-Cal Ripken Jr., on his move back to shortstop
As the O’s work to get into regular season form, Roar from 34 is doing the same with the first “Flashback Friday” of the 2009 season. Given that it’s the 20th anniversary of the “Why Not” season, this week’s edition revisits the O’s 1989 spring training camp, where new acquisition Juan Bell, obtained in the trade that sent Eddie Murray to the Dodgers, was struggling at short, and the Orioles were lauding rookie Craig Worthington as their best defensive third baseman since Brooks Robinson.
Here’s an excerpt from the article “Orioles Send Down Bell, Return Ripken to Short,” which ran in The Washington Post on March 21, 1989:
“Cal Ripken Jr. accepted his shift back to shortstop today by again emphasizing, ‘I’m on record as saying I’ll do whatever is best for the ball club. At this time, this is what the club feels is best.’
Thus ends one of the biggest decisions the Baltimore Orioles must make this spring. They announced that rookie shortstop Juan Bell was being sent to the minor leagues, that rookie Craig Worthington had won the third-base job and that Ripken, a six-time all-star at shortstop, was getting back his old position.
In the end, it was an easy call. Bell, 20, showed glimpses of defensive brilliance and his .278 batting average surprised almost everyone. But while he showed the ability to make difficult plays look easy, he made six errors in 14 games, many of them on what should have been routine infield outs.
The Orioles believe that with such a young pitching staff, the one thing they don’t need is a shaky defense. One thing the Orioles know about Ripken is that he’ll make almost all the routine plays, and they believe Worthington will be their best defensive third baseman since Brooks Robinson (35 players have been used there since he retired in 1977).
Worthington turns 24 next month and comes with an impressive resume. He became the Orioles’ brightest young star when he hit .300 with 105 RBI at Class A Hagerstown in 1986. He was jumped — probably too quickly — to Rochester in 1987, and last year was the International League’s most valuable player with 16 homers and 73 RBI.
The negatives were that he batted only .244 and struck out 93 times, leading the Orioles to believe he might be a Sal Bando-type hitter: one with a low batting average but a tough out with men on base.
In making the announcement, Robinson went out of his way to thank Ripken for agreeing to the experiment, and indicated that he could be asked to move there again depending on the development of Worthington and Bell.
Ripken agreed, sort of, saying: ‘I have mixed feelings about it. I’ve enjoyed shortstop over the years. I’ve enjoyed the responsibility, being in the middle of the diamond. I liked it a lot last year, the familiarity between myself and Billy [Ripken] at second base. There are a lot of things shortstop has to offer. I was excited going back to third base this spring. It was fun.’
Of the move back, he said, ‘I’ve never done it before so I don’t know how long it’s going to take to feel comfortable again. I assume it’ll come pretty easily. I’m glad I have the luxury of going back and playing a few games before we go north. The positions are very different. In some respects, spring training is starting all over today.’
He refused to speculate over a future move back to third, saying both positions had pluses.
‘I’m not going to get ahead of myself too much and worry about what could happen or what might happen,’ he said. ‘Just as I took the approach that I made the move to third base as if I were going to play there and this is what I’m preparing for opening day. I knew it could change, but you have to prepare for position your asked to play. I haven’t taken one ground ball at short all spring. If something happens, I’ll deal with it when it happens.’
Bell played 113 games for the Orioles over the course of three seasons before being traded to the Phillies in August 1992 for infielder Steve Scarsone, who played 11 games for the Orioles before being traded to the Giants in March 1993 for outfielder Mark Leonard, who played 10 games with the team in 1993 before being released in the offseason.
Worthington was with the Birds for four seasons, finishing fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1989. He recorded 20 errors in 1989, 18 in 1990. The O’s traded Worthington to the Padres in February 1992 along with Tom Martin for Jim Lewis and Steve Martin (the player, not the comedian). The Padres released Worthington one month later. Worthington played for the Indians, Reds, and Rangers, but never tallied more than 36 games in any one season after 1990.
As for Ripken, things turned out pretty well for him at shortstop, and again when he moved to third base, briefly for the Manny Alexander experiment in 1996, and permanently following the acquisition of Mike Bordick in 1997.