Making the case for Ripken's managerial potential
Communication skills, knowledge of game make Hall of Famer prime candidate
I would hire Cal Ripken as manager in a heartbeat. Is it a slam dunk he'll succeed? Absolutely not. Guess what? Mike Matheny wasn't a slam dunk, either. Neither was Don Mattingly or Robin Ventura.
There were huge questions about all three of those guys since they had never managed a game at any level. Here's the deal, though. Unless a team hires a guy with years of Major League managing experience, there are going to be questions.
Just because someone has managed in the Minors or coached third base in the Majors does not necessarily make him more likely to succeed than a Ripken or a Matheny.
Managing a Major League team requires patience, smarts, people skills, toughness, organizational skills, consistency, honesty and strategic knowledge. It's unclear which of those is the most important. At various times, all are critical.
There's no way of knowing if a guy can succeed unless he has a chance to do the job. All a team can do is gather as much information as possible and make an educated guess.
At a time when front offices can furnish managers with loads of data about lineups, pitching matchups and defensive alignments, managing a Major League team is more about managing people than ever before. It's about surrounding himself with competent people, delegating responsibilities and knowing what he doesn't know.
Ripken's strength will be his communication skills, presence, credibility and overall knowledge of the game. His weakness will be that he has never managed a Major League team and may be taken aback by the speed with which decisions have to be made.
Is Ripken patient enough? How will he deal with players who don't have the same drive and determination he had? Will he be willing to look a player in the eye and tell him his role even if the conversation is going to be unpleasant?
Will he put young players in position to succeed? Will he be understanding when they don't? Will he remember that there's a learning curve for every player and that the worst thing a guy can do is give up on a young guy too soon?
Again, those are things we just can't know about Ripken. But we didn't know those things about Matheny, either. We don't know those things about most first-time managers.
Jim Leyland had done his job so well and so long in the Minor Leagues that he probably was as close to a slam dunk as there has been. But there are other paths to the corner office.
During Ripken's 21 years in the Major Leagues, he impressed almost everyone around him with his thoroughness, preparation and attention to detail. Those are things that could serve him well as a manager.
For instance, Ripken sat in on many pregame sessions when pitchers came up with a game plan for that day. He wanted to know how opposing hitters were going to be pitched so he had a better idea how to position himself.
At times, he called pitches for the catcher from shortstop. Or at least suggested pitches that the catcher might want to call. When fans watched Ripken play shortstop, they assumed he had great range.
He did have decent range, but it looked better than it was because of his preparation. He had a knack of being in the right place at the right time because of all the work he'd done before a pitch was thrown.
Ripken was similarly prepared at home plate. He went to bat with an encyclopedic knowledge of how he'd been pitched by a certain guy in the past and had the ability to foul off pitches until he got the one he'd prepared for.
He tried to do everything right. He once fretted that he was unable to sign every autograph. For reporters, he could be frustrating. He'd listen to a question, roll it around in his mind and then ask: "What's your angle for this story?"
In other words, "What are you trying to get me to say? If you just tell me, I'll let you know whether I'm willing to say it or not."
At times, he would take the question with him to batting practice, ponder it for an hour or so and then summon the reporter over with an answer.
Like a catcher, Ripken had a big-picture view of the field. Cal and his brother, Billy, once took a young reliever, Gregg Olson, for a postgame beer to discuss pitch sequencing.
Olson had one of baseball's best curveballs, but the Ripken brothers wanted to emphasize the importance of him always establishing his fastball. He had an above-average heater, and they wanted him to understand that was the pitch on which he must build his career.
Anyway, the point is that Ripken would bring a long list of talents to the dugout. He'd need to be surrounded with a great coaching staff, but the same can be said for every manager on the planet.
In the end, a team looking for a manager would be lucky to have him. And it would be great to have him back in the game.