MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Twenty-one year-old Baltimore Orioles rookie infielder Gunnar Henderson is like the weather – everyone complains about his hitting, but no one does anything about it. Which is why I figure the Orioles will do absolutely nothing about it themselves; at least not outwardly. Nor should they. At least for now. There is precedent here, you know. And in Baltimore, too.

After a good first game and after he told his parents during a phone call back to Little Rock, Arkansas that he didn’t know why he had been wasting his time in the minor leagues, Brooks Robinson couldn’t buy a hit in his first two years in the big leagues.

Cal Ripken Jr. was even worse in the second half of the 1981 season when the Orioles brought him up and through the first month of his full rookie season in 1982 when he would eventually be voted American League Rookie of the Year.

Also, the Orioles almost sent Nick Markakis back to the minors during his rookie season in 2006, but Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo insisted he stay up with the big club so he could play every day and become the Orioles’ regular right-fielder by having time to find his feet in the big leagues.

Safe to say, all three worked out pretty well.

Matter of fact, Ripken used to tell the story about how a talk that was forced down his throat by an opposing player was likely the reason he turned things around the way he did in the 1982 season and then for the rest of his Hall of Fame career.

At the end of April, Ripken was batting well below .200 with one home run, which he had hit on Opening Day, and anybody with a buck in their pockets would have bet it that he’d be in the minor leagues sooner rather than never.

“I was beginning to wonder how long they would stick with me,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “Could I play and would they send me back to (Triple-A) Rochester? There’s always a point where you wonder if you can do it in the majors even if you’ve done it in the minors.”

Naturally, he had his father and his lifetime coach, Cal Ripken Sr., on the team as third-base coach to turn to, which he did do often.

“I call Dad my best instructor because he has always given me the best advice.” Ripken told the Sun. “But somehow, it didn’t register this time because everyone else was saying so many things.”

Then the California Angels came to Memorial Stadium (God rest its soul), and late in a May 1 game, our old friend Reggie Jackson, then the Angels right fielder, reached third base where Ripken was playing at the time. When play stopped, Jackson struck up a conversation with Ripken.

“Reggie said, ‘Hey kid, I want to talk to you,’” Ripken said. “I thought, ‘Oh no, here we go again.’ But he told me that the Orioles had traded away a quality third baseman (Doug DeCinces) to give me the job, and I should just go out and be myself, and go out and do what Cal Ripken can do. I don’t know why, but it just clicked. It jolted me.”

Ripken then went on a tear in May of 1982 and the rest is history. Now this is not to compare Henderson, or anyone else, to Ripken, though Henderson was more highly rated coming out of high school than Ripken was, but Henderson will start to hit again.

We saw what he can do at the plate last year; and while his batting average is below .200 this year and though he looks as though he lost his best friend a lot of times when he walks back to the dugout from home plate, he’s still getting on base. He’s one of the leaders in the American League in drawing walks. Walks, hits? What does it matter? As Billy Beane said, he’s still getting on base, which is the whole point of baseball.

Heck, I’m more concerned with Henderson’s throwing from third base at this point than I am his hitting. He can handle this, though, and the organization knows it; and he knows it. He’ll start hitting again, and he’ll start hitting soon.

Things are going pretty well for the Orioles these days, so there’s no need to rock the boat. Gunnar Henderson is still the top-rated prospect in all of baseball according to every scouting and sports reporting agency that rates such things, so there must be a pretty good reason for that. He’s got what it takes.

So just lay off the kid, will ya? We’ve seen it all come to fruition before, and we’re going to see it again.

In the immortal words of the great Rudy Russo, “Trust me.”

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT