The strike and the streak

March 27, 1995

News Report:

"March 19, 2095 -- Ken Burns IV has created a moving sequel to his great-grandfather's "Baseball" series of 100 years ago. Pay Per View-America will begin transmitting the work to home computer pods next month.

"Mr. Burns' work recounts baseball's second century, from deregulation to the first billion-dollar bonus baby to introduction of the titanium bat and lighted ball. The first installment recalls the wrenching Strike of '95 that nearly wrecked the game. The giant of that era was Cal Ripken Jr., shortstop for the then-Baltimore Orioles, who refused to cross his union's picket line to save his consecutive games' streak. . . ."

With this stubborn baseball strike, we're loath to predict 100 days into the future, much less 100 years. But rest assured that regardless of the outcome, the Oriole star emerges as a landmark figure. Baseball fans want this dispute settled in a manner that allows Cal Ripken to continue his march toward Lou Gehrig's 56-year-old record of 2,130 consecutive games played. But if this morass decays to the point of replacement player charades that count, it will only burnish the glory of Mr. Ripken's eventual achievement.

Not all asterisks are created equal. Mr. Ripken's situation is not comparable to 1961, when it was ruled that Roger Maris' 61 home runs didn't technically surpass Babe Ruth's record of 60, because it came in a season eight games longer. This strike is beyond the player's control; in fact, it makes the record more difficult to achieve by upsetting the athlete's regimen of the past 14 years, plus the fact that Mr. Ripken, 34, gets older by the day.

Like a living organism, the streak has metamorphosed into various forms: a Marley's ghost hovering over the player's ups and downs; a marketing and memorabilia bonanza yet to fully explode; a political cause celebre with various camps rushing to defend the sure-handed defender. The union refuses to agree to count games that impede the Ripken streak. Baltimore and Maryland politicians have moved to outlaw replacement games at Camden Yards. And Marylanders in Congress have urged Major League Baseball to ensure that Cal Ripken gets to set the record at home.

A hero to youth, Cal Ripken has taken pains to describe the streak as merely the product of being unfailingly dependable in a team sport. Many scoffed; the shortstop once said he was disappointed that even his wife didn't seem to grasp his rationale. Perhaps this strike has been a blessing to him: Now the entire nation understands.

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