Time to end The Streak Cal Ripken Jr. could use a rest, and a spelling lesson: There is no 'I' in 'team'

August 02, 1998|By Jim Westwater

"We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are."

-- Talmud

I believe that my Oriole friends will say I know something abou my favorite sport - baseball. My favorite team is the Yankees. Over the decades, I have learned to understand why some fans dislike the Yankees - especially after the umpire's blown call cost the Orioles a game at Yankee Stadium on July 4.

I saw my first major league baseball game in 1946. George Stirnweiss was my idol. He was coming off what they call today a "career year." He had won the batting championship (.309) and led the league in slugging (.476), runs (107), triples (22), stolen bases (33) and hits (195).

I have been fortunate to have seen most of the great major leaguers over the past 50 years, such as Newhouser, Feller, Spahn, Musial, Williams, DiMaggio, Clemente, Koufax, Aaron, Mays, Mantle, the three Robinsons and Ripken.

I also believe my professional colleagues will confirm that I know something about "work ethic" and "personal streaks." The "work ethic" and "personal streaks" help us understand the challenges of individual effort and teamwork.

I haven't missed a day of work because of illness in the last 28 years. For 26 years, I have run for exercise - usually three miles every day. I can count only seven times that I was unable to complete at least a two-mile run, and that was because of ice or snow.

You can learn a lot about yourself, teamwork and life by working and running every day. You overcome obstacles in your health, your spirit and weather conditions. You learn about work ethic, character, pain, stubbornness, willpower, determination, humility and God's beauty. You become adept at estimating the temperature and approaching car speeds.

You also learn the difference between individual and team focus, and the importance of maximizing both the quality and the quantity of those individual and collective pursuits.

I have seen Cal Ripken play every year for the past 15 years - since I moved to Baltimore - and it has been a fan's delight. He has given baseball fans some marvelous years and many memorable games. As with all of us, however, the quality of one's game decreases as the quantity increases.

When I first started running, I could do three three miles in 18 to 19 minutes. Today, it takes me at least 30 to 35 minutes depending on the weather and my strength. My quality has clearly decreased as the quantity - consecutive days running - increases.

If I was running or playing for a team, I would have to take myself out of the race. Conversely, in working with others, the quality of my insights and judgment have increased as I have maintained my consecutive "working days" streak.

Consequently, it is difficult for me to understand Cal Ripken's statement that it is selfish for him not to play every day.

It becomes more obvious why Lou Gehrig is considered a giant in the annals of baseball. The quality of his achievements during his 2,130 game streak are unparalleled. He is also a giant because, when he didn't produce during the last eight games of his career in 1939, he took himself out of the lineup.

According to newspaper accounts, on May 2, 1939, team captain Gehrig gave the Yankee lineup card, without his name, to the plate umpire. In his book "The Iron Horse," Ray Robinson reports that Gehrig had a conversation with his manager, Joe McCarthy: "What do you mean about consecutive games? It rains now and then, doesn't it? I don't play that day. Isn't that a day off, or having the day off because it's raining? Why, I've had lots of days off over the years."

In Gehrig's last full season (1938), he finished with a batting average of .295, 29 home runs, 115 runs scored and 114 runs batted in. Today, such a season would make him a multimillion-dollar player. For Gehrig, it was not up to his standards. In 1939, Gehrig received a salary cut from $39,000 to $35,000 - because of his performance in 1938.

There's no doubt that the quality of Cal's game has decreased considerably - at bat and in the field. In these years of limited

good pitching, it is not an achievement for a 6-foot-4-inch batter in the middle of the line-up, especially one who gets over 600 at bats, to hit 20 homers and have 75-plus RBIs.

And though he has made only five errors (through Thursday), his range at third base is limited. He averages fewer assists per game than nearly all other third basemen.

As Oriole pitcher Scott Erickson recently stated, "Pitching and defense go hand in hand. Having the fewest errors in the league I that's misleading. You don't get an error on a ball you don't get to. It looks different on paper. Those are stats. It doesn't mean that's reality."

Because of "The Streak," Ripken continues to receive privileges - special hotel arrangements on the road and his own doctor. Also, he has his own rules, with the power to determine whether he will be in the lineup each day. Having one's own set of rules is not an attribute of a team player.

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