Gretzky shows Cal how to exit gracefully

This Just In...

April 21, 1999|By DAN RODRICKS

JUST AFTER after 3 o'clock Sunday afternoon, Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player ever, waved farewell from the ice to adoring fans in Madison Square Garden. At the same hour in Toronto, the Orioles were well on their way to a 6-0 loss to the Blue Jays, and Cal Ripken, the most durable baseball player ever, was on the bench, scratched from the lineup with a bad back and a .179 batting average.

Gretzky is 38 years old -- five months younger than Cal. He announced last week that, after 20 years and a stunning, highly lucrative career on skates, he would retire. Sunday was his last game. He waved farewell. He cried.

Gretzky easily could have continued playing a few more years, probably scoring a respectable number of points -- he had 62 this season, more than the top scorer of the Washington Capitals -- but he decided not to, recognizing the downward arc of his career, opting to step off the slide before he crashed. Gretzky went out with grace and class (and a Mercedes-Benz, gift of the New York Rangers, that he probably didn't need).

Cal Ripken had a solid 1998 at third base for the Orioles. He batted .271, with 14 home runs and 61 RBI -- respectable numbers for a rookie, never mind a guy who turned 38 before the season ended. He came back for another go this spring, but suffers from a bad back and the emotional strain of the recent death of his father.

Having played as well as he has for so long, and having kept himself in superb shape, Ripken probably believed he could shake off the physical problems and have another productive season. Instead, he finds himself on the disabled list for the first time in 19 years, and for the first time you can hear people around Baltimore use "retire" in a sentence with "Ripken."

Given what we know about the man's work ethic and dedication, he can never be counted out. Ripken probably sees the back problem as a challenge. I'd put money on him coming off the DL and still playing this season.

Maybe Ripken wants to prove to himself that he can bounce back. Maybe he's still hoping, far-fetched as it sounds right now, for one more World Series.

That's fine. But he should know that he has nothing more to prove to the rest of us.

Cal Ripken has been great to baseball, great to Baltimore. He's done plenty. He's made a lot of people smile, a lot of kids dream. We're proud of him.

And we're protective of him. We want him to go out on a high note.

"I'm going to miss this game. ... It's going to kill me not to play," Wayne Gretzky said the other day. "But time does something to you, and it's time."

Ripken knows Gretzky some. The Great One visited the Orioles in spring training last winter, and last year in Fort Lauderdale he gave Ripken one of his hockey sticks. Ripken and Gretzky are the same age and they've played in their respective sports for about the same number of years. They both had dads who were devoted to them and helped them develop into Hall of Fame athletes. Gretzky and Ripken are both modest men, considered great role models for kids, and inspirations to their peers. They both made huge sums of money. They have fabulous lives, beautiful wives, handsome children.

Maybe the Great One's departure from hockey Sunday got Iron Man thinking about what a graceful end to his career could look like. It looked pretty good.

Calloway's spirit

Kip Patterson, drum major for the Ravens marching band, does a high-energy tribute to Cab Calloway. (Can there be any other kind?) With his white jacket and purple-lined cape, and the band supporting him, Patterson struts and swings while lipping the words to "Minnie the Moocher," getting Ravens fans to "Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho!" with him during lulls in the action on the field. If football had a seventh-inning stretch, "Minnie" would be the perfect song for it -- especially in Baltimore, where Cab Calloway spent much of his youth, graduating from Douglass High School in 1927, and leaving family here. Last week, one of Cab Calloway's daughters, Cecelia, surprised Patterson and other band members with a visit to their weekly practice on Howard County Fairgrounds to say how much she appreciated the band's effort to keep her father's spirit alive. ... Tomorrow night, Cecelia Calloway, jazz great Ethel Ennis and Mood Swings are scheduled to perform at the dedication of a new, long-in-the-making sound engineering studio at Douglass' Cab Calloway Music Academy.

A taxing sticker?

So, what do you make of this bumper sticker? It was spotted the other day on St. Paul Street, near Mount Royal: "Oppose the dominant paradigm." Serbian propaganda? A denunciation of NATO? Perhaps. Or perhaps the phrase suggests a protest against the status quo in a large way, the irony, of course, being that so broad a dissatisfaction is inherently absurd. Tilting at the global windmill, as it were. Then again, I could be full of molasses. It could be just another tax protest from northern Baltimore County.

Pub Date: 04/21/99

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