Ripken returns, has 'no regrets' Oriole glad to 'change subject'

Miller sees 10-15 days off in '99

September 22, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Cal Ripken said he awoke yesterday with "no regrets, no second thoughts" over ending the consecutive-games streak it took him 16 years to construct. He also reiterated that he still considers himself an everyday player who looks forward to next season.

While seconding Ripken's belief, Orioles manager Ray Miller said he expects Ripken to receive standard rest for a position player in 1999.

"I missed a game. The Streak is over," Ripken confirmed during a news conference before last night's game. "But who I am as a player and how I approach the game is going to be consistent. I'll come to the ballpark with the same desire to play and the same desire to help the team win."

Ripken started at third base as he will do for the season's final six games, according to Miller, who refuted suspicions that the ,, end of the 2,632-game streak would signal the end of his Hall of Fame career. However, Ripken admitted that he will not miss the predictable stream of streak questions that has dogged him in recent years.

"Many, many times focus deviated onto The Streak and I always felt uncomfortable about it," he said. "There came a moment in time when I thought, 'Let's change the subject. Let's move on. Let's put the focus where it should be. Let's just play baseball.' "

Greeted by a standing ovation from a scattered SkyDome crowd, Ripken singled sharply in his first at-bat, giving him 2,874 hits, 34th all-time and one more than Babe Ruth. Such milestones no longer have to compete with The Streak.

"I think in some ways The Streak has overshadowed the contributions I've been able to make," he said. "A lot of people think 'That's the guy who's played in all those games.' But in order to play in all those games you have to contribute and put up some numbers. I still feel I'm an everyday player and I have a lot of baseball left in me. No one knows exactly when they can't play anymore. The game itself will tell you."

Miller said he anticipates Ripken receiving 10 to 15 days off next season, but dismissed any suggestion that the Orioles may plumb the off-season market for a potential replacement at third base while shifting Ripken to first.

"Unless there are several personnel changes, Cal is my third baseman next year with selected days off," Miller said. "That means he doesn't necessarily have to play a day game after a night game. Common sense tells you there are certain matchups he could avoid or in some cases he might just be able to use a day off."

At 38, Ripken halfway acknowledges Miller's projection while refusing to concede anything further. "I think that's the wrong way to think -- that it's the beginning of the end," he said.

"I've never been close-minded to the concept of an off day if I wasn't contributing for whatever reason. If it goes in that direction and plays out that way, so be it. But I'm going to continue coming to the ballpark with the same exact attitude," Ripken added.

Ripken still seemed buoyed by Sunday night's experience that included his surprise announcement to sit for the first time since May 29, 1982. He succeeded in keeping the "celebration" low-key by letting only a few know his intent. Center fielder Brady Anderson was the only teammate with prior knowledge along with Miller, his immediate family, a close circle of friends and several members of his marketing firm.

"I felt great about how it happened. I thought it was a great celebration as opposed to a sad event. That was important to me because I never looked at the streak as anything bad about it," he said. "I still think I have the greatest job. I'm still doing what I want to do. I still have a great passion to play."

Players still expressed a sense of wonder about the night. Several were unsure about what was happening until the team took the field. Miller did not even tell his coaching staff.

"It was like being a long way from someone banging a hammer," said catcher Chris Hoiles. "The impact doesn't hit you until the sound arrives. For a minute you sat there waiting and a little bit numb."

Anderson admitted briefly attempting to talk Ripken out of the idea at its first mention. Even yesterday he seemed disbelieving.

"I think somewhere along the line something began to be lost, and that was too bad because it's such a staggering thing to consider," Anderson said. "It was something good."

Hoiles and Anderson have been teammates longer than any other active Orioles and, not surprisingly, seemed the most moved by Sunday.

"You play with the guy for eight, nine years and he's always been on the field," Hoiles said. "It's just odd to see when he's not out there."

While some within the industry postulated that Ripken used The Streak to motivate himself, the third baseman said otherwise.

"I never questioned where I would be next year as part of the motivation for ending The Streak. There's always been a certain management of The Streak and it's always been part of the accepted activities.

"As it continued to go on, I got to the point where I said, 'Hey, it's time to change the subject,' " he said.

Roller coaster season

The Orioles' 1998 season can be broken down into six parts in which their winning percentage has been either above .750 or below .375:

Dates ........ Hot/cold spell ..... Overall record ..... Standing

3/31-4/14 .... 10-2, .833 ......... 10-2, .833 ......... First by 2 1/2

4/15-7/5 ..... 28-48, .368 ........ 38-50, .432 ........ Fourth, 26 1/2 out

7/9-8/19 ..... 30-8, .779 ......... 68-58, .540 ........ Third, 25 1/2 out

8/20-9/7 ..... 3-14, .176 ......... 71-72, .497 ........ Fourth, 30 out

9/8-9/14 ..... 6-0, 1.000 ......... 77-72, .517 ........ Fourth, 27 1/2 out

9/15-9/21 .... 1-6, .143 .......... 78-78, .500 ........ Fourth, 29 1/2 out

Coming Sunday

A special section commemorating Cal Ripken's streak of 2,632 consecutive games.

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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