Ripken option gets `go' signal

O's are expected to announce pickup of $6.3M payment

July 06, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- The Orioles will give third baseman Cal Ripken a proper sendoff to his 17th consecutive All-Star Game by announcing during this week's three-game homestand against the Toronto Blue Jays that they will assume his $6.3 million option for next season, sources familiar with the situation said last night.

The move, anticipated for several weeks, coincides with Ripken's rejuvenation since returning from his first stint on the disabled list and his close on 400 career home runs and 3,000 career hits. After last night's game, in which he went 2-for-4 with a homer, he is hitting .310 with 11 home runs and 34 RBIs in 210 at-bats, a pace far superior to his previous two seasons.

"Without question, it's going to happen. It's a given," said one source aware of the organization's thinking.

Ripken, who turns 39 next month, said during spring training that he would allow his performance this season to determine whether he would play the 2000 season.

Diminished back pain and a noticeable quicker bat have so far provided positive returns.

"Early in the year it may have bothered me some to have [the option] hanging there. But as the season has progressed the timing has become less of an issue to me. I'm very happy with my first half, and I'm hopeful of continuing that play through the rest of the season," said Ripken.

Like yesterday's announcement that Ripken had prevailed in fan balloting for the All-Star Game for the 15th time, the decision to assume the option marks a triumph for one of the game's most respected -- and scrutinized -- players.

Ripken's lower-back condition has affected him in two of the last three seasons, while the death of his father -- former Orioles manager, coach and scout Cal Ripken Sr. -- added a crushing personal weight to his struggle. Ripken eventually was on the disabled list from April 18 to May 12.

Ripken has batted .330 (60-for-182) in 45 games since his return. He produced the first six-hit and five-run game in team history on June 13 in Atlanta. His 13 total bases that night tied a team record.

Majority owner Peter Angelos has relayed his intent to Ripken's agent, Ron Shapiro, according to a source. Angelos could not be reached for comment last night.

Ripken has repeatedly dismissed suggestions he would continue to play only to achieve 400 home runs and 3,000 hits, and his surge has muted criticism along those lines. After last night, he has 395 homers and 2,943 hits.

Indeed, his career has already been defined by his all-time-record 2,632 consecutive games, all with the Orioles.

Mindful of Ripken's place in the game, in the community and his remarkable fitness at an age when most position players are reduced to retirement or platoon status, the Orioles thought it prudent to assume the option rather than exercise a $2.5 million buyout. One organizational faction suggested such a tack, with the Orioles then negotiating an incentive-laden, one-year deal.

The team thinks it prudent to announce its decision during this week's final homestand of the first half rather than waiting until next week's All-Star break, which is the deadline in Ripken's contract.

Starting stars

Starters for the American League All-Star team, as voted by the fans, announced yesterday:

Pos. Player, team

C I Rodriguez, Texas

1B J. Thome, Cleve.

2B R. Alomar, Cleve.

SS N. Garciaparra, Bos.

3B C. Ripken, O's

OF K. Griffey, Sea.

OF K. Lofton, Cleve.

OF M. Ramirez, Cleve.

DH J. Canseco, T. Bay

(Article, 4C)

Pub Date: 7/06/99

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