From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 23, 1998

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / September 23, 1998

This column was originally going to be about the Cecil Collins of the world, those who had everything and threw it all away.

Instead, something happened Sunday night to change that. Something thatfor baseball fans was as unexpected as the sun failing to shine in the morning. After 2,632 consecutive games, Cal Ripken Jr. took himself outof the lineup.

For 16 years now, you could sit down with your morning coffee and newspaper and read about Ripken. There were days when the coffeemachine did not work or the paper did not arrive on the front doorstep, but you can be sure that once you did get it, Ripken’s name would be in the box score.

The streak began May 30, 1982. Ronald Reagan was in his first term asPresident. Gandhi won the Academy Award for Best Movie. The Dow Jonesaverage was between 776.92 and 1070.55. A new car cost $7,983.A lot has happened both in the sports world and in the real world since that date. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger shortly aftertakeoff. The Iran-Contra Scandal. The falling of the Berlin Wall and theIron Curtain. The collapse of the Soviet Union. The Persian Gulf War.Whitewater and the presidential sex scandals.

In baseball, there have been five commissioners. Twelve different teamshave won World Series, including Ripken’s Orioles in 1983. Baseball wascoming off one strike when the streak began and has survived two other work stoppages. There was no World Series in 1994 for the first time in90 years. The wild card playoffs were implemented as was interleagueplay. Through it all, Ripken continued to play.Ripken’s Orioles have changed ballparks, changed uniform designs, changed emblems, changed owners and have gone through eight managers. They haveset records for the most games lost to start a season and won a divisional title. Ripken himself has bounced between playing short and playing third.He has won two Most Valuable Player awards, has had 2,832 hits, including 381 home runs, and has stepped up to the plate 10,221 times.

The one thing he had not done in 16 years was sit out a game.

It is hard to compare Ripken’s streak to anything else in baseball. It is asrare as what? After all, there have been a number of perfect games pitched during the streak. There has been an unassisted triple play pulledoff and Otis Nixon has stolen six bases in a game.

Other “unbreakable” records have fallen during Ripken’s chase of Lou Gehrig’s “unbreakable” streak of 2,130 games. Both Nolan Ryan and SteveCarlton eclipsed Walter Johnson’s career strikeout record. Pete Rose brokeTy Cobb’s lifetime hit record and has since been banished from the game.

And of course, in this most magical season, both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have topped Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in a season.

But this season may not have been as magical if not for what Ripken did for the game in 1995. Then the game was struggling to bring back its fansafter the strike of 1994. To many observers, the grand old game was dying.Ripken brought it back to life. That day in September, when his 2,131straight game went into the books and his home run during it, will be an indelible image for anyone who had witnessed it.

For three more years, Ripken continued to play. Finally, Sunday night, theOrioles’ final home game of 1998, Ripken went to manager Ray Miller and said “I think the time is right.” For the first time in 16 years when aOrioles’ manager brought the lineup card to home plate, the name Ripken was not on it.

Ripken acknowledged both the cheers from the visiting New York Yankees and the fans in the first inning, doffing his cap to both. He would spendmost of the game in the Oriole bullpen, talking with fans and posing for pictures.

For the first time in 2,632 games, Cal Ripken Jr. would not appear on thediamond. But Ripken would end the 2,633 day the way he played all theothers.

With class.

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