Cal Ripken Jr. chats with former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, at an Atlanta Braves game last season.
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Baseball owners have done a poor job over the years of welcoming former players, especially the great ones, to the ownership side of the fence. Unlike the NBA, in which Larry Bird, Jerry West, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and other stars have run teams and even gained ownership in franchises, baseball has not encouraged its greatest resources -- the players -- to continue into influential management positions.
Cal Ripken Jr. hopefully will change that mentality. Ripken is being courted by at least two local ownership groups looking to buy the Washington Nationals. Ripken has said since near the end of his playing career in 2001 that he would be interested in running a major league organization. Since his retirement he has been busy and enormously successful in building Cal Ripken Baseball into a growing youth baseball brand as well as owning and operating other business ventures, such as the Aberdeen IronBirds minor league club.
Ripken has not aligned himself with any potential buyers of the Nationals -- between four and six bidders are expected -- and is not likely to do so until after the franchise is awarded. That decision is likely to come before the All-Star break. At that time Ripken would consider an opportunity to be the point person for the baseball organization, such as a club president. In that role he immediately would present an intriguing professional and personal rivalry with his former team, the Baltimore Orioles, and their owner, Peter Angelos.
"He is interested and he's a free agent," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's president and chief operating officer, about Ripken's potential involvement with a Washington group.
Ripken's unquestioned knowledge of the game, his success in the business community and his status as one of the elite ambassadors of baseball make him exactly the kind of executive teams should covet. He's the right person to open needed doors for other players, too. (Oakland GM Billy Beane, also a former player, also has interest in being a part of an ownership group.)
Look around baseball and ask, Where are the great former players? Only one Hall of Famer will be in a major league uniform this year: Nationals manager Frank Robinson. A few others serve in front offices, but mostly in advisory roles, such as Hank Aaron (Braves), Reggie Jackson (Yankees), Dave Winfield (Padres) and Billy Williams (Cubs). Why not have a former player, a Hall of Fame player, as an important member and contributor at owners' meetings? Why not Ripken?