A full year's work: pass Gehrig, and save baseball

September 24, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

When Cal Ripken wasn't accepting more congratulations or soaking in another long ovation in 1995, he managed to hit .262 with 17 homers and 88 RBIs. The season was cut short, to 144 games, because of the previous year's labor dispute. It remained long on drama and emotion.

Could anyone forget his lap around Camden Yards on Sept. 6, the night Lou Gehrig let go of the record for consecutive games played? All the hands he touched? All the lives?

It wasn't enough that Ripken tried to win ballgames. He also was given the responsibility of saving baseball after the strike had alienated so many fans that attendance fell about 19 percent.

"He has made the rest of us look very good," said catcher Chris Hoiles.

Ripken accomplished this just by showing up each night, as he always did. Even at Yankee Stadium, where a monument of Gehrig sits beyond the left-field fence, fans rose to their feet on Aug. 9 to salute Ripken as he rounded the bases after an eighth-inning home run. Twenty-seven games remained before the record would belong to him.

"It makes me feel really good," Ripken once said of the attention he received, though he wasn't always comfortable with it. "My general response is to downplay it. I try not to give myself any level of importance, especially when it comes to that. I don't make as big a deal as some other people make of it, and maybe that's the way I can deal with it, the only way I can protect myself against changing my approach."

Ripken homered the night he tied Gehrig at 2,130, and again when he passed the Yankees legend. He went 5-for-9 in the two games, which came shortly before he was named Male Athlete of the Year by ESPN and the Associated Press, and Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News.

More Orioles records tumbled, as well. Ripken became the club's all-time leader in runs and walks, surpassing Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell, respectively. But it was the number of games he played in a row that forever separated him from the rest of baseball.

The Camden Yards ovation lasted 22 minutes while the number 2,131 hung from the warehouse. During a curtain call, Ripken looked up at the private boxes, searching for his parents. Spotting his father, Ripken pumped his arms into the air, and Cal Sr. answered in kind.


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

1995 144 550 71 144 33 2 17 88 .262

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