TORONTO -- Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken doesn't have to explain himself this year. Leave that to Sandy Alomar, who arrived here with an impressive vote total and some unimpressive numbers.
Ripken arrived with the best first-half statistics of his career, and some of the best any shortstop ever has carried into the All-Star Game. He has been in the starting lineup with a lot less, so tonight's game at Toronto's SkyDome should be an enjoyable experience.
"It's one of the best first halves in my career, so it feels good," he said. "I'd like to do well. If I don't, I'm not going to lose a lot of sleep over it, but I guarantee you that when I get up to the plate, I want to get a hit."
He proved that during yesterday's All-Star workout, dominating the annual home run derby with a performance that included 12 home runs -- three of them into the third deck above left field.
It has been that kind of season. Ripken leads the American League in batting average at .348. He also ranks first in hits (110), total bases (190) and multiple-hit games (38) and ranks among the top 10 with 18 home runs, 21 doubles and 58 runs. He is the only Orioles representative on the squad, but he was the only legitimate candidate.
His popularity knows no parochial boundaries. Ripken has been elected to the AL starting lineup seven times in the past eight TC years. He will be the starter at shortstop for an AL record eighth consecutive time. The only time he was out-polled during that period was 1988, but he started anyway after Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell had to withdraw with an injury.
Twice, he has been the league's leading vote-getter, but he finished second in the overall ballot this year to Seattle Mariners center fielder Ken Griffey Jr.
The fans have been known to elect some less-than-deserving players -- Alomar with his four RBI and Mark McGwire with his sub-.200 batting average stand out this time -- but Ripken may be the most deserving member of either starting lineup.
Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, who will be making his fourth All-Star appearance for the National League, marvels at Ripken's sustained performance -- particularly in light of his 1,491 consecutive games.
"I don't know how he does it," Larkin said, "and he's not doing too bad either. I know there have been times when his numbers have suffered. I think he's been criticized for that. But they can never criticize his effort. If they do, they don't know what they're talking about."
Only another shortstop can fully appreciate the streak. Larkin knows what it takes to play every day at shortstop and he says he would not even attempt what Ripken has accomplished.
"I couldn't do it," he said. "I played almost 160 games last year , and it's tough. You're going to feel the bumps and bruises. It's more a
matter of mind-set. You have to know you're going to be in the lineup and you have to pace yourself."
Ripken is the first shortstop to lead either league in hitting at the All-Star break since Cleveland Indians shortstop Lou Boudreau led the AL and the majors with a .361 average in 1947. According to research performed by Orioles public relations director Rick Vaughn, only one other shortstop has led the league at the break -- Arky Vaughan, who reached the halfway point with a .398 average in 1935.
Ripken's 18 home runs also put him in some select company. No shortstop has arrived at All-Star time with more since the Boston Red Sox's Rico Petrocelli hit 23 in the first half of the 1969 season. Petrocelli went on to set an AL record for home runs by a shortstop with 43.
No one in Orioles history, regardless of position played, has reached the break with an average as high as Ripken's. The next closest was Jackie Brandt, who was batting .341 at this point in 1961.
Ripken seems to take all the All-Star attention in stride, but he apparently enjoys the festivities. He stole the show yesterday, hitting enough balls to the outer limits of SkyDome in the home run contest to outpace the four-man NL contingent all by himself.
He does not have outstanding numbers in All-Star competition, batting .150 in 20 career at-bats, but he lists his first All-Star hit as his most memorable midseason moment.
"I remember it most because it was the first time I ever faced Nolan Ryan," Ripken said. "He was throwing really hard, and there were guys in the dugout saying, 'You should have seen him when he was younger.' I got a hit. It wasn't a particularly beautiful hit. But it was a hit."
Cal Ripken is one of three shortstops to lead a league in hitting at the All-Star break. The last shortstop to win a batting title was the Pirates' Dick Groat in 1960.
... ... ... ... ... ... Break... ... Final
Year Player, team .... ... avg. ... ... avg.
1991 Cal Ripken, Balt. ... .348
1947 Lou Boudreau, Cle.... .361 ... ... .307
1935 Arky Vaughan, Pit.... .398 ... ...*.385
* led league