Last week, the Los Angeles Dodgers sold their Vero Beach, FL minor league franchise to the Ripken Baseball Group, an organization led by former baseball players Cal Ripken, Jr and his brother Billy Ripken. According to TCPalm.com, the Tampa Bay Rays will be a minority partner in the team and will move the franchise to the Rays' new spring training home in Port Charlotte, FL in 2009.
Although I think it is great Cal Ripken is staying involved in baseball, I would like to raise the question of a possible conflict of interest. Last August, Cal Ripken was named Special Sports Envoy to United States Department of State. This position involves spreading diplomatic goodwill through athletics and attempting to bridge the gaps of intolerance through cooperation and competition.
But can Ripken do his job with the State Department impartially while also being part-owner of not only the Vero Beach Devil Rays, but also the Aberdeen Iron Birds and the Augusta Green Jackets? How can a minor league owner put aside his own interests for the better interests of his nation? For example, if Ripken needs to set up an exhibition between the U.S. and a foreign nation, what are the chances he picks one of his teams for the contest? And what about the players? Who are they playing for in that situation, their nation or their boss?
Depending on the decisions of the next president, Cal Ripken may or may not be the most powerful owner in minor league baseball after January 2009. But for the time being, I don't think Ripken and his ties to the most upper reaches of American government should have any presence in ownership. We don't need Ripken to potentially have a Dick Cheney-Haliburton situation.