Streak to keep going, but Ripken may rest In 1993, Oates aims to fit in some breathers

September 14, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,"Insider's Baseball"Staff Writer

Imagine Cal Ripken as a designated hitter. Leaving a game after one inning. Or appearing only as a substitute.

It could happen next season.

Orioles manager Johnny Oates said yesterday that he is exploring ways to give Ripken more rest in 1993 while preserving his All-Star shortstop's consecutive-games streak.

Oates said only Ripken can remove himself from the Orioles lineup, but cited two factors for the evolution in his thinking: Ripken's age -- he turns 33 next August -- and that Lou Gehrig took frequent rests during his record streak of 2,130 consecutive games.

Ripken played yesterday in his 1,715th consecutive game, going 0-for-3 in a 3-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. This has been not only the worst season of his career, but also the most injury-riddled. His most recent problem occurred Friday night, when he twisted his right ankle running out a double.

With 20 games left, he is batting .239 with 10 home runs and 60 RBI, coming off an MVP season in which he hit 84 points higher, with 24 more homers and 54 more RBI. He has not hit a home run in a career-high 73 games. He has only four extra-base hits in his past 33.

"He's not 26 years old," Oates said. "He'll be playing his 12th consecutive year next year without missing a game. I know he says he takes all winter off. But he'll be 33 next summer. I think it's wise for me to start thinking now, start putting some plans together.

"I'm starting to do some research. I'm getting a lot of information, going to the library. I'm seeing why he [Gehrig] came out of games, how often he came out, how many times he went out there just to keep the streak going.

"I don't think it's written in the rule book he has to play nine innings every day to keep the streak going. I can't find anywhere where there is an asterisk next to Gehrig's streak. All I hear is, he [Gehrig] played so many games."

Oates, who first broached the subject in his pre-game radio show on WBAL on Saturday, said he is studying an article in "Insider's Baseball" called "The Gehrig Streak Reviewed" that includes a chart detailing the 68 times the Hall of Fame first baseman was replaced during his streak.

Ripken has started every game of his streak, 1,688 at shortstop, 27 at third base. He has played all but 115 out of 15,592 innings, departing early in only 40 games.

Oates said he recently discussed additional rest with Ripken, who told him he could "live with" early substitutions when healthy. Ripken said yesterday that he would not extend his streak by playing only one inning if injured.

"It's not so important I'd want to play one inning and come out," he said. "At this moment, I wouldn't want to continue the streak just for the streak's sake. That's how I feel now. Maybe when the year is finished, my outlook will change."

Oates said he merely wants Ripken to play by the same rules as Gehrig, who once led off a game with a single and left immediately because of a severe case of lumbago.

Baseball rules state that "a consecutive-games playing streak shall be extended if the player plays one half-inning on defense, or if he completes a time at-bat by reaching base or being put out. A pinch-running appearance only shall not extend the streak."

Oates outlined one scenario in which he would play Ripken one inning: a game before a day off. In effect, that would give him two days' rest. The manager, however, said he does not want to taint the streak in any way.

Ripken has maintained that his streak is simply a byproduct of his desire to play every day. He said a day off "is not going to make you feel physically refreshed and do things physically you might not be able to do otherwise. It's more of a mental thing."

Oates, however, told Ripken it is his prerogative as manager to determine whether he needs a rest, although not at the expense of his streak. Oates said he might even use Ripken as a DH this season, if the condition of his ankle worsens.

Gehrig never appeared as a DH; the American League added that rule in 1973. Still, the rules allow for Ripken to continue his streak in that capacity, and Oates said he wasn't worried by the prospect of criticism from baseball traditionalists.

"I'll catch some flak from old-timers," Oates said, "but I think Rip's 1,700 is comparable to Gehrig's 2,100 right now -- because of additional travel, overnight flights, playing all over the country, playing shortstop as opposed to first base, playing on artificial turf."

The Orioles recalled minor-league shortstop Manny Alexander on Saturday as protection against a more serious injury to Ripken. Alexander, though, has played only six games at Triple-A. Oates said Ripken is "tired and hurt," but still the best option in the middle of a pennant race.

The club likely will need to acquire a quality backup at shortstop if Oates is intent on giving Ripken additional rest next season. The promotion of Alexander was necessary because neither Tim Hulett nor Mark McLemore is proficient at shortstop.

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