WASHINGTON — Baltimore Orioles legend and baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Junior stopped by WTOP on Monday morning for a quick chat that covered everything from his foundation’s charity work to the Orioles’ struggles to Bryce Harper’s approaching free agency.
You can watch the whole chat in the video below.
At 5 p.m. Monday, Ripken will be at the Roy Rogers in Alexandria, Virginia, with his foundation to celebrate the restaurant chain’s 50 years of business and play a bit of “quick ball.”
“That’s just a fancy name for Wiffle ball; we have particular bats and softer balls so you can get the action moving a lot quicker,” Ripken told WTOP’s Bruce Alan and Joan Jones.
“The important thing is kids get a chance to get reps and play in a safe environment.”
Roy Rogers is a partner with the Cal Ripken Senior Foundation, which seeks to create safe opportunities for young people to develop valuable life skills and build character while honoring the spirit of Cal Ripken Sr.
“Sports is a really great, valuable tool to direct young people in positive directions and learn valuable lessons, and Dad had a real knack for that,” Ripken said.
“We thought his legacy was about helping kids. He used to use baseball to get in front of kids, create mentorships and programs and those sort of things. … He lost his dad when he was 10 and I think he felt for all kids that didn’t have that sort of fatherly influence and used baseball to get them focusing on a positive thing.”
On the Orioles’ season so far
It’s been 17 years since Ripken last played with the Orioles, but he is still arguably the most recognizable member of the organization.
In his 21 years with the team, Ripken won a World Series title in 1983, the 1982 Rookie of the Year Award and two MVP awards, and played a big role in guiding them to the playoffs in 1996 and 1997.
It’s hard not to talk about the struggles the team has been going through this season.
“There’s a lot of ups and downs in the game, but when you’re going through a down period, it’s just not a fun time.”
There haven’t been a lot of fun times this season. For a good chunk of the year, the Orioles were on pace to break a record for the most losses in a single season.
While things have improved slightly, after 97 games the 2018 Orioles are heading into the All-Star Break with a worse record than the 1988 team, which was the worst team in Oriole history.
Ripken said the team has some important decisions to make.
“I still enjoy watching them; their effort is really good. They got some really good players,” he said. “But they have some decisions they need to make right now.”
Arguably the biggest decision the team will make is what happens with Manny Machado.
Machado is a free agent next year, and the team could get a lot of prospects if they decide to trade him before the trade deadline on July 31. There has certainly been no shortage of trade talks surrounding Machado.
“Manny Machado wants to know where he is going,” Ripken said. “The uncertainty, I think, probably bothers him and it probably bothers the rest of the club too.”
Ripken experienced a similar situation firsthand in the dreadful 1988 season, where the team lost its first 21 games.
“During that time, the Orioles thought they wouldn’t be able to sign me; I was a free agent at the end of year,” Ripken said.
“It bothered me a lot that there were rumors every day that I was going to get traded to the Red Sox or the Yankees. It was unnerving. The rest of your teammates feel a little bit of that instability as well.”
Ripken said he hasn’t talked about the situation with Machado directly, and admitted he didn’t know whether doing so would make Machado feel any better.
On Bryce Harper and his impending free agency
At the very least, the uncertainty surrounding Machado’s impending free agency hasn’t noticeably affected his performance on the field.
It’s a slightly different story surrounding Bryce Harper, who is also a free agent at the end of the season.
By some measures, Harper is having a good year, but he enters the All-Star break hitting just .214, which would easily be the lowest batting average of his career.
Ripken thinks that the uncertainty surrounding Harper’s contract status might be affecting his performance.
“As best you can, you want to separate the business side from the playing side,” he said.
“Baseball is tough, because you have to do it every single day and you have to keep an even keel. Anything that makes you up and down, especially the way a contract status does, that doesn’t serve you on a daily basis.”
Ripken pointed to his 1992 season, when contract negotiations with the Orioles were going on during the regular season.
“It seemed like when you were doing good, the contract negotiations heated up and when you were slumping a little bit, the contract negotiations would go away,” he said. “That’s not a way to play a season.”
Ripken only hit .251 in 1992, and posted the lowest OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) his career to that point. A year earlier, in 1991, Ripken had won the MVP award and posted the highest OPS of his career to that point.
“I think if you can separate and say ‘OK, there’s a time for negotiation, either before the season or after,’ I think you’d be better off.”