NEW YORK -- It was one of the last opportunities for Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken to celebrate his finest season before turning his attention toward the opening of another.
The New York chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America presented Ripken with his American League Most Valuable Player trophy last night at its 69th annual awards banquet at the Sheraton Centre Hotel.
"This banquet is definitely the last stop," Ripken said last night. "I know after tonight I have to start focusing on next year. It was the same way in 1983. You know spring training is just around the corner, and last year's stats don't carry over."
Ripken and several members of Orioles management attended the event, which also honored National League Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine, AL Rookie of the Year Chuck Knoblauch, broadcasters Ernie Harwell and Mel Allen and Hall of Famer Duke Snider.
It has been more than two months since Ripken became the first American League player from a losing club to receive baseball's most prestigious award. The Orioles toasted him with champagne glasses filled with milk at a news conference in his honor Nov. 19. The official presentation was saved for the BBWAA banquet last night.
The Orioles had hoped that 1991 would be a season to remember for the entire organization, but Ripken's outstanding performance deflected attention from an otherwise disappointing year. The loss of newly acquired first baseman Glenn Davis to a freak neck injury and the collapse of the starting rotation pushed the Orioles to the bottom of the standings, but Ripken remained on top of the world.
"We were focused on the loss of Davis and some of the other things that happened," said general manager Roland Hemond, who accompanied Ripken and wife Kelly to New York. "Cal offset those blows. It's a credit to a player when he can stand out like that on a club that isn't in contention."
The New York writers gave meritorious service awards to Harwell and Allen, and gave Snider their "Toast of the Town" Award, which honors a player who at some point held the Big Apple in the palm of his hand.
Ripken has that kind of hold on Baltimore, where fans turned out in record numbers to watch him put together his most impressive season. He batted .323 with 210 hits, 34 home runs and 114 RBI and led the league in several offensive and defensive categories.
"We all relish the attention he is getting," Hemond said. "It's nice that he was able to bring such positive attention to the Baltimore Orioles from all over the country."
The MVP trophy is the biggest award Ripken won as a result of his 1991 performance, but it wasn't the only one. He was named Player of the Year by The Associated Press and The Sporting News and received his first Gold Glove Award. During the season, he was the MVP of the All-Star Game and was the American League Player of the Month for September.
Now, all he has to do is come up with a suitable encore, no easy trick.
He produced consistently from the first day of spring training to the final day of the regular season. He set career highs in several offensive categories. But his performance cannot be considered a statistical aberration. The mechanical adjustments he made during the latter part of the 1990 season and the following winter proved that his skills were not in decline, so he is confident that he can pick up where he left off last year.
Ripken made it a point to try to duplicate last year's off-season regimen, which could not have been easy with all of the off-season demands that came with his MVP status. He still has a couple of dates left on his winter schedule -- a charity softball game in Palm Springs, Calif., next week and an appearance on the "Arsenio Hall Show."