Will Cal Ripken Jr. return to the Baltimore Orioles this season? The Hall of Famer retired nine years ago and certainly won't step on the playing field again, but varying rumors have popped up hinting that Ripken wants either a front office or managerial position within the organization. FOX News cited unnamaned sources last month claiming Orioles owner Peter Angelos rejected an offer from Ripken to help the team in some capacity. According to ESPN, Angelos denied the report.
During a visit to Augusta on Tuesday for the Greater Augusta Medals for Excellence in Sports (GAMES) awards banquet, Ripken said such claims aren't exactly true.
"Simply, we've had talks. We continue to have talks," he said. "I don't know what the ideal scenario is, but they're curious, I'm curious and we're exploring things a little bit differently than we have in the past."
Those remarks by themselves leave plenty of details open to interpretation. But in the context of my 10-minute interview with Ripken Tuesday evening, the idea of a return to baseball in the immediate future seemed unlikely.
The concept of Ripken as a future manager or front office executive is legitimate, if not flat out inevitable. Ripken has long expressed his desire to return to the sport, but he's always bookended his comments with the fact that he refuses to put down his duties as a father.
"If I was to come back to baseball, I've always had the time table that I'd have my son off to school, and we're two and a half years away from that," Ripken said.
But Ripken is a man of preparation. The Orioles lost 11 of their first 12 games this year and 16 of their first 18. They currently have the worst record in Major League Baseball at 9-24. Would you want to take over that team tomorrow?
I doubt Ripken would, either. But he knows that if he's going to step into the front office in two to three years, the preparations need to start now.
"In some ways, I've started to prepare and started to think about it," he said. "You can't just snap your fingers and just say, 'OK, I'm ready to come back,' after you've sent your son out the door. So we've had ongoing talks and some of those talks have produced good dialogue, and they continue to produce good dialogue."
Perhaps that's why, as FOX News reported, Ripken was seeking to specifically help younger Orioles stars such as catcher Matt Wieters. It's all speculation, but a guy like Wieters could be extremely important to a newly-led Ripken team in a few years.
So how did Ripken's name come up in these reports of an immediate new addition to the coaching staff or front office? Ripken had a theory.
"It seemed like a story got legs because the Orioles started off so horrible," he said. "Normally, in my experience, things happen that way. When you're in the midst of a losing streak, especially at the beginning of the season, and things start so bad there's all kinds of speculation that the manager's going to lose his job, and stories start to come out."
So Ripken, it seems, won't be the Orioles' savior this year; probably won't be next year, either. In the meantime, he's got other baseball-related issues going on (a certain downtown stadium project comes to mind).
But it appears one day he will eventually make his return to Camden Yards. He's hoping winning baseball will follow.