Misery is one burdensome streak Ripken could stand to sit out

KEN ROSENTHAL

July 13, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

On a day when ticket scalpers are asking $1,000, here are four words of free advice for the Orioles' beleaguered All-Star, shortstop Cal Ripken:

Not "take a day off."

Not "change your batting stance."

Not "give back your money."

No, Mr. Analytical needs a whole new outlook:

"Don't worry, be happy."

Here's a guy with all this money, all this fame, a loving wife, a healthy 3-year-old daughter and another baby on the way.

And yet, he seems miserable.

If it's not one thing with Ripken, it's another.

Last year, the contract, the batting slump and the streak.

This year, the departures of his father and brother, the disclosure of his hotels and limos, the debate over whether he's an All-Star.

And, of course, the batting slump and the streak.

Want to get depressed? Read a recent newspaper or magazine story about Ripken. "Solitary Man" was one headline, "The Iron Man Feels Weight" another.

His agent, Ron Shapiro, speaks of Ripken's "tremendous burden." Ripken keeps describing how he's "beaten down."

No longer is he just Gehrig.

Now, he's Atlas, too.

It's time Ripken lets his hair down -- what little he has left. Tackles life more like his spirited brother, Bill. Renews his faith in the game he holds so dear.

In short, it's time he lightens up.

The guy frets about everything, and it's taking its toll. He's 307 games away from Gehrig, but with each passing day, his march to the record seems more painful.

Just the other night, ESPN depicted him behind bars and called him a prisoner of the streak. That's a good one. Ripken is the only prisoner in history with a key to his own cell.

He has two choices with the streak -- end it or enjoy it. As all of baseball knows, it's Ripken's call. He can bask in the coming glory. Or, with his wife, Kelly, due to give birth shortly, he can take the perfect out.

What better reason can there be to miss a game? Ripken's all-American image certainly wouldn't suffer, and neither would the Orioles'. Yes, even in a pennant race, the club could promote Manny Alexander for one game -- heck, maybe even two.

The sun would rise in the morning.

The franchise would live to see another day.

Think maybe then Ripken would relax? Probably not. Take the All-Star Game: Ripken is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, yet he was embarrassed to be elected. The fans don't want to see Travis

Fryman. Ripken shouldn't either.

Last season, he said he was distracted by his contract negotiations. Now, he's not sure that was his problem. This season, he said he pressed trying to put up All-Star numbers. How much more self-defeating can you get?

Yes, Ripken is batting only .229, but he's on a 22-homer, 83-RBI pace. Imagine where he'd be if he hadn't spent half the season driving himself crazy. We'll tell you: in contention for his third MVP.

Ripken isn't a whiner -- in fact, he's just the opposite, one of the few superstars who shuts up and plays. Yet, the harder he tries to maintain his spotless image, the more overwhelmed he seems by peripheral issues, by his sheer celebrity.

No doubt, he faces pressures unknown to the average fan. But does he have it any worse than Kirby Puckett? Nolan Ryan? Or, for that matter, Michael Jordan? Probably not from memorabilia collectors. And certainly not from the media.

All those questions beating Ripken down -- who's asking them? Baltimore is hardly media hell, and Ripken, while cooperative, often is unavailable. If he thinks he's besieged, he should try spending a day with the New York Mets.

It's all rather sad. One of the driving forces behind Ripken's contract talks last season was the desire on both sides for him to appear in this All-Star Game in an Orioles uniform. Now, the game is upon us, and he's apologizing to everyone in sight.

Enough.

Ripken owes it to himself to ignore his critics, revel in his popularity, free his mind. The Orioles need him to be more than a complementary player. The last two times they were in a pennant race -- 1989 and '92 -- he slumped miserably.

Trying too hard, of course.

Thinking too much.

The other day, he got his 2,000th hit. The fans at Camden Yards responded with a standing ovation so heartfelt, it could only have been for their hometown hero.

Everyone wants to be Cal Ripken.

Everyone, it seems, but the man himself.

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