Cal Ripken to get bird's-eye view of Derek Jeter and Yankees

Former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr., walks

Former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr., walks into a ceremony for an unveiling of a statue of former Oriole Brooks Robinson before a game between the Orioles and the Boston Red Sox in Baltimore. (Sept. 29, 2012) (Credit: AP)

When Cal Ripken sat down to interview Derek Jeter for TBS last year, he figured he was well suited to pry some nuggets out of him, what with their shared position and the fact that Jeter credits Ripken as a pioneer among big shortstops.

No such luck.

"He was so skilled at not going where he didn't want to go," Ripken said Friday with a laugh, a lament shared by most who have interviewed the Yankees' captain. "He can put the onus right back on you to ask a different question."

That September 2011 session is more interesting now, not as much for the content as the subject: The fact that many observers believed Jeter was aging out of the position -- and even aging out of his status as an elite hitter.

Ripken was 36 when he was moved to third base permanently in 1997. Jeter turned 38 in June, still is at shortstop and has been a highly productive hitter for the past 11/2 seasons.

Has Ripken been surprised by Jeter's late-career success?

"It doesn't surprise me that he's able to play at the level he's playing at, just because he's got the experience and he still has his talent," said Ripken, who will have an excellent seat for the Yankees-Orioles ALDS as a TBS analyst.

Ripken said he remembers hearing the same questions Jeter has faced about declining range and speed, and "it hurts you." At the same time, Ripken acknowledged Jeter's legs are not what they once were.

"But let's not compare Derek to [a young] Derek," he said. "Who else would you want in a playoff-caliber game? Who else would you want but him at bat? Who else would you want but him to get the last ground ball?"

After Jeter's struggles early last year, Ripken said, "It's been wonderful to see Derek get all these hits and smile and run and play and be Derek. Last year, you could see a little of the joy come out. It's been great to see him return to the Derek of old."

TBS moved Ripken out of the studio for the ALDS, where he will work with Ernie Johnson and John Smoltz, as he did for one regular-season Yankees-Orioles game and for the Orioles-Rangers wild-card game Friday.

He does not pretend to be a polished game analyst. "I know I'm not as in tune with all the TV lingo and all of the mechanical parts,'' he said, "but in the end, you're watching a game and trying to give the viewer some insight."

But it is not Ripken's technique that Yankees fans likely will focus on; it is whether his loyalty to the Orioles after playing 21 years for them will come through. Ripken slipped in that regular-season game and called the O's "we."

"I am excited the Orioles have gotten to the playoffs, but I'm not one who thinks that the Yankees are the big, bad Yankees or the Evil Empire or however they've been described," he said. "I respect them."

Ripken said he will be aware of trying to choose his words carefully so as not to reveal any bias, no matter what he is feeling emotionally after an exhilarating season in Baltimore.

"It's fantastic," he said. "It's crazy . . . I grew up there an Oriole fan. It is a great baseball town and great baseball city for years.

"At first, when the Orioles weren't winning, all of us fans were a little concerned and angry a little bit and wanting it to return to the way it was.

"Once they started playing really well and started creating this new form of Orioles magic by winning extra-inning games, it was great."

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