Cal Ripken Jr. has managed to stay in the moment as a broadcaster working high intensity games during TBS’ MLB post-season coverage the last week.
Thinking as a manager would, he says, keeps him focused on the plays in front of him and what may be coming up. But that’s just how the Hall of Fame shortstop has always kept his mind working during his 21 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles — some of that time while his dad, Cal Sr., was his manager.
Now that media people trying to connect dots have Ripken as a candidate for the vacant Washington Nationals managerial role as he’s trying to prepare for the network’s Dodgers-Cardinals NL Championship Series coverage beginning Friday night in St. Louis, it makes time management all that more important.
“It’s a little weird that this has all been coming up now – I’m not lobbying for a job and not using the media to do that,” Ripken said this morning from Boulder, Colo., where he was visiting his daughter before flying to St. Louis.
Speculation may have heightened after Ripken did a podcast interview with the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen that aired over the weekend. Eisen asked about his itch to get back into the game, and Ripken replied with what he says has been his standard answer: I’d listen and explore any opportunity. He even cited advice he got earlier this year from the Dodgers’ Don Mattingly as why he thinks managing is the closest you be to the game as a player once was.
“Now Jim Bowden (the former Nationals general manager working for ESPN) is tweeting out that the Nationals are interested in me (to replace the retiring Davey Johnson),” Ripken said with some amazement.
“I guess it is what it is. I’ve been pretty consistent with what I’ve said all along. In the past, talking to general managers from time to time, I get asked about it, and before, I wasn’t interested so it wasn’t proper to go through the process. Now that one kid is out of college and another is in college, I’m asked if I have the itch to get back, and working for TBS the last couple of years, getting back around the ballpark again in that environment, sure, I’d listen. But it’s just been a general statement.
“My immediate focus is – I’m an inexperienced broadcaster who is cramming and reading and listening and watching, and I don’t have time to look up from that right. That’s a lot to deal with.”
Ripken has fielded his position cleanly and delivered some timely sound bites with co-analyst Ron Darling and play-by-play man Ernie Johnson on the Dodgers-Atlanta NLDS four-game series – which may be a surprise to those in L.A. who’ve followed the TBS video while tuned in to Vin Scully, Charley Steiner and Rick Monday on the KLAC-AM (570) audio.
TBS has plenty of options available in putting Ripken back in the Atlanta-based studio and perhaps shifting John Smoltz, Bob Brenley or Buck Martinez to the booth spot. But when has anyone been successful in making someone like Ripken give up his position?
TBS continues using Keith Olbermann as its studio anchor, with Tom Verducci and Pedro Martinez. Dirk Hayhurst, who had a snappy debut during the wild-card and divisional series coverage, peels off after tonight’s Detroit-Oakland Game 5 ALDS.
Fox starts with the American League Championship Series on Saturday (4:30 p.m., Channel 11), using Joe Buck, Tim McCarver and Ken Rosenthal as the field reporter. Fox also has the World Series starting Wednesday, Oct. 23 in the American League home park.
Meanwhile, back on TBS where ads for Cialas and Viagra are mixed in generously with promos for a reality show involving Vanilla Ice turning Amish, it’s no wonder novice broadcasters like Ripken have to keep their eye on the ball for fear of turning into a distracted mess.
Looking at what managers have to go through these days – not just the second- and third-guessing that he’s seen with the Mattingly in just the last series – could cause Ripken to pause as to what he might be allowing himself to get into.
“The biggest thing I see is the amount of media they have to do now,” said Ripken. “I’ve had nine different managers and a chance to see how all types of them handle that. But over the years, with the media coverage increasing, there’s such a great responsibility to be a team spokesperson, being out in front. You never want to take away from his baseball time, but these days, you really have to plan accordingly.”
Which means someone like Ripken, who has now had some time in the communication business, might be in even a greater demand as a manager because he’s familiar with the routine.
“If I’m hiring a manager, I’d want the best baseball person I could find, then teach him the media part of it, and how to get comfortable with it,” he said. “I wouldn’t pick a ‘media guy’ first. The most important communication is between you and the players. The guys need to trust you and you need to be straight with them. In that day to day grind, it’s understanding your roles and communicating that. That’s just the way I look at it.
“A manager is like a player, who’s going to be judged every single day on good or bad decision, and you can’t let the media and everyone watching cloud your judgment.”
Especially if you’re trying to shut down a media wave that has you already campaigning to be the next manager of the team currently residing in a city gridlocked by a government shutdown.