try to be more realistic and take it in that sense."
Listening to Ripken talk, it seems like he's energized by his current role as a color analyst for TBS' postseason coverage. He said he enjoys being close to the game again, dissecting it, being in the clubhouses and talking strategies with managers, but it is apparent he does have a growing appetite to swoop in from his birds-eye view in the broadcast booth and be more involved in the daily activities of a major league club.
Ripken, 53, has made it clear that he isn't lobbying for any job, managerial or otherwise. Asked whether he viewed managing — rather than a front-office job — as his step back into the game, he said he wasn't sure.
"I could be open to consider other things," Ripken said. "But do I know what they are? No. And I don't control those opportunities necessarily. The funny part about it is, once the media gets a hold of something, it almost appears as if you're soliciting a job. And it's actually the opposite. If you had a firm thought in your mind, then you could actually create an action plan to make that happen more directly. You don't float it out to the media. To me, I was just trying to answer the questions honestly. In the past, there have been general managers who have poked around and asked me if I was interested in managing and I had no interest."
Now, however, that interest is there, especially since both of his children, Rachel and Ryan, are now out of the house. The possibility of Ripken succeeding Davey Johnson as Nationals manager became a news topic last month when Washington outfielder Jayson Werth said Ripken would be his No. 1 choice, and given Ripken's status in the game, it has created a life of its own.
Ripken has chosen his words carefully in interviews, never mentioning a specific opening, but he said Thursday that growing into his role in the TBS broadcast booth has made him more interested in managing.
"Managing is interesting because [the manager] has to do with all the things that happen on the field," Ripken said. "And being around the broadcast side of it, you're commenting on all those decisions being made and kind of living them, going through it with them. So any opportunity that would arise, you have to analyze it, you have to explore it, you have to see how it fits in your life, what's the change? There's no one answer that says, 'I'm ready to do this or that.' For me, it's just leaving yourself open to consider things."
If Ripken took a managerial job, he would do so without any managerial experience. Ripken's father, Cal Ripken Sr., was a longtime minor league coach and manager in the Orioles organization before he became manager in 1987.
"That was his path," Ripken said of his father. "He wanted to be a player. He couldn't be a player. He was forced into management. He played a huge role in developing players into getting into the big leagues. He was part of an Orioles organization that was very productive. So that's one path. I think he'd look at the qualifications and look at what kind of baseball person they are. Because ultimately, the set of skills and talents you get are based on your path or your experience, and I don't think he would begrudge anyone the opportunity, no matter what path he took."
Ripken pointed to the managers he's currently covering in the National League Championship Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Don Mattingly and St. Louis Cardinals' Mike Matheny, both first-time managers. Matheny is in his first coaching or managerial job and has St. Louis one win away from the World Series.
"What qualifies you to be a manager in the big leagues?" Ripken said. "That's the question everyone asks when they go and hire a manager. Do you value experience where you work your way up and you manage in the minor leagues for 14 years like my Dad? Or do you look at the big league situation as a different situation? Are you looking for a different skill set? I don't know. There's many different hires."