The Streak goes to core of Ripken

September 06, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

NEW YORK -- The Streak should not end. Not today, not tomorrow, not even if the Orioles clinch the AL East before the season is over.

It doesn't matter if manager Davey Johnson plans to continue resting his other infielders. It doesn't matter if Ripken might benefit from a day or two off.

You take away The Streak, you take away part of Ripken's motivation. You take away his identity. You take away the essence of his career.

"I do believe it motivates him," Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone was saying before last night's game against the Yankees.

"He's very strong-willed. But I think it keeps him very focused and very determined It's part of the reason he has been so successful.

"In every one of our lives, we have things that motivate us. If you lose something like that, it has to be replaced, or you lose some of your drive and motivation.

"It becomes part of your personality and who you are. Cal has accomplished The Streak. But The Streak is part of who Cal is."

And that, after more than 15 years, is perhaps the most powerful argument for Ripken continuing to play every day.

In theory, it would make sense for Ripken to rest his aching back and tired legs for the postseason if the Orioles clinched.

But with Ripken, normal theory does not apply.

For starters, the end of The Streak would result in a media circus, an unwanted distraction with the Orioles trying to win the World Series.

And, as Ripken pointed out again yesterday, there is no guarantee that he'd be refreshed if he took time off.

The future Hall of Famer was predictably testy when asked about the possibility of sitting after the Orioles clinch, calling it a "non-issue."

He then underscored his point by hitting a wicked line drive off Andy Pettitte's mouth in the first inning, sending the Yankees left-hander to the hospital.

"Is it rest if you get one day off?" Ripken asked. "Is it rest if you get a week off? Would you become stale if you didn't play? If you take a day off, does that mean you're not as ready?

"There are a whole lot of different angles."

None of them matter.

The Streak transcended rational argument long ago.

Today is the two-year anniversary of Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig's record. Since then, he has played in 323 straight games. That alone would be the third-longest current consecutive-games streak.

"It's his strength," Johnson said. "It's him."

And, even if the Orioles win by 15 games, it's untouchable.

"That's not something we're going to address this year -- or probably any year," Johnson said, laughing.

Still, this season is different. The last time the Orioles won a division title was in 1983, when The Streak was still in its infancy. This is the closest they've been since.

Johnson will rest other players with the goal of preserving their energy. But Ripken doesn't even want to take innings off, much less games.

"I'm stubborn, but I'm not even close to as stubborn as Cal," Johnson said. "That's what sets him apart."

And that's the paradox of The Streak.

It reflects Ripken's best and worst qualities.

It's selfless and it's selfish, all at once.

Johnson's reluctance to press the issue shows that Ripken controls The Streak. But Ripken's reluctance to miss even a single inning shows that The Streak controls him.

Again, none of it matters.

Ripken would be lost without The Streak, and downright angry if it ended when he was healthy enough to play.

His mental distress might outweigh any physical benefit of time off.

So, why antagonize him?

Ripken said his back is better. Going into last night, he was batting .357 in his last 32 games. And he has made only three errors at third base since the All-Star break.

If anything, catcher Chris Hoiles said Ripken is showing his "true colors" while playing through physical hardship in a pennant race.

The Streak is no small part of this.

At the age of 37, The Streak keeps Ripken going.

Ripken would never admit it, but The Streak is one reason he remains in top condition, always taking batting and infield practice, lifting weights.

Does he need a day off? It goes without saying. He needed one after twisting his knee in the 1993 brawl with Seattle. He needed one in 1990 when he was hitting .209 in June.

Like every other Oriole, he's tired now.

"That series in Miami was hard," said first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who hit a double and homer last night after sitting out Thursday. "We played a lot of long games. It was hot and humid. You're just worn out.

"We got here late [at 4: 30 a.m. Thursday]. When you change your sleep habits, your body takes time to adjust. Yesterday was rough. I feel better in that sense."

Ripken might, too, if he would just let himself go.

But he can't.

"He's different, because he's played 3 million games in a row," Hoiles said. "He's got a little bit more going for him. That's what sets him apart from the rest of us. He's got something to lose."

It's not something that can be measured, but it's something that defines Cal Ripken. Win or lose, healthy or hurting, necessary or unnecessary, he plays on.

Pub Date: 9/06/97

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