Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken's status as a disabled player does not mean he is ineligible to participate or even play in next month's All-Star Game though he won't become eligible to rejoin the Orioles' active roster until July 13, two days after the game's midsummer showcase.
A commissioner's office spokesman said yesterday that if Ripken maintains his lead in fan balloting, he could make a request to play even if on the disabled list.
"To attend is up to the player. To play in the game would require a request by the player and the permission of the team," said Major League Baseball vice-president Phyllis Mehrige. "It would also have to be approved by [AL manager] Joe Torre and [MLB chief executive officer] Paul Beeston."
The possibility of Ripken appearing and perhaps playing in his 18th consecutive All-Star Game improved after a magnetic resonance imaging performed Wednesday by Cleveland orthopedic Dr. Henry Bohlman revealed no further damage to Ripken's lower back.
Preliminary findings suggested irritation similar, but to a greater degree, than that which forced Ripken to receive a cortisone injection on May 15.
Tuesday's tests confirmed that the irritation is being caused by a fragment from Ripken's September back surgery pressing against a nerve. Pain associated with the inflammation had increased last week in Oakland, persisted in Seattle then forced him to double over after running out a ground ball Tuesday night in Boston. The Orioles put Ripken on the disabled list Wednesday with nerve inflammation in his lower back. Ripken may be activated July 13 when the Orioles open the second half at Camden Yards against the Atlanta Braves
"With all the possible complications that were out there, this is probably the best scenario for getting Cal back," said manager Mike Hargrove.
Results of several other tests were pending last night but according to an associate who had spoken with Ripken, neither surgery nor retirement is not being discussed at this time.
Club officials confirmed that a 10-to-14 day "cool- down period" has been prescribed for the nerve.
"This is all speculation," said Hargrove after being briefed by Orioles head trainer Richie Bancells. "I don't feel real comfortable even talking about it because there are so many things I don't know."
Ripken returned from Cleveland yesterday and was not available for comment.
Hargrove said before last night's game against the Boston Red Sox that he expects to see Ripken during this weekend's four-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays but played down the possibility of Ripken making the team's trip to Yankee Stadium and Philadelphia from July 4 to July 9.
Ripken received a second cortisone injection Wednesday. It is hoped the nerve will begin calming before the All-Star Game is played July 11.
This year's game carries special significance for Ripken. His 18th consecutive appearance would tie his boyhood idol Brooks Robinson's American League record for most consecutive appearances.
Ripken's election in fan balloting would mark the 16th consecutive year that has happened, a record. It is also suspected that this s the last season of Ripken's Hall of Fame career, giving the game further meaning.
Fan voting determines the starters for the game. Managers and officials flesh out the remainder of the rosters.
Even if Ripken is unable to play, he would still be considered a member of the team and his streak of consecutive appearances would continue, according to Mehrige.
On Wednesday, a MLB employee said being on the disabled list would disqualify any player from playing.
However, Mehrige offered a clarification yesterday.
"There is a difference between election and selection," said Mehrige, explaining that while no injured player would ever by selected by his league's manager and major league officials, a player elected through fan balloting is part of the team and could potentially represent a special circumstance.
Mehrige added that no injured player voted by fans to start has ever played.
Asked about the possibility of Ripken setting precedent, Mehrige said Major League Baseball "would never advocate a player performing who is injured" and emphasized such a request would have to be made by the player with the approval of his organization.
If Ripken cannot play, Torre and Major League Baseball chief operating officer Beeston would decide on a replacement. The replacement need not be Ripken's teammate.
"As we get close to that, obviously we'll sit down - Syd and I and Cal - along with Richie Bancells and see where we're at," said Hargrove. "I think it's way too early to start setting down policy now."