Surhoff, Palmeiro give Ripken company 'Play if you're able' trio puts O's in rare circles

August 25, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

If the Orioles are permitted to write their own epitaph for a season now threatened by late-season arithmetic, they will undoubtedly cite a conspiracy of injuries that defeated them in the first half.

Befitting their upside-down year, the bruised Orioles also may lay claim to three survivors who experienced every game.

Left fielder B. J. Surhoff, first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and, of course, third baseman Cal Ripken remain among the elite to have played in each of their team's 130 games. No other major-league team can make the boast and records are uncertain about the last one that could. Constructed partly from desperation, partly from pride, partly from contract status and partly from Ripken's legacy, the collective run has created its own momentum. For now, manager Ray Miller says he will not tamper.

Playing every day defines Ripken, whose creed has long been "you play because you're able to." He enters tonight's series opener against the Chicago White Sox having started 2,608 consecutive games dating to 1982. His philosophy is simple. If physically able to play, why should he not be in the lineup if there is no one better available? Ripken's blue-collar philosophy has come under increased scrutiny in recent seasons, especially last summer when he played 162 games despite a bulging disk in his lower back.

About The Streak, Surhoff sums, "People don't understand."

Adds Palmeiro: "Even if I was able to play 162 games this year, for him to do that 13 or 14 straight years is more than remarkable. I know he goes through times when he's tired or hurt. But he plays through all of that. When he gets out of bed he knows he has a game that night and it's his responsibility to play. Nothing is going to stop him from doing his job. I understand where he's coming from."

"I don't have to be further impressed," Surhoff says. "I knew it was ridiculous to begin with. But it also helps you understand the mind-set more."

For Surhoff, this is a first-time deal. A former catcher with the Milwaukee Brewers, he has never played more than 148 games in a season. Surhoff caught 100 games as recently as 1992, and last year played three positions. This season may also be his first played exclusively at a position other than catcher.

"I've never been in a position to even approach that," Surhoff says. "For most guys, a day off isn't a bad thing. Some people need it more mentally than physically. You can't catch every game unless you want your career to last about three years."

If playing every day is its own reward, then contending only assists one's motivation.

"Everything's easier when you're winning and you have something as a team to play for. When you're out of it in September, it's easy to start thinking about 'you' instead of 'team' and I don't like that," admits Surhoff.

"I don't care what anybody says, it's more difficult to do that when you don't have a chance for the postseason. There's more of a tendency to look where you're at and press. It's not the way the game's supposed to be played."

Aside from injuries the only factor that could stymie Palmeiro Ripken and Surhoff would be the Orioles tumbling from contention. They end the season playing on 17 consecutive days. The desire to watch prospects Calvin Pickering at first base and Willis Otanez in left might prove overwhelming.

Major League Baseball and the Elias Sports Bureau were at a loss yesterday to document the last time three players from the same team played every game, but the Houston Astros crowed last season when Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell accomplished the feat. It should be no coincidence the Astros were the only team last season to have the honor. They won their first division title since 1986.

Miller insists Ripken's teammates draw on the third baseman's approach. Shortstop Mike Bordick, center fielder Brady Anderson and catcher Chris Hoiles are known to lobby heavily when excluded from a lineup. Second baseman Roberto Alomar played in at least 150 games in the last four full seasons before a string of injuries limited him to 112 appearances in '97.

Given the travel needed to play 17 two-game series, to play every day requires an unyielding mind-set.

"To an extent you control it because you have to want to play every day," Surhoff says. "There are too many opportunities to take a day off."

Several times Miller has approached Palmeiro and Surhoff about taking a day off. Palmeiro has refused and started every game. Surhoff has missed eight starts but appeared as a pinch hitter four times and as a defensive replacement in four others.

"Two things have to happen for you to play every game," explains Surhoff. "One, the manager's got to feel you're contributing. Two, you've got to be healthy enough. If you based it on how you felt when you woke up in the morning you wouldn't play a lot of times."

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