Altobelli knows Ripken work ethic firsthand

INSIDE PITCH

September 05, 1995|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Within minutes of the conclusion of the 1983 World Series, Joe Altobelli had a brief, semi-private conversation with Cal Ripken.

In the middle of a boisterous clubhouse, the Orioles' manager put his arm around his shortstop's shoulders and made the worst prediction of his life.

"Cal," said Altobelli, "we're not going to go through this again next year."

Ripken's consecutive-games streak was not yet two years old, but Altobelli was suggesting subtly that he would reduce Ripken's arduous schedule the next year. The soon-to-be-named American League MVP, who had played every inning of every game, merely flashed a happy smile -- and said nothing.

Two years ago, during an exhibition game in Rochester, N.Y., home for Altobelli and the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate, the two sat down for a more private conversation. "We talked for about two hours, just reminiscing," said Altobelli.

By then, Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 games was within Ripken's sight. Altobelli was asked if his 1983 message came up during his most recent conversation with Ripken.

"I told him that might have been the dumbest thing I ever said," Altobelli said. "It's really almost comical now."

There isn't much about that season that Altobelli doesn't remember, so it's not surprising that he recalled his post-Series chat with Ripken.

"I remember what I said -- and it wasn't the only time I said it, either," he said.

"I said it again after the 1984 season. But I didn't get to say it after 1985," said Altobelli, who was fired two months into that season.

Actually there were only a few times that Altobelli considered removing Ripken from a game early. "The first time, I was going to take him out after seven innings of a game in which we had a big lead," Altobelli said. "He just shrugged and said something like, 'I can do this [finish the game] standing on my head.' "

It wasn't until his last months as Orioles manager that Altobelli came to grips with Ripken's aversion to leaving a game early. "We talked about it and he told me about how much he sat on the bench the year he came up [to the big leagues in 1981]," said Altobelli.

"He hated being on the bench and he told me that he made a vow to himself that if he ever got into the lineup on a regular basis, he would never ask out. I told him, 'OK, you're in there until you come to me.'

"He never came to me. I didn't think about it again -- he was the only player to play shortstop while I was there."

Now, almost 12 years after he first hinted that Ripken's streak wouldn't endure another season, Altobelli marvels at what has transpired. And he's happy he didn't follow up on his own suggestion.

"Cal is well deserving of this record," he said. "If Gehrig knew him like we do, I'm sure he'd feel the same way. It's ridiculous that a few people would suggest he sit down and not break the record.

"The old cliche is very true -- records are made to be broken. They are there to give young people something to dream about doing. It's an amazing record -- and Cal is an amazing person."

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