It's Over: Ripken Sits Out After 2,632 Games
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 21, 1998; Page A1
BALTIMORE, Sept. 20 What once seemed unthinkable became reality for the Baltimore Orioles tonight when Cal Ripken removed himself from the starting lineup, thus ending one of the most remarkable and perhaps untouchable achievements in the history of professional sports.
Until tonight, Ripken had started and played in 2,632 consecutive games for the Orioles. It was a streak that began on May 30, 1982, and established him as one of the toughest and most resourceful athletes ever.
In a time in which players routinely switch from team to team and league to league, Ripken, who turned 38 last month, has been the image of consistency. He has played his entire 17-year major league career a few miles south of his hometown of Aberdeen.
Ripken said he decided to end the streak after conversations with his wife, Kelly, his parents and a few close friends. Orioles Manager Ray Miller had penciled him into the lineup against the New York Yankees for what would have been his 2,633rd consecutive game, but shortly after batting practice, Ripken approached Miller and said: "I think it's time."
After the game, Ripken said he ended the streak for the good of the team and chose the last home game of the season to do it and added that he has no plans to retire.
"The emphasis should be on the team," Ripken said. "There have been times during the streak when the emphasis was on the streak. I was never comfortable with that.
"My first inclination was to break it the last day of the season, in Boston. But I wanted to do it in the city where it began. I wanted it to be a celebration, not a mourning."
Ripken's iron man streak is 502 games longer than that of New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, who played 2,130 in a row and for more than half a century held a record many believed would never be broken. The longest active streak now belongs to Albert Belle of the Chicago White Sox. It's 327 games long, meaning he would have to play every game for the next 14 seasons just to get close to catching Ripken.
Ripken broke Gehrig's record three years ago this month, igniting an emotional celebration that helped baseball begin to rebuild itself after a disastrous labor dispute forced cancellation of the 1994 World Series.
That rebuilding strengthened this summer as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa shattered the single-season record for home runs. But it began with Ripken, who has amazed teammates and opponents because he was so meticulous about his conditioning and diet, thorough in his preparation and astoundingly methodical in his approach to withstanding baseball's 162-game yearly grind.
Ripken informed Orioles managing partner Peter G. Angelos of his decision in a telephone call 35 minutes before game time.
"I think he's done the right thing," Angelos said. "He set a record that can never be equaled."
Miller inserted rookie Ryan Minor, 24, perhaps the brightest star of the team's minor league system, at third base. Still, many of the 48,013 fans at Oriole Park at Camden Yards seemed unaware that Ripken wasn't playing until after the game was under way.
After New York's Chuck Knoblauch made the first out of the game, the Yankees then went to the top of the visitors' dugout and began to applaud Ripken, who was sitting in the Orioles' dugout. Ripken tipped his hat to the Yankees, and fans throughout the stadium stood and applauded him.
"We wanted to do something for him," Yankees catcher Joe Girardi said. "What he has done is absolutely amazing, and we owed it to him."
Ripken acknowledged the cheers, several times motioning for Orioles pitcher Doug Johns to get on with the game. Once play began, Ripken autographed balls in the dugout. Later, he went to the Orioles' bullpen to visit with teammates and chat with fans.
"So that's what a day off feels like," he joked after the 5-4 Orioles loss. "Now that I know what it feels like to take a day off, I don't want to watch many games. I tried to do what others do. But I was antsy. I was fidgety."
He said he would return to the starting lineup Monday night in Toronto, but was open to the possibility of taking some days off next season.
The streak almost ended several times when Ripken suffered injuries to his back, knee or ankle. But each time, he made it back on the field.
Although he has respectable statistics this season a .273 batting average with 14 home runs and 61 RBI he's no longer a dominant performer. His RBI total is among the lowest for a third baseman in the American League, and several talent scouts have said that his defensive range has declined significantly.
The Orioles were willing to let Ripken keep the streak going through this season, according to club sources, but did not believe it should last another full season. By benching himself, Ripken avoided a potentially messy confrontation over the matter.
With his $7 million-a-season contract running through 1999 the club holds an option for 2000 Ripken indicated he would continue to play for the foreseeable future.
The move to end the streak comes at a time when the Orioles will miss the playoffs for the first time in three years despite beginning the season with a $74.3 million payroll the highest in baseball history and are facing rebuilding their team, now made up mostly of veteran players, with younger players.
However long Ripken plays, his place in baseball's Hall of Fame is assured. He has played in 16 consecutive all-star games. He's tied with Babe Ruth for 34th place on the all-time hits list with 2,873 and is a two-time AL most valuable player.
The end of the streak has financial implications not only for Ripken, who has secured numerous commercial endorsements as baseball's Iron Man, but also for the Orioles, who have made him the centerpiece of marketing campaigns and community outreach efforts.
"What Cal did is so unbelievable. That's one record I do think that will be around for a generation," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "What he's done, he's done a great thing for baseball."
Staff writers Josh Barr and Camille Powell contributed to this report.
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