When Cal Ripken arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport a few minutes after 8 a.m. on Sept. 17, he discovered the Baltimore Orioles' team charter had taken off without him, as ordered by General Manager Frank Wren.
But Ripken, left to make his own travel arrangements -- which included a drive to Dulles International Airport, a chartered jet and a stop in Las Vegas -- made it to Anaheim, Calif., in time to go 3 for 4 in the Orioles' game that night against the Angels.
Among the reasons for Wren's firing, according to a statement released by the Orioles on Thursday night, was Wren's decision to order the plane to take off without Ripken, who was running late and had phoned ahead.
Two team sources today sided with the Orioles on the Ripken matter, citing extenuating circumstances created by Hurricane Floyd, which had forced the postponement of two games and made travel difficult. Ripken, placed in an uncomfortable position in the middle of the Wren firing, could not be reached to comment today.
Conditions at Baltimore-Washington International Airport had prevented the Orioles from leaving the previous night, necessitating the cross-country flight the same day the team was to play in Anaheim. According to the statement, Ripken telephoned the Orioles to say he was running five to 10 minutes late for the team's scheduled 8 a.m. chartered flight from BWI. Wren then ordered the plane to leave without Ripken.
Ripken, who arrived a few minutes later only to find that the plane had left, called a charter service in search of a flight to Anaheim. The service located a small, chartered jet on its way to Las Vegas for the Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad fight. The flight had one seat left, but it left out of Dulles International Airport.
The jet had been chartered by commentator William Bennett, who received a phone call from the charter service a couple of hours before takeoff, and who was hesitant when the service said it had a "client" who was willing to pay for a seat on the plane, according to one of the passengers. But when the "client" was identified as Ripken, he was quickly welcomed to join the passengers.
Ripken was waiting at Dulles when the rest of the party arrived at Dulles for the 11 a.m. flight. According to one of the passengers, Ripken was relaxed on the flight. He signed autographs, including a cap for one passenger's grandchildren. He wrote a note to the child of a friend of one of the passengers.
When Ripken was asked who was pitching that night for Anaheim, and answered that he did not know, one of the passengers produced a copy of the Los Angeles Times that showed a picture of rookie pitcher Jarrod Washburn, who would be on the mound for the Angels.
Ripken studied Washburn's form in the picture, the passenger said, and expressed confidence that he would do all right against him, saying he saw something in Washburn's delivery.
The rest of the group deplaned in Las Vegas. As the plane sat on the ground in Las Vegas, Ripken got off the plane and stood on the tarmac, swinging an imaginary bat at an imaginary ball. The plane and Ripken then left for Anaheim. At 7:05 p.m. PDT, the Orioles took the field against the Angels, and Ripken was in the lineup at third base. Apparently, Ripken had seen something in Washburn's delivery. One of Ripken's three hits that night, which pulled him to within 13 hits of 3,000, came against Washburn.