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Let's Play Ball, Dad
Steve Wulf
March 22, 1982
Rookies Terry Francona of the Expos and Cal Ripken of the Orioles are chips off old familiar blocks
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March 22, 1982

Let's Play Ball, Dad

Rookies Terry Francona of the Expos and Cal Ripken of the Orioles are chips off old familiar blocks

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Francona's role with the Expos isn't clear yet. Tito, for that's what Terry's teammates now call him, will share time in rightfield with Tim Wallach and squeeze in some games behind Warren Cromartie at first. But he'll be around. "He's a breath of fresh air," says Fanning. "Just the other day, I broke him of the habit of calling me Mr. Fanning."

Tito is basking in the reflected glory. "This has been a renewal for me." he says. "It was like going to sleep for 10 years, and now the phone's ringing again. All players have some ego, and this is a nice way to be remembered."

Terry and Tito may look and play alike, but Cal Ripken Jr. bears little resemblance to Cal Ripken Sr. Big Cal is actually little Cal and vice versa. At 6'4", Cal Jr. is five inches taller than Cal Sr. This causes some complications when, as is often the case, their underwear gets mixed up in the clubhouse laundry. Cal Sr. now writes his number instead of his name on his personals.

Ripken the Elder was a good minor league catcher when Gus Triandos was a fixture behind the plate in Baltimore. In 1960, his fourth year in the pros, Ripken batted .281 with 74 RBIs at Fox Cities (Wis.), which was managed then by Earl Weaver. "I remember Cal introduced me to his wife, who was pregnant with Cal Jr. at the time," says Weaver, who is now, of course, the Oriole skipper. "Do you want me to say it? All right. I knew the kid was a ballplayer even then."

Ripken was called up to Rochester in Triple A the next year, but injuries ruined any chance he had of making the majors. Harry Dalton, then the Orioles' farm director, offered him a job managing at Leesburg, Fla., in 1961, and from there Ripken embarked on a 13-year nine-team tour of duty as a minor league skipper, the longest in the history of the Oriole organization, surpassing Weaver's 11-year stint. The Ripkens went from Leesburg to Appleton, Wis., to Aberdeen, S. Dak., to Kennewick-Richland-Pasco, Wash., back to Aberdeen, to Miami, to Elmira, N.Y., to Rochester, N.Y., to Dallas-Fort Worth, to Asheville, N.C.

There's an interesting coincidence involving the Ripkens and Franconas, and Aberdeen, S. Dak. and Aberdeen, Md. Cal Sr. was born, raised and still lives in Aberdeen, Md. and managed for three years in Aberdeen, S. Dak. Tito met his wife while playing for the Pheasants in Aberdeen, S. Dak., and Terry was born there. While in the Army, Tito was stationed in Aberdeen, Md.

Wherever his father managed, Cal Jr. memorized the roster and idolized the players. His favorite was Doug DeCinces, whom he now replaces at third base. Cal Jr. says, "I guess I was 12, and this was in Asheville. Doug would play catch and pepper with me. He taught me how to take a ground ball." One evening DeCinces and Cal were playing pepper just before the game. They were the only people on the field. Somebody fired a gun from behind the fence in centerfield, and a bullet hit the ground near Cal. "Doug picked me up in his arms and carried me into the dugout," says Cal, "but it happened so quickly I didn't have time to feel scared." That is known in baseball parlance as a save.

In 1976 Cal Sr. joined the Orioles' coaching staff, and invited Cal Jr. to come out to Memorial Stadium. "I didn't want to go," says Cal Jr. "I was always scared I'd be in the way. Dad finally talked me into it." And Cal Jr. put on a show. "He was 15," says Weaver, "and he was hitting them into the concrete seats." "I always could hit my father," says Cal Jr.

In his senior year at Aberdeen High—in Md., that is—Cal Jr. was 7-2 with an 0.70 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 60 innings. He was also a shortstop and batted—he's a righthander all the way—.492 with 29 RBIs in 20 games. The Orioles drafted him in the second round. "At first, I didn't want to play for the Orioles because I thought there might be a conflict with my father in the organization," says Cal Jr. "But then I realized that I'd always wanted to be an Oriole."

In rookie ball, he ran into a few snide comments about nepotism, but in Miami the next year, he hit .303 and put such charges to rest. In the meantime, he was growing another two inches. In 1980 he hit 25 home runs with 78 RBIs for Double A Charlotte, and last year, before being called up on Aug. 8, he had 23 homers and 75 RBIs for Triple A Rochester. He batted only .128 in 23 games, mostly at shortstop, for Baltimore, but he has been customarily a slow starter. This winter he led the Puerto Rican League with 49 RBIs—he had 40 before anyone else had 20—and batted .314.

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