Ripken's heel gives Oates jarring reminder of his worth

June 25, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE -- One day after the scare of his managerial career, Johnny Oates checked in with a heartbeat that was as normal as Cal Ripken's physical condition.

In the first inning of the Orioles' 7-1 win over the Brewers Tuesday night, Oates was unsure about both -- but knew the pounding inside his chest was irregular.

When Ripken's left foot hit first base while he was trying to beat out a high bouncer, the All-Star shortstop walked away with a gimpy stride. He obviously had some discomfort -- and Oates experienced sudden palpitations.

It turned out that Ripken merely jarred his heel, not his ankle as it appeared, shortly before he jarred the Brewers with a pair of home runs. "He also jarred my heart," said Oates.

"You can't believe all of the things that went through my mind," said Oates. "I saw him hit the bag and I turned to Richie [trainer Richie Bancells] and said 'he hurt himself,' " Oates said before last night's game, while recalling his emotions 24 hours earlier.

After the game, Ripken dismissed the incident as minor, but more than a few in the Orioles clubhouse realized he'd suffered some discomfort. However, there was no indication of anything unusual before last night's game, which was Ripken's 1,643rd consecutive start.

Ripken reported no ill effects and, as usual, the medical staff reported no special attention. "I wrapped his ankle and he never even mentioned it," said trainer Jamie Reed.

Oates didn't even bother to ask Ripken how he felt before writing his name into the No. 3 spot in the lineup. That's been a daily ritual for five straight Orioles managers -- and Oates wondered if it would be up to him to break the string.

"That was one of my first thoughts -- who would hit third [if Ripken couldn't play]," said Oates, who was doing mental gymnastics about that time.

" 'What kind of lineup are we going to have without him and [Chris] Hoiles? Who's the shortstop -- [Juan] Bell, [Manny] Alexander, [Ricky] Gutierrez? Who's going to hit third? What did he hurt -- an ankle, hamstring, Achilles, Lord, that could be career-threatening.' All of those things were running through my mind," said Oates.

"Then I thought about the streak -- 'he's going to have to tell me he can't play or I'm putting him in the lineup,' I remember saying to myself," said Oates. "You can't believe that many things can run through your mind in about 30 seconds.

"But I can tell you, my heart did more than just skip a beat. I was very anxious."

If Oates was nervous about Cal's condition, brother Bill claimed he was unconcerned. "Nah, I wasn't worried -- if that's all it was, I knew he'd play through it," said the second baseman.

Ripken's durability, of course, is one of the longest running phenomenons in baseball. Nobody has considered what the Orioles lineup would be like without Ripken because that hasn't happened in more than a decade.

But, as Oates found out, Tuesday's episode highlights how much Ripken's day-to-day availability is taken for granted.

The fact that the All-Star shortstop iced Tuesday night's game with his ninth and 10th home runs of the year merely provided an exclamation point for all the thoughts that tormented Oates a few innings earlier.

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