Young players who do well their first year in major league baseball don't necessarily repeat the process the second time around. Even kids who go home that first winter carrying Rookie of the Year trophies sometimes turn out to be made of plaster. Suddenly pitchers they nailed to the wall the previous season are getting them out. Worse yet, they have no idea why.
''Any kid who thinks his second year in the big leagues is going to be better than his first, just because the first seemed so easy at the time, is in for a big surprise,'' explained third base coach Cal Ripken Sr. of the Baltimore Orioles. Ripken is the father of shortstop Cal Ripken, also of the Orioles, and last season's American League Rookie of the Year.
''Pitchers are no fools,'' Ripken Sr. continued. ''They do a lot of thinking over the winter about guys who have hit well against them, and they make adjustments. They make adjustments because pitching is their business and if they are going to stay in business they have to find an edge.
''If the hitter doesn't adjust right along with them, he's not going to be around very long. The media has a name for this. They call it the sophomore jinx. But it's not a jinx; it's simply the case of a kid who had it too easy his first year getting lazy.''
After listening to Ripken Sr., there is no mystery as to why his 6 ft. 4 in., 200-lb. son is having an even better year with Baltimore in 1983 than he did in 1982, when he was at or near the team leadership in almost every offensive category. Obviously, Cal Jr. is not lazy - and he knew enough to be ready for whatever adjustments the pitchers made.
Looking back, the early part of 1982 wasn't that easy for Ripken Jr., who had been installed at third base in spring training by then-Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver.
At the time Cal not only wasn't hitting, but had been given so much well-intended but contradictory advice on batting that he couldn't even hit pitchers' mistakes. He was about ready to tell the next guy who approached him with a suggestion to ''buzz off'' when the next guy turned out to be Reggie Jackson of the California Angels.
Jackson, who had played one year with Baltimore in 1976, had known the younger Ripken through his father since the young man was 15. Instead of launching into a long discussion about hitting, Reggie simply told Cal to go back to doing the same things at the plate that had gotten him to the big leagues in the first place.
It wasn't fresh advice. Ripken had been hearing the same thing from his father, only this time he listened because it came from someone outside the family.
The next day, just like something out of a storybook, Cal singled twice. However, the day after that he was hit in the head by a fastball that probably would have left a lot of players plate shy. But he handled it well by looking at a lot of inside fastballs in batting practice, so that later on they didn't seem quite that intimidating in a game.
By the time the season was over, Ripken led all big league rookies in home runs (28); runs batted in (93); total bases (284); doubles (32); runs scored (90 ); and times at bat (598). While a .264 average won't get you into the Hall of Fame, most first-year players would have settled for it, especially when you consider that Cal also hit for power.
Something else happened last year that also added to Ripken's market value. When Weaver discovered that Len Sakata wasn't consistent enough either in the field or at the plate to play shortstop for him, he shifted Cal (who had played the position well in the minors) over from third base. Now, of course, Cal is firmly established at short, though an interesting competition could develop there one of these years. For believe it or not, there's another, younger Ripken shortstop in the Orioles farm system named Billy. His big league credentials, of course, have not yet been established.
So far, the presence of a father and son on the same baseball team has posed no problems for Baltimore, although it may have caused Ripken Sr. to be passed over for the manager's job when Weaver retired.
''Sure Cal is my son and I want him to do well,'' Ripken Sr. said. ''But I want people to remember that I managed 14 years in Baltimore's minor league farm system and that I regard most of the players on the Orioles as my sons. I treat them all the same and that won't ever change as far as I'm concerned. I'm just glad that Cal has the ability and the opportunity to do something he enjoys.''
When Baltimore Manager Joe Altobelli was asked why he felt Ripken Jr. hadn't fallen prey to baseball's so-called sophomore jinx, Altobelli replied: ''Cal is a natural athlete with intelligence. Guys like that don't have those kinds of problems. To me it's that simple.''