Debate: Should the Nationals hire Cal Ripken?

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photoshop credit: the always great @jwerthsbeard

Justin: Would Cal Ripken be a good manager?

Jason: I haven’t the slightest clue if Cal Ripken would make a good manager and nobody else does either. That is really not the interesting question that needs to be asked about the possibility of Cal Ripken being the next manager of the Washington Nationals.

The more interesting question is: What would it mean to Washington Baseball?

Very few members of the Washington National’s fan base remember the baseball team that moved to Dallas in 1972. Until 2005, when the Nationals came into existence baseball in the Washington DC area was all about one guy, Cal Ripken. His career perfectly bridges the gap of time when the Nations Capital didn’t have a baseball team of its own. Ripken was called up in the end of the 1981 season and played until 2001. Those 21 years make up the bulk of the span between the Senators and Nats. He was the face of baseball in the region and after the MLB strike, the face of baseball period. I grew up in the DC area in the 80s and 90s, Ripken was the player all the little leaguers listed as their favorite.

Now here is something Baltimore fans probably don’t want to admit, but secretly know is true: Cal Ripken is as much as DC sports star as he is a Baltimore sports star. Go back and read the Washington Post from the 80s and 90s he got as many headlines as any DC sports star especially in the Summer before training camp. In a way he can accomplish what has always felt weird, a shared baseball identity between Baltimore and Washington.

Is this a good idea?

Justin: Cal Ripken is only a good idea if the Nationals win. The Nationals need to win. Winning is the only way to build a fan base and a franchise identity. “Feel good” hires don’t matter.

This all seems obvious and self-evident, but this town doesn’t always benefit from enlightened thinking. Washington DC is the town that imported Michael Jordan to run its basketball team and reanimated Joe Gibbs to run its football team. Both of those moves “won the press conference” but they both resulted in losses on the field.

The Nationals don’t need to win press conferences, they need to win playoff games. The time for “feel good hires” was back in 2005. Now it’s almost 2014. This team is built to win now and they need a manager to get them back in the playoffs.

The question is simple: would Ripken make a good manager? You watched him growing up. What do you think?

Jason: No other person in his playing days, except for maybe Barry Larkin, has the type of resume for managing as Ripken does. The way he played SS was like a field general. I have read stories where he played an active roll in pitch selection. That level of responsibility and leadership is unique but that is what makes him such an iconic figure. When I think of two words to define Ripken’s playing style, I think of his discipline and fundamentals. There is a reason why Jayson Werth deliberately threw his name out there. I think he recognizes that the team would play better in the type of environment a guy like Ripken would bring compared to the environment Davey had last year. Watching Ripken break down Bryce Harpers swing earlier in the year during the Becoming Bryce documentary was fascinating; the guy has the coaching skills if he chooses to use them.

Ripken has also taken a very different path since his “retirement”, Ripken Baseball, the company he founded has a yearly revenue stream of 30 million dollars. Not many professional players have been able to leverage their on field success they way Ripken has. Other players get back into coaching and pay their dues with hopes of being a manager some day. Ripken stayed in touch with the game by owning minor league teams and fostering youth baseball. I don’t know if years being a minor league third base coach is the only way to earn a managers job. Some guys are quick to the majors type guys. I think Ripken wants to be back on the field everyday like he used to.

So, based on all available information, he is the ideal candidate to hire as manager.

Justin: We have no evidence Cal Ripken knows how to be a major league manager. In fact, we have no evidence he knows how to be any kind of manager because he’s never done it.

Cal Ripken was a great shortstop and he appears to be a great businessman, but what does he know about running a modern day major league clubhouse?

There’s a reason managers pay their dues. The Cubs didn’t just give Ryne Sandberg their managers position because he was a great player. He had to earn it with another organization by running major league affiliates and playing second fiddle to a veteran manager in the big leagues. I’m not saying star players can’t be good managers. I’m saying they have to learn how to do the job, just like everyone else.

I think it’s great Cal wants to be in the dugout again. But managing and playing are different skill sets. The Nats would be taking a huge gamble turning over this roster to a rookie. Once the games start, Cal’s celebrity won’t matter at all. Can he run a clubhouse or not? That’s all anyone will care about.

I’m not even sure Cal’s hall of game resume will matter to the players. Yeah, the fans are impressed. But Bryce Harper was learning how to walk when Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record. We all get starry-eyes when Cal Ripken speaks, but today’s players don’t care one bit what Cal Ripken did 20 years ago.

Do you really want to risk it? This could flame out spectacularly.

Jason: Trust me, I understand the flame out spectacularly final act. Michael Jordan leaving the Verizon Center with Illinois license plates still on his car is the searing image of that era of Wizards basketball. Don’t even get me started with the Redskin’s Steve Spurrier era. A similar scenario where Ripken and the Nats fail in DC and he immediately joins an ownership group to buy the O’s and doesn’t look back is not that hard to imagine.

The great news is that from every interview I have heard from Mike Rizzo he seems very skeptical. I know Rizzo’s instinct is not to try and make some splashy hire, but bring in or keep a guy he feels comfortable with. Professional sports is a copycat league, team hire grey haired slightly overweight guys who mumble a lot as managers. If Matt Williams or Randy Knorr is announced tomorrow, the entire baseball establishment will shrug. Baseball teams don’t hire rock stars to manage. If for some reason Rizzo is convinced by Ripken, then i would feel better about it because I am sure every bone in his body says no. Do I dare throw out the offseason motto of the Nats, “In Rizzo We Trust.”

Justin: Didn’t we say that about Dan Haren?

Jason: Uh yep. But this time it will be different (don’t bother defining insanity for me, I know). Span worked out pretty good, right?

Justin: Eh, managers don’t matter very much anyway. Go ahead and hire Cal. It’ll be fun.

Jason: One caveat: Does anyone know his opinion on bunting?

Justin: Ripken had 10 sacrifice bunts in 21 years. I’m officially sold.

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