Distracted by contract, his highs turn to lows

The Ripken Years: 1992

September 21, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The 1992 season provided the worst output of Cal Ripken's 11 full seasons in the major leagues, and a contract that made him "an Oriole for life."

Rumors that he could wind up in pinstripes - a Yankee breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record - had Orioles fans on edge. But lengthy negotiations concluded with Ripken signing a five-year, $30.5 million contract on Aug. 24, his birthday, that included a $2 million option for four years of post-career employment.

"In my heart," Ripken said at the time, "I've always wanted to be an Oriole. And I can say this now, I never wanted to be anything else."

Just like his boyhood idol, Brooks Robinson, who spent all 23 seasons in Baltimore and resisted the temptation to sign with the expansion Seattle Mariners in 1977. He also copied Robinson by winning another Gold Glove, and the Roberto Clemente Award, presented to the player who best represents Major League Baseball on and off the field.

How close did Ripken come to leaving the Orioles?

There was talk of his Reisterstown home being up for sale, that his wife, Kelly, wanted to live on the West Coast. His agent, Ron Shapiro, said Ripken considered an address change because he lacked privacy off the field. The spotlight that shone on a hometown hero and his family had become awfully hot.

Free agency "was seen as an avenue in getting relief in their life," Shapiro once said.

Negotiations dragged, though the sides weren't far apart. It couldn't be easy with the club owned by Eli Jacobs, who never met a penny he didn't pinch.

Ripken admitted he had become distracted. Though he became the Orioles' all-time right-handed-hitting home run leader, he finished with only 14. He drove in 72 runs, ending his streak of 10 seasons with at least 20 homers and 80 RBIs. Ripken batted .251 despite a 12-for-24 stretch in September, and hitting streaks of 16 and 17 games that were separated by four days.

He went 73 games without a home run after hitting two on June 23 to break Robinson's club record (268) for right-handers. July was his first homerless month since the first two of his career in 1981.

Only Ripken knew the effects of being hit on the elbow by Toronto's Jack Morris during an April game, and the back by Minnesota's John Smiley in July. But it was no secret that he went from career highs in homers, RBIs and extra-base hits in 1991 to lows the following season.

He also experienced another close call with The Streak. Ripken, who collected his 1,000th RBI on Aug. 31, twisted his right ankle while running out a double against Milwaukee on Sept. 11, in his 1,713th consecutive game.

Though he continued to play that night, the Orioles recalled shortstop Manny Alexander from Triple-A Rochester as a precaution.

Ripken remained in the lineup, and didn't miss an inning for another week.

Statistics

Year....G......AB....R.....H......2B...3B...HR...RBI....Avg.

1992...162...637...73...160....29...1....14.....72.... .251

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