Players throw support behind streak

September 07, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

On May 30, 1982, Keith Lockhart was a student at Northview High School, in Colina, Calif., and Cal Ripken started at third base for the Orioles, against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Since then, Lockhart has been drafted, played for five organizations in 10 seasons of minor-league baseball, married, watched his first child being born and nearly retired. In all that time, Ripken hasn't missed a game.

Lockhart, now 30, finally established himself in the majors for the first time this summer, with the Kansas City Royals, and on the night of July 22, he stood on the edge of the field at Kauffman Stadium and watched Ripken prepare to play in his 2,086th consecutive game. Batting practice, again. Infield grounders, again. At the moment, Ripken was signing autographs. Again.

Everybody knows about how many straight games Ripken has played, Lockhart was saying, but how many ground balls had he taken? How many practice swings? How many hundreds of thousands of throws?

"Look at him," Lockhart said. "What he's doing is so incredible. Do you realize how much better he makes the rest of us look?"

Ripken signed one more autograph, gave a slight wave to the fans leaning over the fence, and picked up his bat. Back to work. Again.

"Everyone in baseball I've talked to wants him to get this record," Lockhart said. "This is important for all of us."

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Other players and managers stop Ripken and wish him luck, sometimes without saying exactly why, as if mentioning the possibility of injury increases the likelihood.

By and large, they wanted him to get this record. "It has as much to do with the type of person he is," said Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson. "Players care about Cal. They respect him, and they're rooting for him, which isn't always the case when somebody is going after a milestone. I wouldn't say people root against other people, but maybe they're just indifferent, as a whole. As a whole, major-league players are not indifferent about The Streak."

Not at all. Players and managers are wary of superlatives -- maybe, Mike Mussina suggests, they understand how humbling the game can be -- but the praise for The Streak is effusive.

Ripken's streak, says Detroit manager Sparky Anderson, "is the greatest single thing we will see in our lifetime in this game. We didn't get to see [Joe] DiMaggio's hitting streak or [Lou] Gehrig's streak. We are seeing this. This is the greatest feat that will happen for me in my baseball career. I'll never live long enough to see something like this [again]."

Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell said: "I think everybody in baseball has admired Lou Gehrig. But for Cal Ripken to break the record the way he is breaking it -- I don't think there can be any jealousy. I think everybody realizes what he's doing is incredible."

Cincinnati Reds first baseman Hal Morris said that when he has gone on the disabled list, he has thought of Ripken. "I think that we as players appreciate what he's done more than anyone else," Morris said, "because you can appreciate how grueling a 162-game season is, and how it can just tear up your body. And it does."

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Players are protective of The Streak. Seattle Mariners left-hander Randy Johnson, who showed no remorse after beaning Jim Leyritz of the New York Yankees, said that his worst nightmare would be to hit Ripken with a pitch and end The Streak.

Boston Red Sox right-hander Roger Clemens said: "I can't imagine pitching inside to him."

When the Orioles played in Kansas City in July, Ripken fielded a grounder and ran to step on second and start a double play, with Royals runner David Howard bearing down on him. "He was exposed to be taken out, and I went in as hard as I can, and I got him. I got him pretty good," Howard said.

"When I got back to the dugout, a lot of guys were going, 'Man, I can't believe you did that.' "

The Streak. Don't mess with The Streak. Howard thought hard about what he had done. "I mean, Cal's tried to take me out in the past," said Howard, also a shortstop. "I didn't go in cheap or anything. I never go in cheap, I just try to break up the double play.

"The guys [on the bench] were like, 'You almost hurt him.' . . . I was feeling bad about it the whole game. But then I was thinking, Cal wouldn't want people going into second base soft, not playing the game the way they would normally play it, just because of his streak."

Howard asked Ripken about the play the next day, and Ripken told him he wasn't mad, that he understood.

"I know you've come in and tried to take me out hard," Howard said.

Ripken said, laughing, "Oh, I was. But you were running to get out of there."

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PD It is the play that, according to conventional wisdom, should've

ended The Streak years ago: the double-play attempt. A 200-pound runner sprints toward second and, if the timing is right, throws all the G-force he can muster into the pivotman, into his knees and ankles, two of the body's most fragile joints.

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