OAKLAND, Calif. -- It turns out that his stance isn't the only thing Cal Ripken changed this year.
The Orioles' All-Star shortstop also made a cosmetic change in his bat. It's made by Hillerich and Bradsby, the company that produces Louisville Sluggers, and goes by the model number P-72.
It is 35 inches long and weighs 33 ounces -- and the one currently in use has been marked for delivery to the Hall of Fame as part of a display for this year's All-Star Game. Ripken told Howard Talbott, president of the Hall of Fame, that the bat he used to hit the game-winning three-run homer Tuesday night has been in use for almost a month and he didn't want to part with it until he had squeezed out the last hit.
Ripken has used the same model bat since breaking in as a rookie in 1982. "I've experimented with a few others," he said [mostly number M-159, which was the model made famous by Stan Musial], "but I've always gone back to this one."
He did, however, make one change this year, though not in the specifications. When traveling secretary Phil Itzoe, who handles bat orders for the Orioles, called Ripken last winter he asked how he wanted the bats finished, a routine question.
Ripken first said he wanted them unfinished, as he had most of last year, then changed his mind. "Wait a minute, let's get a black finish," he told Itzoe, "maybe it'll change my luck."
So, for the first time in his career, Ripken is swinging a black bat. And he isn't likely to change any time soon.
* THOMAS ON TORRID PACE: For a young (23) player, Chicago White Sox first baseman-designated hitter Frank Thomas is flirting with fancy company. He reached base via hit, walk or hit-by-pitch in 77 of the first 81 games -- a pace that would put him on base 322 times for the season.
To get an idea of the accomplishment, consider that only 37 players have reached base 300 times in a single season. Since 1958, Wade Boggs (six), Pete Rose (five), Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Harmon Killebrew and Norm Cash are the only ones to accomplish the feat.
Thomas leads the American League in walks (72) and on-base percentage (.445) and is tied for fifth with 58 runs batted in. He leads the White Sox with a .302 average and is a threat to break the club's record for walks in a season (127).
At his present pace, Thomas will surpass Boggs' record of reaching safely in 152 games in 1985. He would have to reach in 76 of the final 81 games to pass Boggs, who reached 342 times in 1985. Babe Ruth holds the all-time record, reaching base safely 375 times (205 hits, 170 walks) in 1923.
* BO TO DISCARD CRUTCHES: The Orioles' Glenn Davis isn't the only notable disabled player progressing with rehabilitation workouts. When the White Sox return home Monday, Bo Jackson will take a break from his TV commercials for another medical examination.
"That's when we can hopefully have him get rid of his crutcheentirely," said trainer Herman Schneider. "Right now he's on crutches half the time."
The other half, he's on television. Or at least that's what iseems.
* SILLY STAT OF THE WEEK: Those people at the Elias Sports Bureau are always searching for the unknown. Their latest discovery is that Duke Snider is the all-time patriotic home run hitter.
The former Dodger hit nine home runs on July 4. The active leader is Dwight Evans with five. Just thought you'd like to know.
* ROBBING THE CRADLE: When Nolan Ryan pitched his first no-hitter, Ivan Rodriguez was still learning to walk. In his 16th major-league start, Rodriguez, 19, came within six outs of catching Ryan's eighth no-no.
But Ryan, who lost a perfect game in the seventh, lost thno-hitter in the eighth and left the game in the ninth. The legendary righthander has pitched three times with Rodriguez behind the plate -- giving up four runs and five hits, striking out 24 and walking six for a 1.96 earned run average in 18 1/3 innings.
* THE NUMBERS GAME: Wonder how the White Sox got back into the AL's Western Division race? They've won 20 times (of 43 victories) in their final at-bat, have baseball's best record (20-10) in one-run games and are 10-4 in extra innings.
Kansas City's George Brett moved past Charlie Gehringer on the all-time RBI list last night. His total of 1,425 ranks 34th. With 1,878 victories, Sparky Anderson needs 11 wins to pass Bill McKechnie and move into ninth place on the all-time list and 24 to pass Gene Mauch, who is currently eighth.
* IMPERTINENT QUESTIONS: Are the Dodgers looking at Milwaukee reliever Dan Plesac again because privately they are afraid Jay Howell's elbow injury is worse than anticipated?
Why would the commissioner label the designated hitter rule a successful 20-year experiment and then suggest it be eliminated?
Have the major-league clubs, including the Orioles with Mark Smith, decided to play hard ball with the nine unsigned No. 1 draft choices (out of the top 12)?
Isn't Ken Griffey Sr. about to pack it in because of the disk problem that put him on the disabled list?
Isn't Seattle owner Jeff Smulyan quietly maneuvering into a position to entertain offers for the Mariners from St. Petersburg interests?