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  Ripken, Gehrig Share a Numerical Bond

By William Gildea
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 07, 1995

BALTIMORE, SEPT. 6 — From 9:15 Tuesday night to 9:20 tonight, two lives were held in perfect suspension. It was a brief, unprecedented time between Cal Ripken's 2,130th and 2,131st consecutive games when Ripken and Lou Gehrig were linked as closely as they could be, twinned numerically.

"You know I'll be here," Ripken reassured the fans after tying Gehrig's record — he would return tonight to break it. And surer than a clock, Ripken arrived today at Oriole Park at Camden Yards to play No. 2,131. "Guys like Cal and Lou," said Ripken teammate Rafael Palmeiro, as if he had known Gehrig, too, "they walk through the door at 4 o'clock and they come to work."

Palmeiro, like Gehrig a first baseman and the man who catches most of Ripken's throws, believed, at least, that he understood both, how they demonstrate as well as any the nature of an athlete in competition. And that rendered as too romantic the notion held by some that Ripken should stop work and preserve the identical 2,130 bond, to try to make time stand still.

Ripken would play it all-out as usual. A home run, for the third straight game. Steady in the field. And the ovation of 22 minutes 15 seconds from the sellout crowd of 46,272 when the game became official was almost too much to bear — his curtain calls, his lap of sheer love around the park — shaking hands, touching hands, embracing.

"I think that Cal will go on playing until he gets hurt or feels he can't contribute or retires,"Palmeiro said."If he took off a day next week, it would contradict everything he has said, that he plays to help the team."Even if he's felt the pressures and known the implications of the streak for years. President Clinton came to celebrate."I'm not ashamed to say I asked him for an autograph,"the president told announcer Jon Miller on the Orioles' radio network. Vice President Gore came. And Joe DiMaggio, one-time Gehrig teammate who hit in 56 straight games, another streak thought to be untouchable. Orioles teammates brought camcorders.

During the fifth inning Ripken kissed his wife, Kelly, and gave his cap to his daughter, Rachel, 5, and his uniform shirt to his son, Ryan, 2; the children had thrown ceremonial first pitches to their dad.

DiMaggio looked down on the scene as if he had never heard such cheering. He's one of the few who had.

Cal and the Bee

Al Bumbry played with Baltimore for 13 seasons, the last three with Ripken, and returned to coach this season. They played on the 1983 championship team, a heady time. But Bumbry has found the last hours overwhelming — a man not easily overwhelmed, like Ripken having been taught a tough brand of ball by Earl Weaver and Cal Ripken Sr.

"Last night {Tuesday} when Cal came off the field in the fifth inning I was there in the dugout," Bumbry said. "I stepped back and walked off a bit. His teammates came up to him and congratulated him. I stayed away, just watching that number drop on the wall. I'm getting tears in my eyes. I went over to him and I said, Rip, this is your day, but it's special for all of us.'"

Bumbry cleared his throat. A smile came over his face. "Cal used to shine my shoes,"he said. "He was the clubhouse kid in Asheville when I was coming up. Rip Sr. was the manager. . . . He always said, Just give me a good day's work.'"

Thanks to Cal

Brooks Robinson: "I played baseball here in Baltimore for over 20 years and they called me Mr. Oriole, but now, Cal Ripken, you're Mr. Oriole."

Brady Anderson: "Cal, you have inspired many teammates, you have delighted millions of fans, you have given the nation uncountable memories . . ."

DiMaggio: "Wherever my old teammate is today, I'm sure he's tipping his cap to you, Cal Ripken."

The Meaning of It

It was 1:30 p.m. on the Eutaw Street concourse behind right field, and the vigil was on. People searched, hoped for tickets. Others were just happy to be close by. Spontaneously, the numbers grew. By late afternoon, lines stretched for blocks for souvenirs. It's unlikely there ever had been so many outside the park who wouldn't get in. Tonight's game meant something important to each.

T.J. Fox, Winchester, Va., with his son, Tom Jr., 9: "It's all that's good for baseball. Because today guys play for money and Cal plays for the love of the game. We're blowing two weeks of pay trying to get tickets. Last November I dodged two deer and hit a tree at 65 miles an hour. I'm lucky to be alive, and now I have the opportunity to take my son to something that will never happen again."

Mark Bronkowski, Barnegat, N.J., carrying a Judge Lance Ito poster with a Ripken T-shirt on it: "It's America. I think he's saving the game of baseball. Willie Mays was my boyhood idol, when I rooted for baseball players. Cal's that kind of ballplayer. Last night, when he beat out the infield hit, he could have pulled a muscle and that would have been the streak. He's been playing all-out." And the Judge Ito poster? "With his connections, he might get me in."

Jackie Hartlove, Phoenix, Md.: "It's history. I grew up two blocks from Memorial Stadium, in Edfor Gardens. I heard history from my bedroom window — I could hear them announcing the batter. Now I'm seeing history being made."


Ripken will be remembered for being the big-kid baseball player growing up in Aberdeen, Md. — like the milk commercial when the woman warns everyone to shutter their windows and move their cars, the Ripken boy is at bat; advancing in the farm system, from Bluefield to Rochester, the pop in his bat a sign of something special; the size of him for an infielder; American League rookie of the year, with hair; MVP, twice; a dad for a coach and manager; homering in the same inning with his brother Billy; struggling, succeeding, enduring; on Tuesday night, a handshake from Hank Aaron; tonight the most heartfelt ovation imaginable; and his pale-blue watery eyes.

© Copyright 1996 Washington Post Company

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